Odds have improved that the New York State legislature will vote to impose a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing in the Marcellus shale region. Legislation that would impose such a moratorium, sponsored by State Sen. Antoine Thompson and Assembly member Robert Sweeney, both Democrats, could come to the floor of both the Senate and Assembly as early as today.
The Marcellus shale is a formation rich in natural gas that lies beneath parts of West Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio and Maryland. The area has seen the rapid expansion of hydraulic fracturing in recent years. This process, also called fracking, involves injecting water, sand, and a cocktail of chemicals at high pressure into rock formations thousands of feet below the surface. This opens existing fractures in the rock and allows gas to rise through the wells.
New York stateâ€™s Marcellus Shale region encompasses the entire watershed in the Catskills that provides New York City with all of it drinking water. New York City doesnâ€™t filter its water, thanks to a waiver from the federal Environmental Protection Agency. Instead, it has spent about $1.5 billion since 1997 to protect the watershed. City officials and environmental activists are worried that fracking in the Marcellus region will endanger New York Cityâ€™s water. According to the Environmental Working Group, fracking has already been linked to drinking water contamination and property damage in Colorado, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wyoming.
Since 2008, the state has imposed a virtual moratorium on new drilling while it works on new regulations for the industry. But that ban could come to an end this year unless something is done.
The Thompson/Sweeney bill, which would place a moratorium on granting new drilling permits until May 2011, has bipartisan support, but the leadership of both the Senate and Assembly have stalled in bringing the legislation to a vote. Up until a few days ago, it was considered all but dead.
Today, however, the legislature will reconvene for a rare summer session to consider the bill, among other stalled measures. “Yes” votes have been piling up, and earlier this week, Sen. John Bonacic, R-Mount Hope, Orange County announced he supported the bill, and was urging for a vote on the measure.
Environmental groups are expressing optimism that the vote will take place.
“It’s not dead,” Kate Sinding, a senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) told the Web site SolveClimate.com yesterday. “We are very hopeful that it will be brought to the floor for a vote in both houses tomorrow.”
“By our count, it has a comfortable margin to pass in the Senate, and there’s really no question that it would pass in the Assembly,” Sinding added.