With state and local elections rapidly approaching, Tompkins County politicians remain at odds over one of the most contentious issues in New York State: fracking. At an anti-fracking rally in Albany on Aug. 27, New York State Senator Tony Avella (D–11th District) said that if Democrats gain control of the State Senate in November, the legislature will be able to pass a statewide ban on fracking.
Hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, is a method of extracting natural gas from large rock formations. While proponents of the process say it will create jobs and energy independence, environmental groups have argued that the potential health risks and negative effects on local water, caused by chemicals used in the process, are too great to allow fracking in the state.
At the Aug. 27 rally, Martha Robertson (D–13th District), chair of the Tompkins County Legislature, said the issue of fracking has the potential to affect local and regional elections this November — as well as the Congressional race in New York’s newly created 23rd District, which will include Ithaca and the rest of Tompkins County.
“Three of the five counties that Governor [Andrew] Cuomo has identified as being in the ‘sacrifice zone’ — a proposal to only allow fracking in select counties — are in [the 23rd] District,” Robertson said. “There’s a lot of grassroots opposition to fracking here.”
In December 2010, the Tompkins County Legislature voted 14 to one in favor of petitioning New York State for a statewide ban on fracking. While pleased with this step, Robertson said fracking is an issue that extends beyond New York State and deserves federal attention.
“We’ve made tremendous headway in New York in educating lawmakers,” she said. “But there is fracking going on in at least 31 other states. It’s a federal issue. Even if we ban it in New York, it’s not enough.”
There are several bills currently being considered by Congress that Robertson said she has urged U.S. Senators to support. One such bill is the Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act, which would require companies to disclose to state regulators which chemicals are used in the fracking process.
The FRAC Act would also require state regulators to make public the composition of chemicals used in fracking. The bill –– which is co-sponsored by both New York senators, Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Robert Casey (D-Pa.) –– has been stuck in committee in the Senate since March 2011.
Nathan Shinagawa ’05, M.A. ’09 –– the Democratic Congressional candidate for the recently redistricted 23rd District –– campaigned during his primary race as a proponent of the statewide fracking ban.
In November’s general election, Shinagawa will challenge Republican Rep. Tom Reed (R-N.Y. 29), a member of the House Marcellus Shale Caucus –– a group dedicated to facilitating discussion of fracking in the Marcellus Shale area, which includes New York.
Shinagawa has said he would support the House of Representative’s version of the Senate FRAC Act, H.R. 1084, which is co-sponsored by Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-N.Y. 22).
“One of my top priorities in Congress will be to pass the FRAC Act, because I believe we need [the Environmental Protection Agency’s] oversight of fracking, or it will pose a danger to our water and our health,” Shinagawa said. “I also believe we need to disclose the chemicals used in fracking because we know that there are carcinogens which can have a terrible impact on our communities.”