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Revealed: NY Governor Plans to Experiment with Fracking in Economically Struggling Areas

Gov. Cuomo came under intense criticism when news was leaked of a plan to begin fracking in economically struggling areas of New York.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is coming under increased criticism as his administration’s plan to begin fracking in economically depressed areas of the state was leaked. On Wednesday, the New York Times reported on the reveal, which came from an anonymous senior official from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

The plan is part of a demonstration project in which the DEC would issue permits for a limited number of wells in certain areas and then monitor the fracking to see if the process could be done safely. Critics are calling on the governor not to use the residents of these struggling territories as "guinea pigs."

These struggling areas, which include Broome, Chemung, Chenango, Steuben and Tioga counties, make up what is known as the Southern Tier, a region in southwest New York that borders Pennsylvania, a state that allows fracking. This region lies on top of the Marcellus Shale, a rock formation stretching across the Appalachian Mountains to upstate and western New York, which is believed to contain a large supply of natural gas.

Maura Stephens, a Southern Tier resident and co-founder of Coalition to Protect New York, an anti-fracking alliance, said that family farmers in the rural area have been struggling financially as more and more government spending has gone to support large-scale industrial agriculture. Also, many residents in the Southern Tier, she said, go without high-speed Internet and therefore get much of their information from mainstream media and the rampant pro-fracking commercials that air in the area.

“Many have fallen under the spell of the industry, which spends upward of $140 million a year on advertising and lobbying to convince people and legislators that fracking is clean, green, domestic and job-producing,” she said.

Fracking or hydraulic fracturing, is the process of using a high-pressure mixture of water and chemicals to break up shale rock to extract gas. The process has been linked to various environmental and health damages. Research has also found that the fracking industry does not produce as many jobs as advertised.

Still, the supposed economic benefits from fracking, including possible job creation and the money reaped from leasing land to gas companies, have led some residents to support fracking. The DEC official told the Times that fracking would only be allowed in towns that agree to it.

Jim Worden, member of the Southern Tier Landowners Coalition, a pro-fracking group, said that he supports the fracking initiative, which he believes can be done safely and is cleaner than oil drilling. He said he has seen a lot of job creation in Pennsylvania, and he wants to see the country depend less on foreign oil. He plans to lease his land to gas companies when the New York state moratorium is lifted.

Worden said that if people in this country are not going to change their lifestyles, they should accept new forms of energy.

“Every source of energy in the United States has some negative impact … I’m a realist. I use energy. I’m not going to go back to heating my house with wood,” he said. “We are an energy dependent country, and most people are accustomed to that type of living and they’re not going to change it.”

Stephens said that although it’s being stated that the majority of residents in the Southern Tier support fracking, she finds that when going door-to-door to speak with residents, more people are opposed to fracking. She said those in positions of power tend to speak for the residents. 

“People are waking up,” she said. “But their local town boards have been co-opted by the industry … and now they’re passing preemptive resolutions saying we’re not going to ban fracking.”