Kick the frackers out

September 10, 2014

Opposition to fracking is growing in New York state--as a topic in the governor's race and recent local votes, reports, anti-fracking activist Joan McKiernan.

ANTI-FRACKING campaigners in New York have held the line against the national obsession for drilling for the past six years.

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking--an extraction process in which water and dangerous chemicals are injected into rock to release natural gas pockets--has been introduced into many states, making the U.S. a major gas producer. It has also produced large profits for the gas drillers. Investors in fracking services and equipment can reap up to 49 percent return on their investment, according to a California brokerage service.

But the process has also endangered lives, contaminated water, caused floods and earthquakes, and devastated communities. And it has produced a grassroots campaign of resistance that has spread as evidence of the dangers of fracking has grown.

Now, fracking is an election issue in New York state--finally! After six years of aggressive campaigning against the introduction of natural gas fracking in the state, the campaign has gotten a new burst of support from contenders vying to replace Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Howie Hawkins, the Green Party candidate for governor, said this election is a referendum on fracking, when he visited fracktivists in the Southern Tier.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (Patrick Cashin)

Zephyr Teachout, a liberal activist who ran against the governor in the Democratic Party primary--held on September 9 and won by Cuomo--visited activists around the state. She calls herself an "FDR Democrat" and took a clear stand on the issue, promising to ban shale fracking if elected. She also disagrees with the idea of introducing fracking just to areas where the local communities agree.

Teachout received the endorsement of the former mayor of Binghamton, N.Y., Matt Ryan. While he was mayor, Ryan organized water shipments to Pennsylvania families who had lost their water supply because of gas fracking. Left-wing activist Randy Credico also challenged Cuomo in the primary. He argues that Cuomo's presidential ambitions influence his support for drilling.

THE ELECTION campaign is one of a number of positive developments in the fight against the greed of the gas corporations attempting, with government help, to bring fracking to the state.

In June, New York's highest court recognized the right of local towns to change their zoning laws in order to prohibit fracking in their communities. Campaigners in two towns were successful in getting local bans introduced, despite threats of lawsuits from the oil and gas industry.

And for the first time, the latest Siena Poll found that a majority of the people living in proposed fracking zones were saying no to fracking. Many of the respondents believed that fracking would bring jobs and economic development, but still said no because of the danger to their health and the environment.

For the past six years, there has been a de facto moratorium in the state, as campaigners have fought every attempt to introduce regulations to manage fracking in the Marcellus Shale, which covers the Finger Lakes and the Southern Tier sectors of the state. Cuomo supports shale fracking, but he has promised not to make a decision until a health review is completed. Campaigners have successfully blocked completion of this review. Earlier this year, Cuomo delayed a planned announcement on fracking, clearly a ploy to avoid a decision that would hurt him in the election.

It is clear that once the election is over, Cuomo would green-light fracking, despite the opposition of the majority of New York's voters. He may opt to bring fracking only to the Southern Tier. This is an area with high levels of deprivation, in much need of jobs and economic development. It is also the only area that may actually be somewhat viable for fracking. But studies by a group of scientists led by Cornell University's Tony Ingraffea have challenged the viability of gas development in the Marcellus Shale.

Cuomo calls such a partial opening of fracking an experiment. People living here call this area the "sacrifice zone." Their posters say, "Save the Southern Tier."

Until the entry of Hawkins and Teachout into the campaign, Cuomo's only electoral competition was Republican Rob Astorino, who argues for fracking and taunts Cuomo's delays in making a decision. While Cuomo refuses to say anything about fracking, and refuses to debate any of his opponents, he is receiving millions in contributions from his Wall Street friends, including oil and gas corporations.

OTHER THAN campaigners for his office, Cuomo has real competition. They are the thousands of anti-fracking activists who hound him wherever he goes. They turn up at fundraising events across the state.

Last year, the governor failed to put in an appearance, even when the president came to town. This year, Cuomo came to "Governor's Day" at the State Fair at 9 a.m., before any of the exhibits were even open. He was hoping to avoid fractivists who were busing in from around the state. But they still got to see him and make their point.

So it has been a breath of fresh air for the campaigners to find such support from Cuomo's political opponents. But the Democratic Party leadership, including alleged progressive Bill De Blasio, has been circling to support Cuomo and other corrupt incumbents. With that support and with all the money he has available, Cuomo will be difficult to defeat.

The anti-frackers are now encouraging people to get out and vote--now that there is someone to vote for. Despite how the Democratic Party primary turned out, the Green Party candidates Howie Hawkins and Brian Jones will be campaigning and keeping fracking on the agenda.

The campaign is taking place at a time when more and more scientific evidence is emerging about the harm done by fracking across the U.S. Just across our state line, the Pennsylvania auditor general's report revealed frightening negligence on the part of state authorities--they ignored water contamination, fracking waste and health effects. As the scientific evidence grows and the campaign continues, more people are learning the facts--that fracking cannot be done safely. It has inherent problems and cannot be regulated.

While there's no fracking here, Cuomo has allowed the development of a fracking infrastructure. Pipelines that crisscross the state, often close to people's homes; compressors that explode; fracking waste that is being dumped in local communities; and plans to store liquefied natural gas in salt caverns in the Finger Lakes are all part of the move by Big Gas to take New York.

The anti-fracking movement has made enormous gains, holding off the gas corporations for this long. This election gives another opportunity to campaign about the horrors of fracking. But serious challenges lie ahead. The fracking infrastructure that is in place needs to be dismantled, and any plans to frack just one part of the area--Cuomo's experiment--needs to be resisted by all.

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