NY Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo: Fracking Friend or Foe?

Last Wednesday when the New York State Assembly voted to extend a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing another two years, after having had a moratorium for near five years already, many landowners in Broome County were surprised and disappointed to see a seeming change in position for an influential member of the NY State Assembly. Donna Lupardo, Assemblywoman for the City of Binghamton, Village of Endicott and the western Broome County towns of Vestal and Union, voted in favor of the two-year ban on fracking. Such a ban, if passed, would effectively kill drilling in New York—likely permanently. Two years ago she voted against a similar piece of legislation. Why the change?

MDN contacted Ms. Lupardo to ask that very question. She sent this response via email:

My position on HVHF has remained unchanged in the past five years. I am highly cautious about this activity and have said that if we are going to issue permits we should have the strictest regulations for the protection of the environment and human health. I am neither an anti-drilling activist, or a drilling proponent. I am a policy maker, and as a member of the Governor’s Advisory Panel for HVHF, a policy advisor. In other words, I am trying to remain objective.

I voted against previous moratorium bills because they interfered with the work being done by the DEC, and because they would have banned the issuance of new vertical well permits. I voted in favor of the most recent bill because I support conducting a health impact assessment. Many people, including myself, have concerns about the two year timeframe for the study. The timeframe and other issues still need to be worked out with the Senate and the Governor.

We have heard from every major health care organization in the state asking for us to conduct a thorough health review (NY Medical Society, American Academy of Pediatrics, Nurses Association, County Health Commissioners, etc.) That’s why the DEC asked the Department of Health to look over the SGEIS, and why the Governor seems interested in the outcomes of both the EPA and Geisinger health studies. The bill the Assembly passed would involve a study by a SUNY Health Center. My vote was meant as a message of support for a health assessment. In fact, I’ve discussed this for so long, it could have been done by now.(1)

Ms. Lupardo is a member of the Assembly Committee on Environmental Conservation and a member of the High-Volume Hydraulic Fracturing Advisory Panel appointed by Dept. of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joe Martens. Her opinion on fracking matters—she carries influence in Albany. Until now, she has successfully straddled the fence as being neither for nor against shale drilling, instead trying to stake out the middle ground of being “cautious” and “objective.” However, after five years, landowners in the Southern Tier—in her district—have grown tired of endless delays. Lupardo’s vote in favor of another two-year delay is evidence to many that she’s now either “out the closet” or has “finally chosen a side”—choose your metaphor.

MDN went in search of Lupardo’s public statements and positions on the issue of fracking. What’s been her history with this issue? Here’s what we found:

In 2008 the state legislature held hearings on shale drilling. From those hearings, we have these early insights into Lupardo’s position:

“This is one of the most critically important environmental issues the state faces, and we want to get a handle on it,” said Assemblywoman Donna A. Lupardo, D-Endwell.

The hearing was organized through the Assembly’s Environmental Conservation Committee, of which Lupardo is a member. It included testimony from two dozen industry proponents, regulators, and environmental advocates.

“We heard about it from every angle possible,” Lupardo said “There is a lot to digest. The sheer density of this makes it complex. We’re not talking a well here and there.”(2)

In 2009, Ms. Lupardo penned the following comments (in part) in a viewpoint article published in the Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin:

I’m often asked if I’m for or against gas drilling. I’m neither. I recognize the economic potential of the drilling, and I’m committed to doing what I can to make sure it’s conducted with minimal impact on our critical infrastructure.

The question shouldn’t be whether we drill for natural gas or not. Rather, it’s: How can we prepare ourselves and our community for safe drilling? This will come too soon for some, and not soon enough for others. But after New York’s regulations are finalized, I’m certain that it will be coming to our area.

Our community would be best served if all parties try to see the value in what the other “side” cares about. I believe that common ground exists. Everyone who lives in this valley appreciates and wants to protect our beautiful countryside. And everyone understands the financial shape of upstate New York.

The fact is that when drilling begins in earnest, our community will change significantly. We should use this time to anticipate and plan for the various issues that are bound to arise. We have learned from other communities that we also need to pay attention to other areas that will be impacted, such as medical and EMS services, affordable housing and public safety.(3)

She indicates she believes drilling is a certainty and that it’s not a question of whether drilling will happen, but when. She clearly believed it was “coming to our area.” Lupardo said we should take the time to prepare for its arrival, but note in her list of things to consider, she does not mention a health study.

Lupardo was quoted in an article a few months later reiterating her “middle of the road/objective” approach:

As a Dec. 31 public comment deadline approaches, the polarizing debate shows no sign of easing. Stakeholders continue to hold town hall meetings, sign petitions and write elected officials in an attempt to make or break the multibillion-dollar gas industry’s move to the Southern Tier.

“This is by far the most contentious issue that I’ve worked on since joining the state Assembly,” said Lupardo, a third-term Democrat from Endwell. “I’m compelled to do everything possible to protect our environment, while recognizing the enormous economic potential of the Marcellus. I’m trying to be a moderating voice in this process.”(4)

Although she states she wants to protect the environmental, once again there is no mention of a health study.

As the time for public comment on the then proposed drilling rules from the DEC drew to a close (what became one of many such deadlines), Lupardo in her role as a “moderating voice” wrote to then head of the DEC, Pete Grannis, to let him know the existing draft of proposed shale drilling rules needed more work. Here is the list of improvements she recommended (in December 2009):

    • The need for a cumulative impact analysis on our water resources, air quality, roads, and infrastructure.
    • Additional consideration of the impact of air emissions from diesel exhausts, wells, compressor stations, flaring…
    • Additional guidance on mitigating noise and light pollution.
    • A requirement of full public disclosure of hydraulic fracturing chemicals currently being used, along with proprietary formulas.
    • A requirement that non-toxic fracturing fluids be used, given the potential for surface and ground water contamination.
    • A mandate that all baseline well water tests and complaints should be handled by DEC and not passed along to local governments and County health departments.
    • A full review of the impact of water depletion at the levels needed for hydrofracturing on this scale.
    • The need for a clear distinction between drilling waste, flow-back waste water, and produced water/waste and the development of appropriate protocols for the handling and treatment of each; and that road spreading of “produced water” not be allowed under any circumstance.
    • Requiring steel tank storage systems systems for all wastewater generated from fracturing; ban the use of open-lined pits.
    • A comprehensive plan for dealing with invasive species, wildlife protection and habitat fragmentation.
    • Better coordination with the Public Service Commission regarding the placement of gas transmission lines(5)

Although she opens with the need for a “cumulative impact analysis” on water resources, air quality, etc., there are no calls for a “health study” of any kind in her extensive list of what needs fixing.

Nine months later the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) held a hearing on the topic of fracking in Binghamton, on Sept. 13, 2010. The EPA was in town to elicit feedback on what would become a multi-year study of fracking (now under way). Ms. Lupardo provided testimony at that hearing. Part of her testimony was this:

To that end, I would like to suggest several research questions for you to consider as you establish the parameters of your study.

1) Are there other viable fracturing practices (for example: the use of non-toxic or “green” fracturing fluids, or the use of propane gas for fracturing, etc.)?

2) Does the fracturing process create fault lines that could provide migratory pathways for fracturing fluids, or for substances from other strata such as methane, to reach local water supplies?

3) Are there reliable tests that can guarantee the integrity of well casings prior to the fracturing process?(6)

The rest of her comments, if you read them, reiterate her “straddle the fence” approach of being neither for nor against fracking. The interesting thing to notice about her testimony and the questions she poses to the EPA: there is no mention of a health study.

A little over a month later (in Nov. 2010), the NY Assembly voted to enact a moratorium until May 15 of the following year. Lupardo voted against that moratorium. At the time, she stated:

I did not support the moratorium bill the Assembly passed last night because it is has unintended consequences and does not address the concerns that most New Yorkers have about high-volume hydraulic fracturing. It simply places a moratorium with an arbitrary date of May 15th on top of what is already a de facto moratorium. It also prohibits the DEC from issuing new permits for vertical drilling, which has been used to safely extract natural gas in New York State for decades. This will cost jobs in Upstate New York at a time when we can least afford it. The Legislature should allow DEC to complete its regulatory review before inserting itself into the process (and that process could go beyond May 15, 2011).(7)

Lupardo recognized the jobs-killing effect a moratorium would have on vertical drilling. About a month later, after the NY Senate passed the same measure, the bill went to then-Gov. David Paterson who vetoed the measure. Lupardo endorsed his decision to veto the moratorium legislation, but she also supported his decision to instead issue an executive order essentially doing the same thing—creating a moratorium on horizontal drilling—until July 1, 2011. The purpose of the executive order moratorium was to give the DEC “enough time” to properly study the fracking issue and (once again, for the third time) revise their proposed rules. Lupardo said at the time:

I support the actions that Governor David Paterson took today. I voted against the moratorium bill (S.8129-B/A.11443-B) for the very reasons that he vetoed it: the May 15th moratorium deadline was pointless given the current pace of the DEC’s review of horizontal hydraulic fracturing and the bill would have inadvertently suspended the issuance of new permits for vertical wells. His executive order gets more to the heart of the matter – providing the DEC with additional time to complete its exhaustive review.(8)

So it seems Lupardo was saying she wanted vertical drilling to continue, but she was on board with Paterson’s executive action to delay horizontal drilling, and that an additional eight months should be enough time to sort it all out. Once again, no mention of a health study before the new rules could be released.

If the original moratorium vetoed by Paterson in 2010 had exempted (continued to allow) vertical drilling, but discriminated solely against horizontal drilling, would Lupardo have voted for it? We now know the answer. Last week she voted in favor of the moratorium on horizontal-only drilling.

Late last year Democrats (including Lupardo) began to raise the issue, “We need a study on the health effects of fracking.” It was a Hail Mary pass to stop fracking from beginning in New York, which at the time seemed likely to happen. The bill that passed the Assembly last week includes language requiring a health study to be performed by the State University of New York (SUNY). Suddenly, it’s all about waiting for a health study.

Ms. Lupardo says she has been “highly cautious about this activity” from the beginning and still seeks to be “objective.” Her earliest public statements indicate she believed hydraulic fracturing of shale was coming and coming soon, and that she wanted it to be done safely, as we all do. But somewhere along the way (or perhaps it was always this way), Ms. Lupardo changed her views. Her vote for an additional two years to “study” a drilling practice that’s been done successfully and safely for decades in tens of thousands of locations with no ill health effects is a not-so-transparent attempt to have her cake and eat it too. Lupardo and other Democrats only began to call for a “health study” late last year, contrary to her statement to MDN that she’s been calling for it from the beginning.

It’s time to just be honest, Ms. Lupardo. You are anti-drilling and working against the wishes of many of your constituents. Why not just be honest about your position?

You may ask, “But isn’t the Democrats’ call for a health study prudent? Why is that a bad thing?” Because that’s not why they want another two-year delay. Another delay is not really about public health at all.

In Feb. 2012, the NY State Health Department issued findings to Gov. Cuomo from a “secret” study of the health effects from fracking should the DEC’s new rules be adopted. That review found: “Significant adverse impacts on human health are not expected from routine HVHF operations.” The findings were not publicly released because Gov. Cuomo knew he would face serious problems with the environmentalist left wing of his party. He was correct. They went ballistic when they heard about it.

In addition to the findings from the NY Health Department, plenty of large-scale health studies have been done on the health impacts of oil and gas drilling. Here’s a few:

What do the studies show? There have been no measurable ill health effects from drilling on the general population. Furthermore, there have been no ill effects for the workers themselves.

Lupardo and other Democrats’ calls for “yet another health study” is simply a delay tactic as part of a larger strategy to permanently kill fracking in New York. It’s obvious Lupardo has now chosen sides—she’s squarely on the anti-drilling side of the isle. No more hiding, no more equivocating. She’s made her choice.

If you live in Donna Lupardo’s Assembly district in Broome County, NY, perhaps you’d like to make your displeasure with her recent vote known. Give her office a call and tell her about it:

The phone number for Lupardo’s district office in Binghamton: 607-723-9047.

The phone number for Lupardo’s office in Albany: 518-455-5431.

Lupardo’s email address: [email protected].

(1) Donna Lupardo (Mar 9, 2013) – Email received from Donna Lupardo in response to question from MDN

(2) Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin/Frack Free Catskills (Oct 16, 2008) – N.Y. lawmakers tackle gas-drilling issues

(3) Donna Lupadro (Sep 14, 2009) – Seeing eye-to-eye on drilling: Sides in issue need to find common ground

(4) Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin (Dec 13, 2009) – Politicians choose sides in Marcellus Shale drilling debate

(5) Donna Lupardo (Dec 30, 2009) – Assemblywoman Lupardo Submits Comments on NYS DEC’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement for Natural Gas Drilling

(6) Donna Lupardo (Sep 13, 2010) – Lupardo’s testimony for the EPA hearing

(7) Donna Lupardo (Nov 30, 2010) – Lupardo statement on drilling moratorium bill passing

(8) Donna Lupadro (Dec 11, 2010) – Lupardo statement on Governor Paterson’s veto and executive order on hydraulic fracturing