Bill That Would Ban New Fracking Method Advances in Assembly

Legislative Gazette file photo

A new bill (S.8357/A.8866) that would ban the use of carbon dioxide for fracking and gas extraction has been introduced in the Legislature following reports that homeowners in New York’s Southern Tier are being asked to lease their land by a fracking company.

Southern Tier CO2 to Clean Energy Solutions, or Southern Tier Solutions, a Texas-based natural gas production company, started sending letters to residents last summer according to Assemblywoman Lupardo, D–Endwell, one of the bill’s co-sponsors. After learning that more than 6,000 residents received letters from the company, Lupardo and Senator Lea Webb, D–Binghamton, the Senate bill sponsor, sent a letter to the DEC in November requesting information about the company.

The DEC responded in December, writing that the company had not reached out to the agency about the projects, and that if they were to receive permit applications from Southern Tier Solutions, there would be a “thorough review” to “ensure the agency’s decision is protective of public health and the environment.”

“Our community has been through a lot when it comes to promises made about drilling in the Marcellus and Utica shale,” Assemblywoman Lupardo said. “In 2021 we permanently banned fracking with water, five years after it was initially banned by Executive Order. We now need to make sure that carbon dioxide is prohibited from being used in gas or oil extraction as well, by adding three words to our existing law. 

“We cannot allow a company with an unproven track record to move forward with this environmentally risky process.”

While hydraulic fracking has been banned in New York since 2021 — and halted since 2014 via executive order — current law makes no mention of the use of CO2 for fuel extraction, a process that has been described as “experimental, dangerous and threatening to our water, health and climate,” by Food and Water Watch, an environmental group opposed to fracking. 

“It’s like conducting a chemistry experiment below our feet,” said Dr. Sandra Steingraber, a biologist who has extensively researched fracking and its effects, during a press conference. Dr. Steingraber stressed there is a lack of in-depth understanding about the interactions between CO2 and the shale formations Southern Tier Solutions is looking to drill into.

Other risks associated with CO2 fracking include the creation of waste, leakage, habitat destruction, soil erosion, species die-offs, and increased risk of earthquakes, according to Steingraber and others who oppose the process.

“Southern Tier Solutions doesn’t have adequate answers for questions about safety and contamination risks,” said Valdi Weiderpass, a chemical engineer and chair of the the Sierra Club’s Susquehanna Group. 

“The process of drilling and pressurizing CO2 and extracting gas releases countless chemicals and pollutants that can harm our food, water, air and bodies.”

Supporters of the bill have also expressed concern about the possibility of CO2 pipes rupturing and causing public health issues. On Feb. 22, 2020 in Satartia, Mississippi, a pipe carrying CO2 ruptured and led to a mass poisoning that hospitalized 45 people. A first responder likened the affected area to a scene from a zombie apocalypse.

“Pressurized CO2 transportation and ground injection poses severe health and environmental threats,” said Assemblywoman Anna Kelles, D–Ithaca, the bill’s prime sponsor. “Pressurized CO2 is highly caustic when in the presence of the smallest amount of water. 

Assemblywoman Anna Kelles

“To use this CO2 for oil and gas extraction it must be transported through a spiderweb of thousands of miles of pipelines across the country, risking pipe corrosion and ruptures,” she said

The bill S.8357/A.8866 would amend the current law banning state fracking to include just three more words: “and carbon dioxide.” The bill’s sponsors are attempting to pass it as part of the budget to avoid the issue being pushed off. “The sooner the better,” said Lupardo.

The Assembly bull has advanced to a third reading and is ready for a floor vote. The Senate bill is currently in the Environmental Conservation Committee.

“There’s not massive support for this company, so we need to take advantage of that,” said Alex Beauchamp, a director at Food and Water Watch. 

Actor Mark Ruffalo, known widely as the Hulk in the Marvel cinematic universe, has been an activist against fracking since 2008. During a recent press conference, the Sullivan County resident spoke out against Southern Tier Solution’s efforts and their refusal to elaborate on who funds them, and how they are funded.

“The gas industry has come up with a reckless and extreme ploy to get around the state’s fracking ban. Thankfully, New Yorkers know better and are resoundingly rejecting the gas industry once again,” he said.

When asked why the legislators won’t just ban all gas extraction in New York during a press conference, bill cosponsor and Senator Liz Krueger, D–Manhattan, responded, “that would require more than a three-word change, but the question should be explored.”

“This is not the end of the conversation,” added Assemblywoman Kelles.