Community residents packed in to the Thursday evening for a debate between a state senator, a former assemblyman and the leader of an environmental education group on a controversial process of extracting natural gas.
State Sen. Tony Avella, D-Bayside, and Patricia Wood, executive director of Grassroots Environmental Education, argued against hydrofracking, while former State Assemblyman and Empire Government Strategies founder Arthur “Jerry” Kremer discussed what he believed to be some of the positive elements of the natural gas extraction process.
Kremer, who was the former chairman of the Assembly’s Ways and Means Committee, said he believes hydrofracking, a process of removing natural gas and petroleum by drilling into rock layers, is a viable new source of energy for the state.
“We are being strangled by Arab oil,” he said. “We need sources of energy. There are some people who do not want hydrofracking and some of it is pure ignorance. It’s going on in states throughout this country. Don’t let people scare you into opposing everything. I want my lights on 10 years from now.”
Kremer said property owners in Pennsylvania have been paid to allow drilling on their properties and that some upstate farmers are willing to do the same.
But Avella, who has introduced legislation to prevent hydrofracking in the state, and Wood said there has been enough evidence in other states to suggest that the process could pose dangers to the city's water supply.
“You fracture the shale by shooting down a mixture of chemicals, fresh water and sand at a high pressure,” Wood said. “The natural gas is methane. We all know what happens when organic materials begin to decay. That’s when you get a formation of gas. But we don’t know how far a fracture can go. We have a buffer around the New York City watershed. These fractures are known to go seven or eight miles. A 1,000-foot buffer is hardly able to protect the watershed.”
Hydrofracking brings up gas, radioactive materials and bacteria. But Wood said that a water treatment facility in Niagara is the only one in the state that could adequately handle the types of chemicals coming up.
She said that diesel-burning fuel trucks involved in the process could cause air pollution and that families in states such as Pennsylvania and Wyoming have lost their water supplies because of hydrofracking.
“If one accident happens, your water supply could be affected for the next 1,000 years,” Avella said. “It’s a very scary thing. For a few jobs and some revenue, do we really want to threaten the best water supply in the country?”
A bill to prevent the process has more than 20 sponsors in the state Senate, Avella said.
“The jobs created by it are very temporary in nature,” he said. “The real jobs are the skilled workers who do the drilling and they don’t live in New York State. The farm owners who lease the land are the ones who make the money, but property values next to these wells plummet. And farmers’ poultry, livestock and dairy become worthless. In Pennsylvania, you can turn the water on and light it on fire. It’s been contaminated.”
Kremer said one of the issues in the state has been that nobody wants “anything in their backyard.”
“If it’s ‘no’ to nuclear and wind and ‘no’ to hydrofracking, we’d better start thinking about where our energy will come from,” he said. “We have an energy crisis.”
Avella said the state did not have a policy for new sources of energy, but that he did not believe hydrofracking was the way to go.
“Don’t let people confuse the issue,” he said. “Because we have an energy crisis doesn’t mean we should do the worst possible thing you can do for energy.”
Gov. Andrew Cuomo has not yet decided whether to allow hydrofracking as an energy source for the state.