After years of debating the environmental impact and future of natural gas drilling in Binghamton, the Binghamton City Council voted in favor of a two-year ban on fracking.
Mayor Matt Ryan signed the bill into law on Dec. 22, making Binghamton the first city in the Southern Tier to ban the process.
The ban preserves all land within city limits from fracking and prohibits the natural gas industry from exploring and developing in the area over the two-year period. The law is meant to protect the city from the potentially harmful effects of fracking, including the risk of contaminated drinking water due to the discharge of toxic material or chemical spills, according to Andrew Block, executive assistant to the mayor.
“The mayor signed off on this legislation because it is critical to protecting our health, safety and economic future,” Block said. “While fracking promises short-term economic gains, the long-term fallout is much more severe and merits our concern.”
The legislation banning fracking can be repealed by the Binghamton City Council before the two-year period ends, but it would take the consent of six of seven council members to override a veto by Mayor Ryan, according to Block. Although a recent election changed the political landscape of the council, with three Republicans taking seats once held by Democrats, two of the returning members voted in favor of the law, making a repeal unlikely.
Newly elected council member John Matzo does not support the ban, according to a report in the Press & Sun-Bulletin, but he does not have plans to overturn it.
“It’s kind of a back-burner type of thing,” Matzo told the Press & Sun-Bulletin. “There’s still people that aren’t back in their homes yet [following the flood].”
For members of Binghamton-based pro-fracking group Joint Landowners Coalition of NY, however, the ban on fracking is a major concern.
Julie Lewis, vice president of the group, as well as a Broome County legislator and Binghamton University alumna, said the ban may affect Binghamton’s future.
“It sends the wrong signal to this industry and hundreds of related businesses that work with it and follow it that Binghamton is closed for business,” Lewis said. “This is an industry that will bring thousands of jobs with it. I might also add that this industry loves to hire young people, and they pay a lot better than the average job rate around here.”
Lewis said she believes the effects of fracking on the environment are nominal if the process is properly regulated.
“This issue started out in 2008 as, ‘let’s slow down and do this safely’ to ‘let’s ban hydraulic fracturing altogether,’ a process that has been done in this state since 1947,” Lewis said. “My own personal research has proven to me without a doubt that, though there are risks involved in drilling as with any industry, the benefits far outweigh the risks.”
Student environmental groups on Binghamton University’s campus, on the other hand, have actively worked to halt the fracking process in the area.
Jenna Fierstein, president of Student Environmental Awareness Club (SEAC), said she believes the ban is inarguably good for the community.
“Hydrofracking, with regulation as it now stands, would severely decimate public health, safety and welfare, rather than improve it,” Fierstein said. “The ban means two more years to conduct research and present findings on the hazards of the process and to shed light on how current regulatory measures would fall quite short of protecting the community.”
The city of Binghamton’s fracking ban was soon followed by concerns in Albany by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
On Wednesday, Jan. 11, the EPA released a report outlining ways for the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to strengthen its fracking regulations in New York. These suggestions include expanding a ban within 4,000 feet of the New York City and Syracuse watersheds to include all fracking, regardless of volume, and to make clearer plans for dealing with wastewater. The DEC must take these suggestions under consideration and finalize its proposals before high-volume fracking is allowed to take place in New York, according to a report in the Press & Sun-Bulletin.
In the meantime, Block said he hopes the ban in Binghamton will encourage other communities in the state to take similar actions.
“We hope our leaders at the state and federal level share this concern and take all measures necessary to protect our communities,” Block said.