Maurice Hinchey, New York’s former Democratic congressman from the Hudson Valley, shown here in Washington, led a press conference for Hudson Valley United Against Fracking last week in Kingston to help launch the new coalition against high-volume hydraulic fracturing. Hinchey sent a letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo praising him for considering scientific studies to help decide whether to allow high volume hydraulic fracturing in New York state. Photo by AP.
April 15, 2013A new anti-fracking group is storming the Hudson Valley with
support from their elected officials, scientists and health professionals. Hudson Valley United Against Fracking describes itself as a "network to amplify, build and broaden the citizens movement against fracking in this region of New York state."
The group, who has a strong ally in former congressman Maurice Hinchey — known for his strong stance on environmental protection — intends to unite the efforts of environmentalists, elected officials, health professionals, business groups and other anti-fracking groups, to focus the significant fracking opposition in the Hudson Valley.
The Hudson Valley, home to farmland, the Catskills Mountains and dozens of popular tourist sites, would be threatened by hydraulic fracturing, according to the group.
"Farmland in New York state occupies on quarter of our land' it is a $4.5 billion industry," said Assemblyman Frank Skartados, D-Newburgh, "Why would we jeopardize one of New York's greatest assets and endanger the health of our residents?"
Leading members and supporters of the group are pressuring Gov. Andrew Cuomo to wait for the Environmental Protection Agency's "Study of Hydraulic fracturing and its Potential Impact on Drinking Water Resources" before making any decision on whether to allow the controversial gas drilling method in New York state.
"If Gov. Cuomo is serious about basing his decision on the science then it is logical to wait for the first comprehensive scientific federal study on the issue to be taken into consideration before making that decision," said Julia Walsh, campaign director for Frack Action, an ally of the new Hudson Valley group, in an email.
"There is simply too much at stake for the state to allow fracking without first studying all the data available, including the EPA's anticipated groundwater study…," said Sen. Cecilia Tkaczyk, D-Duanesburg, whose district extends into the Hudson Valley.
Hydraulic fracturing, or hydrofracking, is the process of drilling through rock layers to release natural gas from the ground, using a mixture of water and chemicals, known as fracking fluids. Currently, vertical hydro-fracking is being practiced in the state, but high-volume horizontal hydro-fracking, which is seen as more effective, but also more environmentally risky, is still not permitted.
Problems with horizontal hydrofracking stem from concerns over fracking fluid leaking into the ground and water supply. Leaked fracking fluids have been suspected to cause cattle deaths, an array of human health problems, and environmental damage as well as depleting property value.
"Having investigated the impacts of fracking for years, I've seen contaminated water and air and witnessed sickness ranging from headaches and nosebleeds to rashes and illnesses," said Larysa Dyrszke, a retired physician. "From a medical and scientific standpoint, it is paramount that Gov. Cuomo waits for the results of the EPA study and other important health studies before making a decision about fracking."
New York state sits on top of two large natural shale formations that hold large volumes of natural gas. The Marcellus Shale covers parts of Western New York, the Finger Lakes, Central New York, the Catskills and some of the Lower Hudson Valley. But the coalition is more concerned about the deeper and larger Utica Shale, which covers most of the Hudson Valley and all other regions of New York except for the Adirondacks and New York City.
Skartados said that even though strict regulation of the practice is plausible, no amount of regulation can prevent an accident or can provide enough funding to clean up major accidents.
"The EPA study will show that we can't take a chance," Skartados said. "I suspect that something is going to be permitted — but I'm certain that we want to make sure that this doesn't happen next to aquifers [major watersheds]."
The Hudson Valley is home to the major reservoirs, the Delaware watershed and the Croton watershed, providing 90 percent of New York City's water supply, according to the EPA.
Former Congressman Maurice Hinchey, D-Hurley, who initiated and secured funding for the EPA study on hydrofracking, sent a letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo thanking him for taking a "science-driven approach to the state's decision about high-volume hydraulic fracturing," and urging him "to wait for critical data from EPA's ongoing analysis."
During his tenure in the U.S. House of Representatives, Hinchey points out that the Bush-Cheney Administration pushed through the Energy Policy Act in 2005, which he opposed and voted against. This act, "premised on a faulty study and false industry promises," exempted the oil and gas industry from some of the nation's most essential environmental and public health laws, including the Safe Drinking Water Act and parts of the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act, the former congressman said.
"After hearing a myriad of accounts of contaminated groundwater and reported sickness from residents in areas across the country where hydraulic fracturing was taking place, I knew steps had to be taken to investigate what was happening in these places," Hinchey wrote in his letter to Cuomo.
"After serving as an elected official for nearly four decades, I understand how important it is not to rush decisions like this and make certain we have all the data, facts and best information to make the right decision," Hinchey writes.
"I'm confident that New Yorkers will agree with and support you in standing up for their health and well-being by allowing the scientific studies to be completed prior to the State's decision about fracking. I would certainly join them in applauding your courageous leadership on this issue in doing so and I thank you for considering these comments."