US Fracking Tour – Day 6 – Albany and New York

Friday 10th

Meeting 1 – Governer Cuomo’s office
Outside meeting room

Outside meeting room in Governer’s offices

This morning was more formal – a meeting with the officials in Governer Cuomo’s offices that were instrumental in drafting the legislation for the ban on fracking in New York and the background documents behind that.  Present were General Secretary, Dept. of Environment, Ass. Secretary for Health, and an Attorney for Dept of Environment.

The discourse centred around the requirement for an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).  This was put out for public consultation and 100,000 comments were received! Each of these had to be considered, a huge job.  It was pointed out that the US legislated around Environmental Impacts (NEPA) was enacted in 1970’s and is the most copied law of its kind in the world.

Beyond regulations compliance, questions were asked:  What do people say?  What does the science say?  Gaps have to be filled in.  There are common issues internationally, also diverse range of impacts, e.g. the concentration of NORMs in flowback water.

It became clear that the Department of Health had to get involved in the investigation.  Not a lot of research had been done on the health impacts at the time, a lot done now.  Such studies had to be part of the process as well as economic benefits and dispossession of existing economies or well-being of communities.  Impacts on community character, on pristine habitats, industralisation of landscapes.  Their studies brought together ALL studies, health as well as environment.

The technology is great but risks were still considered unacceptable.  Leaks and spills can’t be regulated for.  10,000 leaks and spills are reported each year.

Fascinating political science process:  Commissioner for Environmental Conservation (DEC) withCommissioner for Health.  Included both environmental health and public health.  Both involved.

DEC offices, Albany

DEC offices, Albany

Meeting 2 – Food and Water Watch + Frackaction Lobbyists

Steven Liss described the background scrutiny of everything that came out of offical departments.  In 2007, DEC said that the company would drill using only Water and Sand (sounds familiar?) and it would be “perfectly safe”.  They lied!  When the lie was exposed, it meant that nothing that came out of the office was trusted.  Everything was scrutinised.

There were five public hearings, some up to 18 hours long that took reports from all sectors.  People were able to describe the situation in their communities, what the industry said they were going to do and what they actually did, impacts on environnment, social impacts, health impacts.  The alliance with health was crucial.

Radio interview

Julia and I had the opportunity to have a radio interview with an Albany radio station for 15 minutes.  This was an opportunity to publicise the situation in Ireland, North and South as well as the unique nature of the international tour.  Our tour was the first tour of its kind, where people from all five continents saw first-hand the impact of fracking on communities and got a flavour of the nature of the campaign in New York State.
Link to interview

After the meetings we got the train to New York (3 hours journey), checked in and then went to a nearby restaurant where we had a Farewell Dinner.  Wonderful food and great comradery.  It was a great end to an amazing week – challenging, strenuous, but so worthwhile.

Thank you Heinrich Boll Foundation for funding this incredible tour and thank you Julia Walsh for suggesting that I join the group.

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