At a Monday morning press conference next to Mount Kisco Village Hall, state Sen. Greg Ball called on Gov. Andrew Cuomo to take a harder line on gas companies who want to drill in the state.
At the center of the debate is a process called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, that involves horizontal drilling for natural gas deep below the ground surface, by creating fractures to rock formations and extracting the material from the movement.
Emphasizing the issue as urgent, Ball said the industry is “on the precipice of receiving red-carpet treatment here in New York State.”
Gas companies are seeking the right to drill in the state's portion of the Marcellus Shale rock formation, which stretched through upstate. Fears over the reliability of the wells, ground water contamination and concern over the impact to New York City's water supply have been cited from critics.
The state lawmaker, surrounded with a group of fracking opponents, called on Cuomo to visit Pennsylvania, a state where fracking is permitted and where residents in several drilling communities have reported health problems that they believe are connected to the practice. He also asked that the public comment period for a draft study released by the state's Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) be extended to a total of 180 days. The larger would total include days that have already elapsed since the DEC started the comment period over the summer.
Ball decided to hold the press conference because it is "in his [Cuomo's] back yard. The governor lives in New Castle, just west of the Mount Kisco border. Cuomo's press office did not respond to a request for comment.
Ball accused the industry of trampling on private property rights with how companies have treated landowners, and is worried about fracking's impact on farmers and sportsmen. Ball, a Republican from Patterson, also emphasized the bipartisan nature of both opposition and support for the practice.
“See, this isn’t about party in any way. This is all about money and politics," he said.
Reaching back into history, Ball also criticized former Vice President Dick Cheney for spearheading a limitation, while he was in office, on federal review of the practice, leaving it up to the states.
Having taken a tour of a drilling area in Pennsylvania, Ball was accompanied at the press conference by Craig Stevens of Silver Lake, PA.
Stevens, a member of his region's Tea Party chapter and critic of fracking, is a sixth-generation owner of his land. In his talk, Stevens blasted Pennsylvania officials for not properly handling the drilling, and criticized his state's government for claiming that local water was safe to drink.
“You come to my house and my neighborhood," he said. "I’m looking forward to you going to Dimock [a nearby community affected] and drinking a big, thirsty two-ouncer of Dimock Lemonade, we call it.”
Stevens called on President Barack Obama to intervene in the matter, and to bar gas companies from imposing gag orders in contracts with property owners involved in the drilling.
“My five generations before me did not pass my land, with clean water, fertile land and clean air, and I’m not going to be the one on my watch that poisons it so my children, the seven generation owners can’t even come near to visit.”
In a press release, Josh Fox, director of the movie GASLAND, which takes a look at drilling practices in Pennsylvania, praised Ball for visiting the state.
"Senator Greg Ball is one of the only politicians on either side of the aisle who has the heart to actually go and see firsthand the horrific and abusive conditions the gas fracking industry is forcing on citizens and one of the only public servants with the conviction and the guts to stand up to the gas industry," he said. "Touring the gas lands of Pennsylvania should be required of every NY state representative."
Ball is also trying to get support for a "Property Owner's Bill of Rights," as he calls it. His proposed legislation would do the following (quoted from his press release):
- Mandatory water and soil testing by an official government third-party for presence of chemicals used during the fracturing process prior to drilling.
- All fracking companies must sign a Presumption of Causation Agreement with the State of New York.
- Mandatory full reimbursement to property owners by negligent gas companies for 150% of the real estate’s market value of property, based on estimates prior to drilling, and 100% of the cost for full remediation of soil and water. The company will also be accountable for full reimbursement of the land owner’s legal fees.
- Mandatory full remediation of soil and water, and free medical monitoring for life. All settlements are not to be taxed.
- Allow local governments to enact or enforce certain laws and ordinances relating to oil, gas and solution mining.
- Mandatory adherence to an environmental impact assessment process, similar to New York’s SEQR Process, to assess the impact to the environment from hydraulic fracturing.
- Mandatory disclaimers and warning statements on lease documents about the risk of contamination of soil and water, as well as the potential health effects, related to hydraulic fracturing spills.
Going forward, Ball and Fox will be holding a a screening of GASLAND in Peekskill. It will be Oct. 22 at 1:30 p.m., at .