Company Exploring A Fracking Alternative In New York’s Southern Tier Is Raising Alarms

Photo courtesy of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

Despite a statewide ban on fracking, energy companies have not given up the pursuit of fossil fuels in New York. 

Now, a company called Southern Tier Solutions, a newly formed company that is seeking leases in New York’s Southern Tier to try an alternate method of extracting natural gas.

In response, Food and Water Watch is hosting a virtual event at 6 p.m. this Thursday, December 14 aimed at call activists together to discuss Southern Tier Solution’s proposal and ways to stop it.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo banned hydrofracking via executive order in 2014 and the sate Legislature and Gov. Kathy Hochul codified the permanent ban into law in 2021. But the new process being proceed in New York’s Southern Tier is raising alarms for some environmental groups.

“After almost ten years of relief from the destructive fracking industry, fossil fuel profiteers have once again come knocking in New York,” said Food & Water Watch Northeast Region Director, Alex Beauchamp. “Southern Tier Corporations’ proposal to drill thousands of new gas wells is explicitly against the intention of New York’s fracking ban.

“What’s more, the corporation’s proposal to use proven-to-fail carbon capture technology to skirt state regulation is absurd and dangerous for our climate and communities.”

Food & Water Watch is holding a virtual meeting on Thursday, December 14 from 6 – 7 p.m. to discuss “opportunities and actions to preserve New York’s fracking ban.” The meeting is open to the public.

Hydraulic fracturing, more commonly known as “fracking,” is the process of extracting oil and natural gasses from deep underground using pressurized liquids. The technique is used to obtain fossil fuels from places that are usually inaccessible via normal drilling means. Typically, water, chemicals and sand — often a proprietary mixture — is highly pressurized and pumped into cracks in the ground. The goal is to create and enlarge fractures in the hard rock to free up the targeted gasses.

Concerns regarding the negative effects of fracking have followed the practice for decades and as such, fracking has become a very contentious topic.

The practice of fracking raises many issues, spanning from environmental concerns like pollution and seismic disturbances, to public health problems like air and water contamination. 

Various forms of fracking exists across the U.S., where it is regulated, or banned, based on state and local laws. 

New York’s Southern Tier holds a lot of interest for oil and energy companies, due to its connection to the Marcellus Shale basin, a large underground rock formation that holds the nation’s largest natural gas deposit. It spans five states. 

The state’s fracking ban restricts the 12 million acres of natural gas field that exists under New York’s Southern Tier.

Since the ban, energy companies have tried to find “alternative” methods to fracking in order to access the Marcellus Shale. Some tried sidestepping the ban with the use of gelled propane instead of the typical water and chemical mixtures, arguing the injection materials are different, which doesn’t constitute the process as fracking under law. 

Southern Tier Solutions is adopting the same strategy. 

The company, which was founded in 2023, is based in Texas and recently reached out to residents in New York’s Southern Tier Region, asking them to lease their land for a new local energy harvesting project. 

Their strategy is to pump carbon dioxide, captured with carbon sequestration technology, into the ground and extract the natural gasses. The idea is to combat atmospheric carbon dioxide levels by capturing it and pumping it underground where it can be stored. The process would also extract natural gasses. 

Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo and Senator Lea Webb have sent a letter to the State Department of Environmental Conservation concerning Southern Tier Solutions’ letters to landowners about leases for the extraction process.

The letter, addressed to DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos, requests information on the company’s proposed gas extraction method and how it aligns with current state and federal law.

The lawmakers say their letter was sent in response to inquiries from concerned constituents, some of whom received land lease solicitations from the company.

Carbon capture and sequestration is a relatively new concept that aims to combat climate change by limiting greenhouse gasses and their negative effects. Critics, however, argue the practice isn’t the answer. 

“It’s dangerous, it’s unproven and it’s unnecessary,” said Eric Weltman, a senior organizer at Food & Water Watch, who believes carbon capturing is a false solution to climate change. 

Southern Tier Solution’s proposal raised eyebrows and environmental organizations quickly picked up the story. They argue that the alternative method is still equally dangerous. The method still poses dangers to seismic disturbances and contaminations. Furthermore, the idea of using carbon dioxide to extract natural gasses is “baffling,” according to Weltman.

“It’s outrageous that this company is intending to use CO2 to extract even more fossil fuels that will pollute and contaminate our environment and undermine New York’s climate laws,” said Weltman.