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Thursday, December 8, 2016

The debate over hydraulic fracturing has been dominating environmental politics over the past several months, but one New York politician thinks he might be able to appease concerns by both eco-activists and the drilling industry.

New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli proposed legislation Tuesday to create an industry-supported fund to pay for environmental damage caused by the controversial drilling method.

Hydraulic fracturing, or hydrofracking, involves pumping large amounts of a water, sand, and chemical mixture into the ground to cause the shale to crack and release natural gas. Anti-fracking activists nationwide have sought to permanently prevent such drilling methods, raising concerns that the process significantly damages the environment and poses a risk of drinking water contamination, which has happened in states like Pennsylvania. Additionally, the method is exempt from several statewide and national environmental regulations, contributing to fears that the drilling companies will cause irreparable harm to communities without compensating those affected.

Gov. Cuomo has expressed his intention to lift the current moratorium on hydrofracking in New York, one of several states resting atop the extensive natural gas reserves in the Marcellus Shale formation.

The comptroller’s proposed legislation would provide easier access to compensation for accidents related to natural gas production and would ensure the timely clean-up of contamination. According to the press release, DiNapoli said,

“The only current remedy for private citizens who suffer damages to their property from natural gas production is to enter into litigation, which has the potential to be costly, difficult and slow. … New Yorkers should not have to bear the burden from contaminations that damage their air, water, and property. Whatever final decisions are made regarding high-volume hydraulic fracturing, this program and new fund will provide the necessary resources to respond to any accidents.”

DiNapoli modeled his proposal on the New York State Environmental Protection and Spill Compensation Fund (Oil Spill Fund), an industry-supported fund created in the 1970s to pay for oil spill-related damages. In addition to providing funds for hydrofracking accidents, DiNapoli’s proposal would also create an online registry of incidents related to gas drilling in the state.

Even though the proposal would provide an easier route for people seeking compensation for damages, activists are calling for more regulations to eliminate the risk of those damages in the first place. Other methods of drilling, such as using propane to fracture the shale instead of water and fracking fluid, propane minimize the environmental impact of natural gas extraction. But with a state government that seems determined to push ahead hydraulic fracturing, at least concerned citizens might have easier access to compensation should things go awry.

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