On the issue of fracking, where agreements about facts are scarce, there is never a shortage of passion and emotion.
So let’s look at this fact: 557, as in 557 adult signatures on a petition to ban hydrofracking that was presented to the Cochecton Town Board. The petition drive was conducted by the anti-fracking group Keep Cochecton Green (KCG), who went door to door to each occupied residence. According to the 2010 U.S. census, the population of Cochecton is 1,372 people.
What that number 557 means varies among residents. For instance, town supervisor Gary Maas, who remains neutral on the matter while waiting for the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to hand down its new regulations, had this to say about the petition, “It’s impressive. 550. That’s a good number. That’s a big number.”
Resident Alan Rubin, who presented the petition on behalf of KCG, viewed 557 like this, “The petition shows the town people in favor of a ban on high-impact industry are in the overwhelming majority,” claiming 557 is twice as many names as a competing pro-fracking petition going around.
Pro-fracking resident Peter Grosser, views 557 with caution. “They are very passionate about what they are espousing. But I think it’s a doomsday effect that everything is going to be contaminated that they are going for,” which he says could have influenced how people feel about the issue.
A new Quinnipiac poll released last week shows New Yorkers as a whole approve of fracking 45% to 41%, with the margin widening upstate, 48% to 40%.
The pending DEC hydrofracking regulations are a key factor in whether the board should delay or hasten to vote on the matter. KCG wants the board to vote on the issue now, fearing that upon receiving the new regulations Governor Andrew Cuomo will approve fracking in the state, with no further public discourse, making it harder for towns to control what happens within their borders. Rubin said to the board, “If you say no, you can change your mind later; but you won’t be able to change a yes to a no.”
Then there’s the trust issue. “The DEC has neither the manpower nor the will to protect us or the integrity of our communities,” Rubin said.
Councilperson Larry Richardson shared his own personal story about a hazardous waste landfill the DEC was monitoring. As part of the Upper Delaware Council (UDC), Richardson was privy to reports the DEC agreed to send to the UDC for monitoring purposes. When the reports stopped arriving, the UDC contacted the DEC, “and the DEC said there’s no money. So the monitoring stopped.”
In response to a request by the town for a timetable on the regulations, Maas read a letter from Senator John Bonacic’s office stating the governor has made it clear he will not put pressure on the DEC to expedite the process.
Maas said, “We should trust them [DEC] to some degree to make it right and make it safe for everybody. I think they have been somewhat responsible by not rushing it, unlike in PA. Maybe they do have a good plan.”
“There are new technologies that are being developed day by day. I really believe it can be done safely. I truly believe that,” says Grosser.
Five hundred and fifty-seven residents seem to disagree. Maas is contemplating putting the issue on the agenda to discuss again next month.