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New Yorkers already living with fracking, despite moratorium

Albany Law School

New York communities are already feeling the impact of the natural gas drilling process known as hydrofracking, despite a statewide 5-year  moratorium. That was the feeling on both sides of the debate expressed at an Albany Law School symposium on Tuesday. The event focused on the broad range of legal issues associated with the technology’s impact on environment, land title, financial markets and local governance. The Innovation Trail’s Jenna Flanagan was there.

Alengthy panel discussion frequently turned into a debate between Elisabeth Radow, chair of the Committee on Energy, Agriculture and the Environment of the League of Women Voters, and Karen Moreau, executive director of the New York State Petroleum Council. 

“I think that people in upstate New York deserve a chance.”

Moreau maintains that the economic stress felt by many of the counties in the Southern Tier would be alleviated by exploiting gas reserves found in the Marcellus Shale. While acknowledging the drilling technique has caused some problems in other states, she insists New York’s proposed regulations would minimize accidents.

“The whole point is to try to develop a regulatory environment to minimize that. Our companies don’t want things to go wrong. It doesn’t do our bottom line any good for things to go wrong.”

She says allowing it should be to individual landowners to determine whether they want to lease or sever rights to the minerals below their land. She insists hydro-fracking would be a job generating economic boost to struggling rural communities. 

Elisabeth Radow disagrees. She points out that a number of land owners in the Marcellus Shale region are large corporations that have purchased huge tracts of land.

“So if the water becomes contaminated or the air becomes polluted they’re not going to have to be there to have to suffer the impacts but they may be able to reap the benefits.”

She says no matter what regulations are put in place, allowing hydraulic fracturing on private property carries more than health risks.

“The gas leases don’t have insurance provisions in them. The gas industry is underinsured. So when you have these operations on people’s properties, you’re leaving private property owners vulnerable to become responsible for activity that they do not control.”

Not only that, but Radow adds insurance giant Nationwide Mutual won’t cover damage related to the drilling. With so many parties uninsured, a drilling ‘mishap’ can leave New York’s taxpayers with the bill for degraded properties.

The state’s Department of Health is currently reviewing the DEC’s proposed guidelines for drilling, and has yet to determine whether or not they provide adequate protections for public health.

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