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Auburn City Council asks state to ban fracking 'loophole'


AUBURN — The Auburn City Council unanimously passed a resolution Thursday asking Gov. Andrew Cuomo to extend New York's fracking ban to a new "loophole" method already permitted for use in Tioga County.

In 2015, Cuomo directed the state Department of Environmental Conservation to ban hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, which is a method to extract natural gas and oil from underground by injecting fluids, typically water and a chemical mixture, at high pressure.

However, a recent permit application by a company seeking to use a method of fracking that uses gelled propane rather than water in the Tioga County town of Barton threatens to serve as a "loophole" to allow fracking, according to Councilor Terry Cuddy.

Cuddy first asked city staff to draft the resolution at an August council meeting, and said at that time his concerns about fracking were what prompted him to enter politics in the first place.

"We're hoping that the governor and the DEC see that the prohibition that they put forth in 2015 would be strengthened if they include any kind of hydro-fracturing whether it be gelled propane or not," Cuddy said.

The resolution asks the governor to ban fracking with gelled propane and all other hydraulic fluids, and to also halt the review of the specific application from Tioga Energy Partners LLC, saying its allowance would contradict the intent of the 2015 ban.

"The fact that this is even being considered really is contrary to the very bill that was passed," Councilor Jimmy Giannettino said.

According to the resolution, in addition to the dangers posed by regular fracking, including groundwater contamination, radioactive byproducts, and harmful air emissions, gelled propane represents an additional risk because of the danger of transporting the explosive and flammable material.

Councilor Debra McCormick said it was more important now than ever for local governments like Auburn to stand up for the environment in light of lax federal enforcement.

McCormick referred to the Trump Administration's recent rollback of some provisions of the federal Clean Water Act, which she said are the same rules the city and partners have been working for years to strengthen to protect Owasco Lake.

"It's really a struggle and everybody has to pay attention," McCormick said.

Without federal or state-level protections or a willingness to enforce them, Councilor Dia Carabajal said, it is up to the council along with residents to be vigilant for the environment's sake.

"We have to be the voice of the people of Auburn and make them aware that this is happening and also to advocate against it, because ultimately, locally, we are responsible for our environment, for our lake, for what would happen here," Carabajal said.

The resolution will be sent to Cuomo along with the Tioga County Legislature and members of Auburn's state and federal legislative delegations.

Mayor Michael Quill was excused absent.