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Avella looks abroad to address fracking

Jeremy Buckingham (l.), member of the Australian Legislative Council, talks hydrofracking with state Sen. Tony Avella in his Bayside office. Photo by Yinghao Luo
TimesLedger Newspapers

To a farmer living in upstate New York, hydrofracking is a local issue, but after a more global discussion in his office last week, state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) said he was surprised to realize how international the controversial drilling method could be.

Avella met last Thursday with Jeremy Buckingham, a member of the state Legislative Council in Australia’s New South Wales, to share their concerns about hydrofracking in both New York and abroad.

“This isn’t just an issue for New York state. It affects the entire world,” Avella said of the heavily debated oil extraction procedure. “We have to be careful about how we do this sort of thing and it is helpful to share our common interests.”

Hydrofracking involves the extraction of natural gas and petroleum by drilling through rock and has been a major talking point throughout New York as Gov. Andrew Cuomo considers allowing it in the state. Buckingham said he was visiting lawmakers and other influential speakers throughout the United States on a self-proclaimed “frack-finding tour” to learn more about its effects.

The Australian lawmaker said he chose to visit Avella because of his public opposition to the possibility of bringing fracking to New York. He said lawmakers in Australia looked to the United States as an older brother and he has been watching the country’s hydrofracking debate closely while working to draft his own legislation to protect farmland from hydrofracking.

“Tony has a very strong record on this issue. He tells the truth and the truth is very concerning,” Buckingham said. “There are lots of politicians, but not too many truth-tellers.”

According to the two lawmakers, the similarities were striking between how New York and Australia grapple with the hydrofracking debate. Buckingham said whether it was New York or Australia, the hydrofracking industry seemed to operate in similar ways by dominating lawmakers, politicians and communities with the same public relations spin.

“They have got the same playbook,” Buckingham said. “These visits in America only confirmed what we thought about the industry.”

Avella said Republicans were overwhelmingly in support of the procedure moving forward in New York due to an anticipated economic boom. But Democrats, he said, have generally opposed any sort of hydrofracking in the state for environmental reasons.

No matter where you go, Avella said, fracking poses a real risk in terms of its potential effect on an area’s drinking water. The senator addressed a letter to Cuomo earlier this month requesting that the governor meet with scientists and other experts to discuss the potential threat posed by the procedure.

“What you don’t know could hurt you a lot,” Avella said.

Avella said he has sponsored legislation to combat hydrofracking in New York and said views of the issue were primarily divided along party lines in Albany.

Looking forward, Buckingham said one of his next stops would be a visit to the Stop the Frack Attack rally in Washington, D.C., July 28.

And when they were done sharing ideas, Avella took it one step further, giving the Australian senator an American sports icon — a baseball, which Buckingham accepted with a laugh while tossing it happily to himself.

Reach reporter Phil Corso by e-mail at pcorso@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4573.

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