Hydrofracking Raises New Yorkers' Concerns

Albany, NY – The 11th Northeast Natural History Conference was held last week at the Empire State Plaza Convention Center in Albany - on Friday the conference focused on gas drilling and hydrofracking - Capital District Bureau Chief Dave Lucas was there and files this report.

The conference is billed as the largest regional forum for researchers, natural resource managers, students, and naturalists to present current information on the varied aspects of applied field biology and natural history for the Northeastern United States and adjacent Canada. Friday's session offered a glimpse into the gas drilling and hydrofracking movement and how the mining methods may affect New York State.

Nels Johnson, Deputy State Director for The Nature Conservancy in Pennsylvania, advises New Yorkers to arm themselves with knowledge about the hydrofracking process. Erik Kiviat is the Executive Director of the non-profit Hudsonia Institute: he says hydrofracking presents a number of issues potentially affecting biodiversity. Concerns include toxicity to trout as well as plants and animals native to wetlands. John Holko, secretary of the Independent Oil and Gas Association of New York, says the industry is aware of concerns surrounding hydrofracking, and that those issues can be regulated.

More than 300 people and representatives of more than 40 organizations statewide are at the Capitol today to warn Governor Andrew Cuomo and state lawmakers to proceed with extreme caution on natural gas drilling in New York. Activists are asking them to put the longer-term issues of air and water quality ahead of any short-term gas profits. Wes Gillingham of Catskill Mountain Keeper expects some 400 registered lobbyists to make 180 actual visits to legislators. Rallygoers are launching the "New York Water Rangers" campaign to combat what they perceive to be potential dangers associated with the natural gas drilling method being considered for New York.

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation's new commissioner says the agency is taking its time with the study of hydrofracking to make sure all the issues surrounding the natural gas drilling process are carefully considered. Commissioner Joe Martens made those remarks Friday at an energy symposium in East Syracuse, where he appeared as keynote speaker at an energy symposium. The DEC is currently looking closely at the issues surrounding hydrofracking, which includes everything from how to deal with waste water from the process to an increase of traffic in rural areas.

"There's obviously been problems in other states and they are in the thick of it. We haven't permitted a single well in New York, a single high-volume well in New York yet. And we're making sure that when we do, it is done right," said Martens.

Martens expects a draft of the report to be finished this summer. Another public comment period will follow before the report is finalized.