Under the proposal as it now stands, fracking would be permitted only in counties in the southwest portion of the state, bordering Pennsylvania—Broome, Chenango, Steuben, and Tioga counties—and only then in towns which agree to allow fracking. Fracking would be banned in Catskill Park, in aquifer areas, and in national designated historic districts.
On one level the Cuomo plan seems like a decent compromise (presuming you assume a complete ban is off the table), appealing both to environmental sense (the areas were reportedly selected to minimize risk of groundwater contamination), local control (the towns can opt out part), as well as economic justice (the areas where fracking would be allowed are some of the poorest rural areas of the state).
But I've got to sympathize with New Yorkers Against Fracking's Sandra Steingraber when she says (quoted by New York Times and Democracy Now!),
Sending a polluting industry into our most economically impoverished communities is a violation of environmental justice. Partitioning our state into frack and no-frack zones base on economic desperation is a shameful idea.
New Yorkers Against Fracking has characterized these areas as "sacrifice zones" and that's certainly what it feels like.
The only thing ameliorating that feeling is that towns, theoretically, would be sacrificing themselves, in that they would be able to opt out. But what good is that when potential water contamination doesn't respect human-made boundaries above ground, when the increased traffic from fracking has to travel through towns that opt out? But what about further just shoving off pollution on poor communities, with the benefits likely being primarily sucked off elsewhere?
Not to mention the increasing body of research, from both academics and intergovernmental agencies, such as the International Energy Agency, shows that expanding the use of natural gas will do nothing to prevent climate change, and that natural gas obtained by fracking has radically higher greenhouse gas emissions than gas obtained through conventional methods.
All of which to say, the Cuomo plan, while certainly better than permitting fracking wherever the fossil fuel industry can convince people to lease their land, is utterly fatalistic and short-sighted.
The momentum toward fracking and more natural gas is certainly great right now, but in no way is this a good idea (except for perhaps the profits of the companies involved), nor is it inevitable. We can choose better, even if Cuomo doesn't seem to think we can.