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‘Fracking’ draws local ire at hearing on state’s draft energy plan

While the state’s draft energy plan is largely mum on hydrofracking, local residents were not during a hearing on the issue Tuesday at the University at Buffalo’s Center for Tomorrow on the North Campus in Amherst.

“Gov. Cuomo wants to frack upstate New York so bad, he can taste it – to further his vision for the White House,” said James C. Hufnagel, a Wilson resident. “The governor needs to make a definitive statement to ban fracking in upstate New York.”

“The plan describes natural gas as a ‘clean’ energy source; it is not,” said Rita I. Yelda, of Food & Water Watch and Western NY Drilling Defense. “Fracking, the primary method of gas extraction today, poisons land, air and water, makes people sick and contributes to climate change.”

Hydrofracking, or “fracking,” is a controversial drilling technique that has been used to greatly increase natural gas production in states such as Pennsylvania, by using millions of gallons of pressurized water, mixed with chemicals, to blast open natural gas deposits in shale formations that were inaccessible under conventional drilling techniques. Opponents say fracking poses environmental hazards such as contaminating water supplies.

Hufnagel and Yelda were among about 40 speakers, mostly from environmental groups, who decried the energy plan, which was released last month. The plan calls for the state to invest in renewable energy sources and move beyond coal and gas.

“The potential for renewable energy in New York State is enormous,” said Robert M. Ciesielski, chairman of the energy committee of the local chapter of the Sierra Club.

“We already have the technical ability to create jobs in renewable energy installation and manufacturing. The proposed solar manufacturing facilities at RiverBend in Buffalo, recently announced by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, give a glimpse of the potential for growth and investments in New York.”

The state plan, with 15 energy-related initiatives, calls for New York to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase the use of natural gas, along with cleaner alternatives such as wind and biomass. The plan reaffirms the goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050.

The hearing was the fourth of six being held across the state by the New York State Energy Planning Board. When the hearings wrap up next month after the last two downstate, work will begin on a final draft of the plan, which is expected to be finalized this spring.

Many of the residents who spoke Tuesday said the plan is vague.

“The State of New York Energy Plan should be a guide to making energy decisions into the future with visionary prospective,” said Pamela Hughes, vice chairwoman of the Sierra Club’s Niagara Group. “We look to Gov. Cuomo to be a climate leader, but he has missed the mark in this new energy plan that does not even include climate disruption as part of the impetus for a ‘flexible and affordable’ clean-energy system. This state’s energy systems rely on dirty fossil fuels like coal, oil and increasingly gas and nuclear power plants.”

With the focus on increasing natural gas consumption, fracking is implied, several speakers said. But the plan doesn’t take a stand on controversial process, which was has been banned in New York since 2008, and barely mentions it by name.

“The plan predicts fracking in New York,” Yelda said. “Cloaked in confusing and contradictory language, the document forecasts that natural gas produced in New York will triple by 2030 with the lifting of the state’s current moratorium on high-volume horizontal fracking.”

Speakers said the plan fails to identify targets or set goals.

“We need targets,” said Charley Bowman, chairman of the Western New York Peace Center’s Renewable Energy Task Force. Bowman said the state should be producing 1,100 watts each of wind, solar and geothermal energy to meet its goal for 2050. “This plan has no numbers; it’s eye candy,” he said. “Let’s get our butts moving on renewable energy now.”