On December 17, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced a ban on hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in New York State. Citing the health risks associated with fracking, Cuomo said “I’ve never had anyone say to me, ‘I believe fracking is great.’ Not a single person in those communities. What I get is, ‘I have no alternative but fracking.’” His decision has widespread public support across the state according to media reports.
What does the New York ban mean for the future of the national debate over fracking? Will other states follow Cuomo’s lead? DeSmogBlog discussed these and related questions with Clare Donohue, the co-founder of “Sane Energy Project,” one of the first anti-fracking grassroots organizations in New York.
Anti-fracking activists thanking Governor Cuomo, on a street in Manhattan, on the day of the ban. Credit: AziPaybarah
DeSmog: What is your reaction to the ban on fracking by Governor Cuomo and what does it mean for the anti-fracking movement nationally?
Donohue: Of course we share in the joy that [high volume hydraulic fracturing] drilling will be banned and it’s incredibly significant. Only two states in the US have banned it and we are one. As far as the oil and gas is concerned, New York and Vermont are the first dominos to fall, and the industry is right to be anxious about other places following suit. (Author’s note: Pennsylvania recently announced a partial ban — it is now banned in state parks, although the practice continues elsewhere in the state). Both the growing resistance and the poor economics of shale gas spell the burst of the bubble for the industry. Current evaluations (courtesy of the Post Carbon Institute’s report: Drilling Deeper) indicate that most shale plays have already peaked and the Marcellus will peak in 2016 (one year from now). This aligns with calculations of poor production numbers made by Deborah Rogers, Art Berman and 4 upstate analysts that we presented last January: Is New York’s Shale Worthless?
Actor and New York resident Mark Ruffalo addressing an anti-fracking rally in Albany, 2010. Bryan Smith/Zuma
DeSmog: What was your role in the statewide ban, given your local (city) base? What lessons could other communities take from your experience in New York?
Donohue: We have always supported a ban (and never a moratorium, we always wanted an “absolute ban”) and we were one of the main NYC groups getting the word out, driving comments and attendance at hearings, creating rallies and public events against fracking.
One of our biggest contributions to the fracking fight has been alliance building. We always want to bring together country and city folk, to make upstate’s grassroots communities heard, and to get people working together and sharing information. We have brought upstate speakers to NYC, traveled to upstate meetings and supported events statewide. Our newsletter has a joint city/country subscription base and we are often the only NYC group alerting (city) folks to upstate hearings and events.”
Clare Donohue speaking about the Port Ambrose LNG project at the “Global Frackdown” rally, in Long Beach (Long Island), October 11, 2014. Allourenergy.com
DeSmog: Is the Cuomo “ban” the end of the fight against fracking in New York?
Donohue: No. Vertical and low-volume drilling continue, and infrastructure remains the biggest actual threat. Drilling can poison aquifers and ruin the lives of people who live over shale, but infrastructure, because of its permanence in the landscape and extremely long exposures to toxins, has the potential to affect many more people, and to affect people who don’t live anywhere near the shale. No one in Westchester was ever going to live near a drill rig, but now they are under threat from a pipeline that could traverse dangerously close to Indian Point.
We have always been primarily focused on making people understand that infrastructure is part of fracking, that fracking is not just high-volume drilling, and that mission continues. Now we shift to making people understand that we aren’t “safe” from fracking as long as all the related effects of fracking still exist. Our view is that New York State is in fact being fracked in every way except the drilling: the pipelines, compressor stations, storage facilities and waste dumping are happening and ever-encroaching.
The online interactive map we created, in alliance with upstate grassroots, YOU ARE HERE, demonstrates these threats: 137 separate infrastructure points on the map (see link below).
And of course, 34 states continue to frack, and New York State must support efforts to protect people in the direct path of HVHF and projects such as export terminals.
DeSmog: What’s on your priority list now for New York? What is your current focus and why? What does the public need to know about that media/industry is keeping under the radar?
Donohue: We have two main campaigns we’re focusing on for the first half of the year, neither of which are getting enough mainstream media coverage, although both are getting great local and small market and independent media coverage.
1 – The Port Ambrose Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) project.
Poet Ambrose is a proposed deep water port system, located in federal waters approximately 19 miles off the coast of Long Island (New York). It’s purpose, according to the project website, is “to safely deliver additional, diverse supplies of natural gas directly into the growing markets in the downstate, New York City and Long Island areas to help meet existing and future load requirements.” (author’s note: the project developer is Liberty Natural Gas LLC, a ‘portfolio company of a fund advised by “West Face Capital,” an investment firm based in Canada.) We are seeking a ban on this project from Governor Cuomo. We continue to raise awareness; just last week two NY State Assembly members wrote a letter to Governor Cuomo asking him to reject the project, and called for other lawmakers to do the same. And, on February 4, we were among several anti-LNG organizations officially honored by The City of Long Beach, in a public ceremony, for our opposition to the Port Ambrose LNG project.
Sane Energy Project, along with partner organizations All Our Energy, Surfrider Foundation, and No LNG Coalition, being honored by Long Beach City Council, February 4, 2015, for their opposition to the Port Ambrose LNG project. Allourenergy.com
Location of Port Ambrose LNG terminal courtesy of portambrose.com/project-location/
Basic diagram of offshore LNG terminal system.
2 – The YOU ARE HERE online map of fracking projects in NY state.
This is an interactive resource which identifies specific “fracked gas” infrastructure projects across the state, such as pipelines, processing plants and waste and storage facilities, as well as the name of the commercial operators/owners and contact information of each project – and the location. It’s important to note that all of these support projects pose the same risks to human health as cited by Cuomo in his ban on drilling. Communities are often the last to know that such dangerous projects are being planned by billion-dollar corporations whose headquarters are thousands of miles away. This map can help bridge this information gap and lead, hopefully, to local opposition.
DeSmog: How can people learn more about local fracking and related fossil fuel issues in New York that aren’t covered by mainstream media?
Donohue: Our website is http://saneenergyproject.org/ and see us on Facebook here. Just to clarify: We are Sane Energy Project – folks call us Sane for short – but remember there is an anti-nuke group called SANE as an acronym (we love them and don’t want to confuse our good work with their good work).
Image credit: People’s Climate March, akatz via Shutterstock