A new coalition, formed Nov. 10, of New York business, agricultural, labor, and landowning groups will use hydraulic fracturing, or "hydrofracking" – the process of extracting natural gas from underground rock formations – to drill from New York's Marcellus Shale Formation.
The 16 members of the coalition, called Clean Growth Now (CGN), say they will find middle ground for safe, responsible drilling in the Southern Tier. The group is influential with Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo, his administration, and key Republican legislators who will determine whether to allow the gas drilling. CGN promises to turn New York State's economy around by providing more jobs, but environmentalists warn that the drilling will poison drinking water.
"The name ‘Clean Growth Now' is a misnomer if the group is supporting hydrofracking," said Kristina Blank, a senior environmental studies major and environmental activist, in an email. "Natural gas companies have been pushing natural gas as a ‘clean energy alternative,' but this is a misleading twist of the facts. These companies state that burning natural gas releases less carbon into the atmosphere than coal and oil. Perhaps by this standard it is thus cleaner, but it is by no means clean."
The coalition emphasizes that New York needs jobs and clean, affordable energy. Development of Marcellus Shale natural gas provides an opportunity to support both, according to CGN's website.
CGN members understand that hydrofracking (often shortened to "fracking") is controversial, but point out that their goal is to provide a voice for the legitimate concerns of local community leaders who want to see the economy prosper. The landowning groups involved in CGN own land in the Southern Tier, and are aware of the consequences of hydrofracking in their area.
Dr. Robert Jacobi, a geology professor, points out that a simple ‘yes' or ‘no' does not answer the question of whether hydrofracking is a good decision for the environment.
"For many variables, ‘safe' is possible already; the proposed new [regulations] of New York State will make other variables even safer," Jacobi said in an email. "But safe is a relative word…nothing is ever totally safe."
Advocates for hydrofracking argue that no new technology is perfect, but there is still a responsibility to find the best alternative.
Additionally, supporters say that those being directly affected are the landowners in upstate New York, who support the coalition.
Christopher Catt, a sophomore political science and urban and regional planning major and deputy chairman of the NYS College Republican Federation, supports hydrofracking, but still considers himself an environmentalist. He argues that environmentalists cannot point to one instance in which hydrofracking – in the eight years that it has been used in New York – led to the contamination of one well.
"Most of the people that are so angry by hydrofracking wouldn't even be directly impacted by it because they wouldn't be in the New York State region," Catt said. "The farmers want it to come. If you're looking at that coalition, you're going to see the big landowners group – that's all farmers. They would be the ones impacted by it. It would be their well, and they've obviously explored this...The fact that they support it means they're comfortable with it."
Blank, on the other hand, finds it notable that out of the 16 organizations that are part of the CGN coalition, none are environmental science groups.
"Five are contractor or construction groups, and many of the others are industry councils, business councils, and economic development groups," Blank said. "Their composition and mission statement makes it clear to me that they are more focused on the ‘Growth' part of ‘Clean Growth Now' and are looking to benefit financially from jobs and business that fracking would bring to the region."
Blank said that she understands the financial motives and supports job growth, but she added that companies involved with hydrofracking often leave the area as soon as the wells are dry, plunging the area back into economic hardship.
Cuomo and his administration are in the process of developing new regulations, with public hearings occurring this month, before the public comment period on hydrofracking closes on Dec. 12. After that, many expect the state to pass the rules and issue permits as early as next year.