Fracking Moratorium Approved by New York Assembly

The New York State Assembly has finally approved a bill that would put a hold on <"">hydraulic fracturing in the state until May 15, 2011. The New York hydraulic fracturing moratorium bill is now on the desk of Governor David Patterson, awaiting his signature.

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a natural gas drilling technique that involves injecting water, sand, and a cocktail of chemicals at high pressure into rock formations thousands of feet below the surface. The chemicals that make up that fracking fluid are cause for concern. They may include, among other things, barium, strontium, benzene, glycol-ethers, toluene, 2-(2-methoxyethoxy) ethanol, and nonylphenols. All have been linked to health disorders when human exposure is too high. Thanks to a move by Congress in 2005, fracking is exempt from federal regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act. As a result, frackers don’t have to disclose the chemicals that make up there fracking fluids.

In New York, fracking has been particularly controversial. The state’s natural gas-rich Marcellus shale region includes the entire Catskills watershed that provides New York City with all of its drinking water. The state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has had gas drilling permit approvals on hold since 2008 while it conducts an environmental review of fracking, but that could be lifted at any time.

Over the summer, the New York State Senate approved the fracking moratorium. Late Monday night, the Assembly voted 93-43 to approve the measure. According to a report on WBNG, the bill wasn’t on the Assembly’s agenda Monday in a special session called by Governor Paterson, but after that meeting wrapped up, the Assembly opened a regular session to vote on it.

The Governor has indicated that he favors the moratorium.

“Even with the tremendous revenues that will come in at this time we’re not going to risk public safety or water quality, which will be the next emerging global problem after the energy shortage,” he told WAMC-FM radio last week. “At this point, I would say that the hydrofracking opponents have raised enough of an argument to thwart us going forward at this time.”

Governor-elect Andrew Cuomo has also signaled that he will not allow any new drilling in the Marcellus shale there unless it is proven safe.

“If it were safe, if the watersheds were protected and it would create jobs, great. But you need the facts. And we don’t have the facts,” Cuomo said earlier this month during a TV interview. “We have a lot of emotion, but we don’t have the facts. And I would not do anything until the facts are determined by bona fide studies.”

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