ALBANY -- Hundreds of opponents of hydraulic fracturing in New York gathered outside the state Capitol on Monday to protest the controversial drilling technique proposed for the Marcellus Shale in the Southern Tier and other shale formations.
"It will fill our roads with fleets of diesel trucks, our fields and forests with diesel-powered compressors and our rural air with benzene ... and other carcinogenic vapors," said ecologist Sandra Steingraber, an author and a scholar-in-residence at Ithaca College. "It will release known carcinogens that are right now safely locked up in the geological strata -- cadmium, arsenic, lead and radiation."
Permits for high-volume hydraulic fracturing are on hold while the state Department of Environmental Conservation continues work on a second draft of its environmental impact study on the drilling technique. The report was supposed to be completed on or around June 1, with at least 30 days for public comment, but it will not be finished until late summer, said Michael Bopp, a spokesman for the agency.
The activists oppose hydrofracking, a drilling technique in which a mixture of sand, water and chemicals is used to break shale formations and release gas. They say the practice has "poisoned" water supplies in other parts of the country. People at the rally held hand-made signs with slogans like "Fooey on Fracking!" and "No Frackin' Way."
The protesters, who comprised public health, conservation, community and environmental groups, said Cuomo and the Legislature should not make the DEC rush to finish its environmental review and revised guidelines for how fracking would proceed in the state. After their rally, many of the protesters went to the Capitol to lobby their legislators, and others marched to the state Department of Environmental Conservation to urge officials to take more time to review fracking and its potential dangers.
Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton, D-Ithaca, said hydrofracking has polluted water and damaged people's health in other states, including Texas and Pennsylvania. New York has to take a stand against more drilling for fossil fuels, she said, eliciting cheers from the crowd.
Lifton encouraged protesters to urge their lawmakers to sign a letter she is drafting to Gov. Andrew Cuomo on hydrofracking. She is asking that the process for assessing hydrofracking's impact on the environment be stopped and a 30-day public comment period be held on issues that have been raised, such as what happens to wastewater.
Meanwhile, the Independent Oil & Gas Association of New York, which represents more than 400 individuals and companies in the natural gas industry, is asking the governor and lawmakers to expedite the review of permits. The group, which sent letters to the governor and the Legislature, wants Cuomo to direct the DEC to finish its environmental impact study by July 1 and is asking lawmakers to reject any legislation that would delay natural gas development.
"Nearly three years have gone by since the state essentially halted the permitting of natural gas drilling in the Southern Tier," Brad Gill, executive director of the association, wrote in the letter. "During that time we have watched people, jobs, businesses and opportunity flee our state for Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia, where those economies are rebounding strongly as a result of increased natural gas development."
The Department of Environmental Conservation has not accepted applications for permits since 2008.
A recent report from Common Cause/NY found that groups lobbying on two bills last year that would have placed a moratorium on hydrofracking spent about $3.6 million on the issue. The bulk of the money -- $2.87 million -- was for groups opposing the measures, and $725,643 was spent by supporters.
At Monday's rally, Assemblyman Brian Cavanaugh, D-Manhattan, said hydro-fracking is an issue for every part of the state. The process "promotes tremendous dangers, not only for our environment, not only for our drinking water, but for our economy and for every community."
Ann Guenther, 67, of New Paltz brought a life-sized fake skeleton to the rally. A sign around its neck said, "They said the water was safe."
Water is the one thing you can't mess around with, said Guenther, a naturalist. Besides environmental and health effects hydrofracking could lead to, it could negatively affect tourism in the state, she said.
"I worry about tourism. If we get known as a fracked state, who's going to want to come here?" she said.
The groups involved in Monday's event want several measures passed in the Legislature this year that relate to hydrofracking, including bills that would:
» Require the DEC to create regulations requiring the gas industry to disclose the chemicals in fracking fluids and ban the use of fluids that could harm people's health. Permits would be withheld until such regulations were developed.
» Set up home-rule zoning rules in addition to state regulations so communities can have a say in how towns and cities develop can have the power to oversee drilling as they do other industries.
» Require that all hazardous wastes produced by gas or oil facilities be considered hazardous for the purpose of transfer and treatment.
» Many of the rally organizers are sponsoring a media campaign, "New York Water Rangers," which includes radio, online and print advertisements that will