Will Lack of a United Front Make Fracking Likely in the Finger Lakes?

Posted December 15, 2012 by Lenn Thompson in Features
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Don’t look now, but I think hydraulic fracturing — known as fracking — is coming to New York.

For some background on fracking, I’d encourage you to read some of our previous coverage:

The NYCR firmly opposes fracking. I mention this not because we are an important player in this battle, but because individuals and organizations that stand to be impacted — directly or indirectly — by fracking should not remain silent or waver in their position. As such, we join winery owners, winemakers and other winery folks across the state — but especially in the Finger Lakes — in our outspoken opposition.

Because everyone that I know in the industry is against fracking, it was with great surprise that I read in the December 1 issue “The Wine Press,” the New York Wine & Grape Foundation’s newsletter, that president Jim Trezise wrote at the end of a section on new wine trail signage and regulations  “As usual, New York Farm Bureau was a valuable partner in all this, and I encourage every New York grape grower and winery to join that great organization.”

There is little doubt that the New York Farm Bureau has made a positive impact on the state’s wine industry — but isn’t the New York Farm Bureau also in favor of fracking?

According to Steve Ammerman, the group’s public affairs manager, yes they are. “Yes, New York Farm Bureau supports natural gas drilling,” he told me in an email, adding that the group has called for stringent environmental regulations to be put in place in order to protect our important natural resources and that they have not reviewed the recently published regulations — but that barely matters. The New York Farm Bureau is pro-fracking — so Jim Trezise, the president of the NYWGF, is encouraging wineries to pay to become members of an organization that is pro-fracking.

That didn’t seem right to me, so I emailed Mr. Trezise, not only asking about his support for the Farm Bureau, but also asking what the NYWGF’s position is on fracking — assuming that it is opposed to fracking.

His response was “NYWGF doesn’t have a position on fracking.  The support of Farm Bureau is based on their advocacy of issues pertaining to grapes and wine.”

Mr. Trezise didn’t reply to my follow-up email, so I do not know why the NYWGF doesn’t have a position on something that could have a devastating impact on the very grape and wine industry it is supposed to support and promote, but — ignoring the likely politics behind the inaction — I find it disturbing and disappointing. And it is even more troubling that Mr. Trezise is recommending that NYWGF members — a group made up at least primarily of those against fracking — to pay money to join an organization that is publicly in support of it.

No one in or around the wine industry should support fracking in the Finger Lakes. And I certainly don’t think that someone in a position of leadership in the industry should encourage wineries to support — through membership dollars — an organization that supports fracking. That just doesn’t sit right with me — and I’m assuming a great many people in the wine community.

Update 12/13/12 11:18 a.m.: I emailed Morgen McLaughlin, president of Finger Lakes Wine Country, to get that organization’s official stance on fracking and she let me know that “FLWC doesn’t have an official stance on fracking.” An email to Bob Madill, chair of the Finger Lakes Wine Alliance board hasn’t been returned yet. 

Update 12/13/12 12:52 p.m.: Bob Madill replied a few moments ago, saying “When we formed the FLWA it was with the conviction that the organization would focus exclusively on the mission of raising the visibility of our region as a premier wine growing region and wines. We have been successful at working collegially (now with 37 supporting wineries) by sticking to this objective. Some Finger Lakes wineries support fracking and some do not. Some support wine in graocery stores and some do not. So on the matter of fracking, the FLWA has not taken a position. We remain open to being informed about these and related issues.”