In recent interviews, Governor Cuomo has first seemed to accept the right of municipalities, under Home Rule, to prohibit hydrofracking within their borders, and then sort of equivocated about what he really meant.  Under the headline “Cuomo hints at support for fracking home rule” the Elmira Star-Gazette quotes the Governor’s interview on New York Public Radio thus:

“I think it’s inarguable that one should take into consideration home rule, and if you have communities that have an expressed desire to proceed, I think that should be taken into consideration if you decide to go down this road at all,” Cuomo said. “Obviously, if a community says that they oppose it, that should be taken into consideration.”

However, by the next day (today), there were reports that some “tweaking” was taking place– Jon Cmpbell writes about it under the headline “Cuomo Revisits Hydrofracking ‘Home Rule’ Comments”:

One day after saying it’s “inarguable” that “home rule” should be considered during the hydrofracking permitting process, Gov. Andrew Cuomo today tweaked his statement a bit, calling it “relevant, but not necessarily determinative.”

Cuomo was asked about hydrofracking following a news conference today…

He continued: “Home rule is one of the basic, essential elements of our democracy. If DEC said, you can do this, you can do it safely, we have the initial discussion and we’ve made the decision on the first fork in the road, then I believe home rule is relevant. Is it necessarily determinative? No. But is it relevant? Yes.”

Cuomo was then asked if—assuming the DEC allows the technique—he supports a floated plan to allow a limited number of permits in five counties near the Pennsylvania border, he declined to weigh in.

“I don’t really want to talk about if you get past the first ‘if,’ ‘because…’” he said. “Let’s have a discussion on the facts, because you could say, yes we’re going to go ahead, but DEC could say, yes but, with the following conditions.”

Given past experience, those conditions might include things like high-paying jobs in the industry for all the DEC officials that obfuscated sufficiently to let the controversial technique be used in NY.  But, any way you look at it, Cuomo is not using the clear and unambiguous language of, say the NYS judges who ruled on the home rule cases in Middlefield and Dryden.  One could be wary that any locution that required so much parsing was, in fact, hiding some kind of unpleasantness.

My take is that the “unpleasantness” is environmental justice related: wealthy and powerful suburbs with plenty of planners, lawyers and clout will receive “consideration” of their communities’ wishes to keep their quality of life and property values intact.  Poorer, more Appalachian places will be judged by the state to have done a poor job at explaining why they have anything worth protecting, and the state will “determine” that these less powerful people get fracked, and lose what little they have in the way of quality of life or equity in their homes.  Our forefathers called this kind of governmental “consideration” tyranny, and endeavored to build a democracy where the rights of all would be honored.

Meanwhile, a new and important scientific study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, states clearly that there are pathways by which fracking can contaminate drinking water aquifers.  The study’s abstract is quoted below.  Beware the potential destruction of the watery lifeblood of the places rural poor people live and farm!

Geochemical evidence for possible natural migration of Marcellus Formation brine to shallow aquifers in Pennsylvania

  1. Nathaniel R. Warnera,
  2. Robert B. Jacksona,b,
  3. Thomas H. Darraha,
  4. Stephen G. Osbornc,
  5. Adrian Downb,
  6. Kaiguang Zhaob,
  7. Alissa Whitea, and
  8. Avner Vengosha,1

+ Author Affiliations


  1. aDivision of Earth and Ocean Sciences, Nicholas School of the Environment, Duke University, Durham, NC 27708;

  2. bCenter on Global Change, Nicholas School of the Environment, Duke University, Durham, NC 27708; and

  3. cGeological Sciences Department, California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, CA 91768
  1. Edited by Karl K. Turekian, Yale University, North Haven, CT, and approved May 10, 2012 (received for review January 5, 2012)

Abstract

The debate surrounding the safety of shale gas development in the Appalachian Basin has generated increased awareness of drinking water quality in rural communities. Concerns include the potential for migration of stray gas, metal-rich formation brines, and hydraulic fracturing and/or flowback fluids to drinking water aquifers. A critical question common to these environmental risks is the hydraulic connectivity between the shale gas formations and the overlying shallow drinking water aquifers. We present geochemical evidence from northeastern Pennsylvania showing that pathways, unrelated to recent drilling activities, exist in some locations between deep underlying formations and shallow drinking water aquifers. Integration of chemical data (Br, Cl, Na, Ba, Sr, and Li) and isotopic ratios (87Sr/86Sr, 2H/H, 18O/16O, and 228Ra/226Ra) from this and previous studies in 426 shallow groundwater samples and 83 northern Appalachian brine samples suggest that mixing relationships between shallow ground water and a deep formation brine causes groundwater salinization in some locations. The strong geochemical fingerprint in the salinized (Cl > 20 mg/L) groundwater sampled from the Alluvium, Catskill, and Lock Haven aquifers suggests possible migration of Marcellus brine through naturally occurring pathways. The occurrences of saline water do not correlate with the location of shale-gas wells and are consistent with reported data before rapid shale-gas development in the region; however, the presence of these fluids suggests conductive pathways and specific geostructural and/or hydrodynamic regimes in northeastern Pennsylvania that are at increased risk for contamination of shallow drinking water resources, particularly by fugitive gases, because of natural hydraulic connections to deeper formations.

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