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New York Passes Six-Month Fracking Moratorium

Fracking New York

It's a story we've seen played out in so many climate- and energy-related stories: In the absence of federal leadership on natural gas--more specifically hydraulic fracturing, the controversial practice used to get at natural gas trapped under large shale rock formations--state and local legislators are taking matters into their own hands. In November, the city of Pittsburg moved to ban natural gas drilling within its city limits. Granted, no one was actually planning to drill in downtown P-burg, but it was a symbolic gesture, given the increasingly heated debate over how to regulate the drilling boom in the Northeast.

In June, Wyoming's state legislature voted to require disclosure of the chemicals used in the fracturing (known as "fracking" or "fracing") process. Now the New York assembly has approved a temporary six-month state-wide ban on fracking, by a 93 to 43 margin. The bill's passage, however, is largely symbolic. New York's Governor Patterson had already put a halt to horizontal hydraulic fracturing until the state's environmental impact statement on the process had been updated and reviewed. The current bill would halt vertical drilling as well, a fact that has some anti-fracking advocates calling the bill poorly written.

While the debate over fracking has seemed pretty black and white, in actual fact the process itself is fairly complicated, with multiple steps in need of closer regulation. By halting all drilling entirely, some experts are concerned that the anti-fracking camp are only living up to the criticism lobbed at them often by the natural gas industry keeps: that they don't actually understand the process well enough to even know what they're arguing about.

"It was a badly drafted bill," said Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo, D-Endwell, who voted against the moratorium.

Lupardo said Assembly members who supported the bill "felt the need to send a message on behalf of the people who are concerned about hydrofracking," but did not understand the consequences of banning vertical drilling.

"This should not be viewed as a referendum on gas drilling -- the bill itself had problems," she said. "As important an issue as this is, I think it's important to pass legislation that really gets to the heart of what we want to do, and I think this misses the boat."

Regardless, environmentalists are largely seeing this as a win, symbolic or otherwise. Despite the assertion by many that natural gas, as a cleaner-burning fossil fuel, is a necessary bridge fuel to a renewable future, others maintain that the process of getting at natural gas and making it usable, comes with at least as many environmental problems as coal.

Amy Westervelt, Journalist
The former Managing Editor of the Journal, Amy is associate editor for The Faster Times and This Week in Earth, a columnist for Forbes, and contributes to an assortment of other magazines and websites. In 2007, Amy won the Folio Eddie for excellence in magazine editorial for her feature on algae as a feedstock for biofuel, which was published in Sustainable Industries magazine.

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