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Dozens of grass-roots environmental groups have joined forces to launch a coordinated campaign to ban natural gas drilling using high-volume hydraulic fracturing in New York state.
The effort launched Monday comes as the state Department of Environmental Conservation works to complete a four-year review of whether shale gas development using the controversial technology known as "fracking" can be done safely under strict regulations.
Also Monday, a New York State Assembly proposal for an independent health impact study of hydraulic fracturing for natural gas has been dropped during budget negotiations. Numerous physicians and environmental groups criticized Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos for blocking the $100,000 Assembly appropriation for a health study.
Cuomo has said a decision on whether to permit fracking in New York is likely in several months.
Sandra Steingraber, a biologist and environmental writer who recently won the Heinz Award for her work on how chemical contaminants in air, water and food endanger human health, said she'll donate much of her $100,000 prize money to start the anti-fracking coalition, New Yorkers Against Fracking.
Among other things, the coalition plans to fund advertising to get its message out.
The process of hydraulic fracturing injects thousands of gallons of water, chemicals and sand into deep, horizontally drilled wells at high pressure to release natural gas from shale. The vast Marcellus Shale formation that underlies parts of New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia is believed to hold 84 trillion cubic feet (2.38 trillion cubic meters) of recoverable natural gas, enough to supply the nation's gas-burning electrical plants for 11 years. Leaders of the coalition speaking at a news conference in Albany are long-time regulars at anti-fracking rallies around the state. They include Eric Weltman of Food and Water Watch; Sandberg, founder of Frack Action and now executive director of Water Defense; Wes Gillingham of Catskill Mountainkeeper; and David Braun of United for Action.
Notably absent were representatives of mainstream environmental groups such as the Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, and Environmental Advocates of New York. While those groups are outspoken about the need for strict regulation of fracking, they stop short of calling for a ban.
"While we're not a member of this coalition, we regularly work on this issue side-by-side with these groups, and we share the same goal -- to ensure that the oil and gas companies who have been roughshod across communities around the country for too long are not allowed to do so here," Kate Slusark of NRDC said via e-mail.
Steingraber said health complaints involving air emissions and groundwater pollution in other states where thousands of shale gas wells have been drilled -- including Texas, Wyoming, Colorado and Pennsylvania -- demonstrate that regulations can't adequately protect public health.
Drillers say state regulations plus industry standards assure public and environmental safety.