Under Massive Pressure, New York Extends Fracking Moratorium, Industry Campaign Money Reaches Fevered Pitch

Update October 3:

In this article, we said there’s evidence that some of the academic research that resulted in favorable conclusions about fracking was actually paid for by the industry. One of those studies, at Penn State, has been canceled after faculty members declined to participate, and the other schools we mentioned are reviewing the studies, reports Bloomberg.
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After massive pressure from citizens, New York’s moratorium on fracking will continue indefinitely and the state will go through another environmental review process – this time, focused on the public health impacts.

The state had previously set November 29 as the deadline to decide whether to lift the moratorium, which has been in place since 2010. The previous environmental review received intense public criticism because it didn’t consider public health impacts. More than 80,000 comments have been submitted.

"We’ve said all along that the decision will be made based on the science, right?" says New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, commenting on this latest twist. "It was not predetermined, it was not a political position, let’s get the facts, let’s make a decision on the facts. I understand the emotion, I deal with the emotion every day on both sides of the issue, right? So we get the emotion, we get the rhetoric, we get the hyperbole. Let’s get some facts and data and some science, and we’ll make the decision on the science, which is what should be done here."

Cuomo’s comments come just months after it he said fracking would be allowed in only upstate communities that want it.

More than 100 towns in New York have banned fracking, and public opposition has to grown louder over the summer, with protests staged in New York and many communities across the US – and the world.

"Andrew has a very good political antenna, and we’ve never seen anything like this in terms of grass-roots power," Robert Kennedy Jr., a longtime environmental activist and advisor to Cuomo on fracking, told The New York Times. "

The potential for fracking in NY State is also affecting real estate purchases, reports the New York Times. Buyers are postponing purchases because they’re concerned that fracking could be allowed nearby.

Coordinated Global Protests

The grassroots movement to build public awareness of the health and environmental risks of fracking came together in mid-September for an international day of protests – the Global Frackdown.

The effort united hundreds of thousands of activists on five continents in more than 100 events calling for a ban on fracking in the US and Europe.

"The dubious benefits and poor environmental record of shale gas development in the US serve as a cautionary tale for Europe," says Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food and Water Watch. "It is worrying that European policymakers have bought into the myth, propagated by the gas industry, that shale gas can serve as a viable bridge to a low carbon future."

Days ahead of the protests, France proactively moved to extend its fracking ban, but the issue is being debated in other countries. Bulgaria has also banned fracking and moratoriums are in place in the Czech Republic and Romania.

Fossil Fuel Lobbying Reaches Frenetic Pace

Earlier this year, the American Petroleum Institute launched its Vote 4 Energy campaign to make energy – their kind only – a major factor in the US election. A similar campaign is underway in the European Union, says Food and Water Watch Europe, where they present natural gas – including fracking – as a cheap "no regrets option," while portraying renewable energy sources as unaffordable.

In the US, the oil and gas industry is lobbying hard for their cause and 88% of that money goes to Republicans.

Just look at the growth in contributions to campaigns and PACs  from one group, the American Gas Association – they spent $1.6 million in 2006, $4.5 million in 2010, and $30 million so far in this election cycle, according to Common Cause. As of July, renewable energy companies contributed less than $1.4 million to federal campaigns.

They’re not just lobbying the federal level. The gas industry spent $669,000 in NY in 2009, six times the amount in 2006, and quadruple that spent by those who oppose fracking. And they’re doing that in every state where they have an interest.

Spending on TV ads that promote coal, tar sands, oil or gas or criticize clean energy exceeds $153 million this year, according to a New York Times analysis. Those ads are paid for by presidential campaigns, political parties, energy companies, trade associations and third-party spenders. Only $41 million has been spent promoting renewable energy.

There’s also evidence that some of the academic research done by respected universities like Penn State, University of Texas and SUNY-Buffalo that produced reports favorable to fracking, were paid for by the industry.

New Legal Resource to Fight Fracking

To counter all the money being spent to promote fracking, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is offering legal and policy assistance to communities seeking to fight it.

The Community Fracking Defense Project will help towns and municipalities develop legal protections against fracking, initially launching in New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois and North Carolina.

"For too long, communities around the country have had little defense against the oil and gas companies that sweep into their neighborhoods and start fracking without regard for the impacts on the people who live there," says Kate Sinding, a senior attorney in NRDC’s New York office. "If a city or town decides it doesn’t want fracking, or wants to restrict it, their voice should be heard and respected."

They can assist in drafting local laws and land use policies to control or ban fracking that can withstand legal challenges.

Fracking Costs Local Economies

A report from Environment America details the potential negative economic impacts on communites from fracking – often in the form of costly damage to roads and water infrastructure.

The Costs of Fracking offers a number of specific examples, including:

  • $11 million spent by the town of Dimock, Pennsylvania, to replace its contaminated groundwater supply
  • $40 million in Texas road repairs related to Barnett Shale fracking activities
  • $9.8 million in health costs in the Fayetteville Shale region in Arkansas

"Our review of the evidence convinces us that fracking is inherently destructive and costly," says John Rumpler, senior attorney for Environment America and a co-author of the report. "But if companies like Exxon, Chesapeake and Halliburton want to assert otherwise, then they should put their money where their mouths are; at a minimum, that means big-time bonds, so the public isn’t left holding the bag."

Here’s the report:

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