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New York anti-fracking group draws celebrity support

By George Lerner, CNN
updated 7:07 AM EDT, Thu August 30, 2012
Artist Sean Lennon attended the launch of Artists Against Fracking, an activist partnership project opposed to hydraulic fracking.
Artist Sean Lennon attended the launch of Artists Against Fracking, an activist partnership project opposed to hydraulic fracking.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Sean Lennon among artists against fracking in New York
  • Gov. Andrew Cuomo is expected to take up the decision on whether to allow fracking
  • Fracking involves pumping water, chemicals into shale formations to release natural gas

New York (CNN) -- The family of late Beatles music icon John Lennon on Wednesday voiced opposition to a controversial process of natural gas drilling known as fracking,

Sean Lennon, who appeared at a press conference in New York with his mother, Yoko Ono, said fracking is "dirty, it's just inherently dirty."

"The bottom line is there is a campaign of misinformation to try to tell people that hydraulic fracturing is a clean alternative to coal or other fossil fuels," he said.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is expected to take up the decision on whether to allow fracking, or horizontal hydraulic fracturing, which involves pumping millions of gallons of water and chemicals into shale formations deep beneath the Earth's surface.

CNN Explains: Fracking

This process causes the fracturing of the rock and the release of natural gas, but has raised concerns over the potential for chemicals to seep into the drinking water supply.

Drought-stricken fracking firms turn to farms' water wells for help

Lennon unveiled a campaign called "Artists Against Fracking" to oppose the expansion of the process while it is under review by New York's Department of Environmental Conservation.

The regulatory decision would not require a vote in the state legislature.

Lennon's family acquired a farm in upstate New York in the 1970s, and he said he grew concerned about fracking after being invited to a community meeting held by the natural gas industry that was seeking to expand drilling.

Those concerns led Lennon to form "Artists Against Fracking," with his mother's help, and to sign up former Beatles Sir Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, as well as actors Mark Ruffalo and Anne Hathaway, among more than 100 other artists.

"We just asked friends to call friends and it accelerated from there," Lennon said. "When people who don't know much about it, or are on the fence, when they realize that it's water and air, which is something we all relate to and depend on, most reasonable people want to get on board."

A de facto moratorium on horizontal hydraulic fracturing has been in place since 2010 while the state conducts an environmental review of the process, which is widespread in neighboring Pennsylvania, which shares the Marcellus Shale formation with New York.

Cornell Engineering Professor Anthony Ingraffea, who appeared at the Artists Against Fracking conference, said industry data show one out of 20 wells leak.

"No matter what the industry tells you, their own data ... proves conclusively to any reasonable scientist or engineer that it is impossible to design any well so it will never leak," Ingraffea said. "Wells will leak. Wells do leak. The best and the brightest in that industry have been trying to solve that problem for 100 years."

But John Holko, president of Lenape Resources, which operates 237 wells in New York using the older vertical hydraulic method, said he did not believe the figures on well leakage were accurate. "I have not seen data that supports that."

The Independent Oil and Gas Association of New York, which advocates for the drilling industry, said fracking had helped reduce U.S. carbon dioxide emissions to their lowest levels since the early 1990s.

"Artists who have turned into activists on this issue are being led by those who are more comfortable twisting the facts and taking part in street theater, stunts and gimmicks," said IOGA President Brad Gill. "They are ignoring the prosperity and environmental protection that modern natural gas development is bringing to many other states."

The renewed debate over fracking came after press reports that Cuomo was nearing a decision on allowing limited fracking in five counties in southeastern New York, near the Pennsylvania border.

But a spokesman for Cuomo said no decision had been reached, and was not expected to come for weeks. Any move would follow the release of a final report by the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

"Our review of high-volume hydraulic fracturing is continuing and no decisions have been made," the agency said, noting it was preparing a response to the 80,000 comments received from the public. "Once we review the comments, we will make any necessary changes to the documents. We will most likely release the final documents by the end of the year."

According to analysts, the U.S. Energy Policy Act of 2005 exempted industry from federal oversight, meaning that all regulatory authority falls to state authorities, rather than the Environmental Protection Agency. It is up to Cuomo to decide whether to proceed with fracking. It will fall upon the Department of Environmental Conservation to issue permits for horizontal hydraulic fracturing.

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