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Fracking opponents celebrate ban in Binghamton


Members of the anti-drilling coalition gather today to support Wednesday's decision by New York to block fracking.

Up until 12:15 p.m. Wednesday, many leaders of New York's anti-fracking movement were convinced the state was going to approve a pilot program in Broome and nearby counties using the controversial drilling method.

Conflicting rumors swirled that morning after it was first reported the state would make an announcement on natural gas exploration. Drilling opponents said they feared they had lost the first round in their six-year battle to ban fracking in New York.

Only when Acting Health Commissioner Howard Zucker urged the state to prevent fracking from moving forward did opponents feel relief.

"I never thought this would happen," said Walter Hang of the Ithaca-based Toxics Targeting during a celebration rally Thursday in front of the Binghamton State Office Building.

About 20 members of the anti-drilling coalition gathered to sign a "thank you" card that was delivered to Gov. Andrew Cuomo's representatives in Binghamton.

On Wednesday, Zucker and Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joe Martens said after a comprehensive review of scientific studies examining the environmental effects of fracking, they could not recommend New York proceed with the practice of extracting natural gas from shale formations deep beneath the ground.

The recommendation effectively blocks natural gas drilling using the fracking technique in New York.

"This is a victory for the people of Southern Tier, the people of New York and it is cause for celebration," said Isaac Silberman-Gorn, a community organizer for Citizen Action in Binghamton.

Drilling supporters, however, were angered by the determination, saying the state failed to consider evidence indicating that natural gas exploration using horizontal drilling techniques could be done safely with the proper regulations and monitoring.

They point to the more than 30 other states, including California, where fracking has been approved, creating an abundance of newly discovered natural gas and petroleum.

Hydraulic fracturing uses a mixture of water, sand and chemicals to fracture shale formation up to a mile or more underground to release trapped natural gas.

Broome County Executive Debbie Preston said the decision to block fracking will cost municipalities along the gas-rich Marcellus Shale millions of dollars in potential tax revenue, closing off tax relief from beleaguered homeowners.

Additionally, she said, drilling would have spurred development in a region that has suffered from job losses over at least the past 10 years.

"I still think it can be done safely," Preston said. Only a short distance from her own Conklin home, Preston said Pennsylvania-based drills are tapping the resource that now is off-limits for her New York neighbors.

A ban may also have a potential effect on real estate values, said Preston, a Republican. Now that drilling is prohibited in New York, properties that were assessed on the basis of the potential income from gas resources believed to be underneath the ground could possibly appeal for reduced valuations.

The move by the state's top health and environmental regulators is the culmination of a decision-making process that has stretched through more than six years, two governors, several layers of review, numerous missed deadlines and countless protests and rallies across the state.

It represents a major victory for fracking critics, many of whom have trailed Cuomo, a Democrat, at events for the past four years. New York becomes the first state with significant shale reserves to move toward a formal fracking ban.