Environmentalists may be cheering the news that New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has decided to ban hydraulic fracturing, but farmers and small businesses across the state are reeling.
“I’m devastated,” apple farmer David Johnson told The Guardian after Wednesday’s announcement that New York was banning fracking. “I have concerns about how to continue this farm that’s been in the family for 150 years.”
“If we had been able to get some gas drilling going it would have made our lives a little easier and taken a few of the stresses away,” echoed Judi Whittaker, who owns a dairy farm and hoped for gas royalties to help pay her high property taxes. “We’ll just have to rethink what we’re doing and move ahead. Agriculture has ups and downs all the time. You just have to go along for the ride.”
The Marcellus shale formation covers New York’s Southern Tier, which is covered by small towns and farms that would have greatly benefited from royalties paid out by natural gas drillers. High taxes and restrictive land use laws have made it tough for upstate farmers to eke out a living, however, and many family farms are on the chopping block now that fracking is indefinitely banned.
For six years, the natural gas industry and some upstate landowners have been trying to convince the Cuomo administration that hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is environmentally safe and economically beneficial.
But the Cuomo administration sided with environmental groups last week when his top health department official announced he would not recommend fracking occur in New York — a decision even the governor is distancing himself from.
“Would I live in a community [with fracking] based on the facts I have now?” said state Health Commissioner Howard Zucker, according to the New york Post. “Would I let my child play in a school field nearby, drink water from the tap or grow vegetables from the soil? . . . My answer is no.”
Environmentalists cheered the decision, but people who actually have to make a living upstate were critical.
“We’re just falling apart in the Southern Tier,” Johnson said from his 30-acre apple farm near Binghamton on the New York-Pennsylvania border. “I make a living from people coming to my farm. But we’re losing population.”
Just across the border from Johnson’s farm, the economy is booming in rural Pennsylvania where the state allows oil companies to extract natural gas using fracking. Oil and gas activities support 300,000 jobs in the state and contributed $34 billion to Pennsylvania’s economy.
“I mean, I would say to New Yorkers, ‘Come to Pennsylvania and take advantage of these jobs that are available with this well-paying industry,’” Stephanie Catarino Wissman, head of the Pennsylvania branch of the American Petroleum Institute, told NPR.
Lots of upstate New Yorkers have jumped across the border for work or to relocate their families. But the hardest loss for upstate residents is the lack of young people starting families in the region — many are leaving to look for opportunity elsewhere.
“The people who are left have less money to spend. Every year my business decreases,” Johnson said. “We try new things, I raise prices, but the trend continues no different from any other industry in the Southern Tier.”
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