Hundreds of Southern Tier residents turned out in Binghamton Monday night to protest the recent decision by Governor Andrew Cuomo, the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), and the Department of Health to ban the use of high volume hydraulic fracturing in the state.
The event, organized by the Joint Landowners Coalition of New York, was standing room only and brought together landowners, business owners, elected officials and local unions—all frustrated with the decision that came after six years of delays. The overwhelming message of the night: “Governor Cuomo forgot about the Southern Tier.”
It’s not just a public health issue…
U.S. Congressman Tom Reed, whose district is comprised of counties sitting atop the Marcellus Shale in the Southern Tier, sent his representative Joe Sempolinski to speak on his behalf. Reed and Sempolinski have spent years researching and studying the risks and benefits of natural gas development, including participating in a Joint Operator’s Tour EID organized back in 2011 that showed the process from start to finish.
Sempolinski began by discussing public health, which was presumably the basis for the governor’s decision.
“Public health is important and every other state that has a shale play has looked at the public health ramifications of tapping into that, and every other state has made the determination that it is safe. The President of the United States feels that it is safe. I watched him during the State of the Union, say that. However, here in New York the Governor and [Health Commissioner Howard] Zucker feel they know better. I think that’s the height of arrogance, and I think its politics.” (1:16)
He went on to note that, in addition to this decision being in conflict with 35 other states, it’s not just about public health:
“There are other reasons this is an important issue in addition to public health. This is an energy issue. Over Christmas I happened to be in Virginia and I saw something I thought I’d never see again. I filled my gas tank and the number didn’t start with a four, it didn’t start with a three, it didn’t even start with a two: $1.99. That doesn’t happen by magic, that happens because the United States has tapped into its energy resources — not New York, but in other portions of the country. That’s a real impact on our energy security, something we’ve been talking about for decades. Energy security, energy independence, we can do it by tapping into our resources. And when we have an energy issue we also have a national security issue.” (2:14; emphasis added)
As so many in the Southern Tier of New York can attest, it’s also about property rights. Sempolinski said,
“This is America, you should be able to use your property responsibly as you see fit. If you have the mineral rights to your land, you own those minerals and should be able to access them.” (5:34; emphasis added)
Other elected officials who spoke or sent comments included: U.S. Congressman Richard Hannah; New York State Senator Tom O’Mara; New York State Senator Tom Libous; New York Assemblyman Cliff Crouch; New York Assemblyman Chris Friend; and Broome County Executive Debbie Preston.
Members of local labor unions were also present and spoke to the industry’s impact on employment contracts. Most have members working out of state because of the six year de facto ban and are eager for upcoming projects like the Constitution Pipeline to get approved. Projects like this will bring not only employment opportunities closer to home, but also generate additional needed revenue to the Southern Tier.
A representative from UA Local 112 described the situation for members of his union:
“Of the 400 plus working members of local 112, we currently have 37 working out of town in motels at their own expense. They are away from their families in order to make ends meet, but they are the lucky ones. We also have 89 members who are currently not working at all. Some have totally exhausted their unemployment benefits, some have lost their health insurance, some are having trouble paying their bills and are in danger of losing their homes. We need these jobs.” (0:34; emphasis added)
The last speaker of the night was JLCNY president Dan Fitzsimmons, who assured attendees, many of whom were members of his coalition, that the coalition would continue to fight on their behalf. He said,
“Governor Cuomo is committed to taking our property rights, jobs and economic opportunities. We will not stay silent while Governor Cuomo plays politics with our lives!”
JLCNY will be looking into the possibility of legal action once the DEC releases official regulations later this year. It was clear that, in the meantime, residents of the Southern Tier will not lose hope and will continue to fight to have the opportunity to develop the natural resources under their properties—resources from which New York could benefit, but will instead be importing from out of state.