Climate

New Yorkers Strongly Approve Of State’s New Ban On Fracking

CREDIT: AP Photo/Mike Groll

Gillie Waddington of Enfield, N.Y., raises a fist during rally against hydraulic fracturing of natural gas wells at the Legislative Office Building in Albany, N.Y., on Monday, Jan. 23, 2012.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s recent decision to ban hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in the state is receiving widespread support from the people who live there, according to a new poll.

The Quinnipiac University poll released Monday found that 55 percent of New Yorkers across the state support Cuomo’s decision on fracking, while 25 percent oppose it and the remainder are undecided. In upstate New York, where fracking likely would have taken place, 56 percent of respondents approved of the ban while 30 percent opposed it. Republicans approved of the ban 42 to 40 percent, Democrats approved 67 to 11 percent, and people who live in New York City supported the ban 56 to 19 percent.

Overall, no political party, gender, age, or regional group disapproved of Cuomo’s decision.

“It’s a clean sweep, but not a big sweep, for Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s decision to ban fracking in New York State,” Quinnipiac University Poll assistant director Maurice Carroll said in a statement, noting that Cuomo’s overall approval rating did not much improve despite the good numbers of fracking.

Fracking is the process of injecting high-pressure volumes of water, sand, and chemicals underground to crack shale rock and let gas flow out more easily. It has been controversial in part because of how quickly the practice has spread in the United States, without much credible scientific information regarding the potential impact on public health.

Cuomo’s decision was based on a five-year study analyzing what peer-reviewed science says about the potential environmental, economic, and public health effects of fracking, and what those potential effects would mean for New York specifically. The analysis had few good things to say — it noted that peer-reviewed studies on how fracking affects public health were few and far between; that the process had the potential to pollute New York’s many reservoirs and aquifers; and that the economic benefit to the state would be “clearly lower than initially forecast.”

“Would I live in a community with [fracking] based on the information we have now? … After looking at the plethora of reports, my answer is no,” acting state health commissioner Howard Zucker said. “I cannot support high volume hydraulic fracturing in the great State of New York.”

New York state Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joseph Marten echoed Zucker’s statements that there was not enough scientific information to ensure the protection of New York’s natural resources. He also noted how difficult it would be to get around all the restrictions already in place in New York, including the “legal game changer” of a recent court decision that allows towns to ban fracking themselves. With that decision and proposed fracking bans near aquifers and in state parks, Marten said that 7.5 million acres, or 63 percent of Marcellus shale, would already be off limits to fracking. Activists say that 170 towns and cities in New York have already passed fracking bans or moratoria.

“The potential adverse impacts are wide-ranging and widespread,” Martens said, noting increased truck traffic and accidents, the potential for air and water pollution, and the inability of small communities to deal with the “overwhelming” costs of compliance with safety measures.

Since the ban was announced, environmentalists have cheered the decision, seeing it as a signal that the movement can and will likely spread to other states. Critics — mostly local upstate farms and businesses — however, have slammed the decision, saying they could have benefited from the increased economic activity that comes with a drilling boom.

But in New York, the scientific uncertainty over fracking’s impact on human health was more important. As of now, only preliminary studies have been done, most of which find a connection — albeit inconclusive — between health problems and natural gas drilling. In the face of those preliminary studies, scientists have called for more research into the health impacts of fracking.

The preliminary research conducted so far includes connections between birth defects and the proximity of the child’s mother to a natural gas well; increased levels of arsenic in water wells near fracking sites; and and increased likelihood of respiratory illnesses and skin problems in people living near natural gas wells in Pennsylvania, most of which are fracked.