Gov. Andrew Cuomo of the great state of New York, I’d like you to meet Josh Fox. As you may know, Josh, who is 39, wrote and directed a film called Gasland, which I’m sure is at the top of your Netflix queue. In 2010, the film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Feature Documentary and helped bring the world’s attention to the dangers of hydraulic fracturing, aka fracking. To put it another way, Josh is the guy who is largely responsible for the political minefield that you now find yourself tip-toeing through as you consider whether or not to lift the moratorium on fracking in New York State.
FYI, Josh is working on a sequel for HBO, called Gasland 2, which will be out later this year. But meanwhile, he has written and directed The Sky Is Pink – a short (18-minute) film that is, well, just for you, governor. You can watch it below.
I know fracking is a subject you've been giving a lot of thought to recently. In 2008, your predecessor, David Paterson, signed the moratorium on fracking in New York State, pending environmental review. Since then, we have all learned a lot about the risks of fracking – about how the toxic chemicals used can migrate into drinking water, about how methane can leak out of well casements, about the danger of disposing of billions of gallons of polluted wastewater the process produces. I know you have had teams of scientists from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation studying all this. I‘m sure you have had teams of lobbyists from big gas companies like Chesapeake Energy pushing you and your team hard to declare fracking "safe" and to lift the moratorium ASAP.
Last week, someone in your administration – I won’t try to guess who! – leaked details of your administration’s plan to allow fracking to the New York Times. I’ll give you this: You didn’t allow Chesapeake and the other gas industry thugs to roll you entirely; among other things, the plan limits fracking to five counties in the southern tier of the state and places restrictions on drilling near drinking water supplies. Obviously, you're trying to appear rational and pragmatic about all this, talking about following "the science" while balancing economic development with environmental and public health concerns.
Well, guess what? When it comes to fracking, there isn’t much "science" to follow yet – there’s mostly just industry-funded propoganda. Not only that, but there are a whole lot of people in your state who don’t want you to balance anything. They’ve seen what has happened in Pennsylvania where the gas companies have run wild and they fear that once the drillers get their bits into the ground in New York, it’s a mad rush to ruin.
This reaction from Maya van Rossum, the Delaware Riverkeeper – the Delaware River is part of the New York watershed – is pretty typical: "How can Governor Cuomo consider allowing shale gas development when the state’s environmental study is so riddled with holes and unaddressed pollution and public health issues? How can Governor Cuomo allow shale gas drilling in New York when he can see how many citizens and communities are getting sick, hurt and traumatized from the practice in other states? And how can New York pretend it is safe to drill in some counties and not in others – especially when science shows the pollution problems are the result of drilling and fracking shale formations, not where or how deep these well bores go?"
Fred LeBrun, a political columnist at the Albany Times Union, noticed that you seemed taken aback by the ferocity of the reaction to your proposal: "Once the story of the state's supposed plan was in play, the governor went out of his way to neither confirm nor deny it was correct, yet he couldn't stop talking around it while never really saying anything. At least not believable. "What came out was vintage Cuomo's Deli, where you can get any cold cut you want as long as it's baloney, sliced anyway you want to hear it."
These are treacherous waters for you, governor. Remember all the trouble your dad had with the anti-nuke activists on Long Island in the 1980s? Fracking could be a similar quagmire for you, especially given your immodest aspirations to the Oval Office.
Anyway, the guy you really gotta come to terms with is Josh Fox. Because this little film about the troubles with fracking in New York is pretty damn good. Among other things, he’s got some damning info from the industry on well failures that you might want to have a look at. Whatever you think of the film, one thing is for sure: It’s gonna be seen by a lot of people – a lot of voters, governor. So as you ponder how and when to lift the ban on fracking in New York, give it a look. Journalists like myself will be interested to hear your response to the question Josh addresses to you at the end of the film: "Governor Cuomo, what color will the sky be over New York?"