Testifying Against Hydrofracking

Testimony regarding the Department of Environmental Conservation Proposed Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement and Proposed Regulations

November 30, 2011

As the Assemblymember who represents a large portion of lower Manhattan I continue to oppose New York State’s proposed venture into the intensive process of Hydraulic Fracturing (“Fracking”). This proposed venture has the potential to greatly damage New York State’s scarce water and green resources. Fracking could endanger our scarce water and food supply, overburden our already depleted waste water and highway infrastructure, present significant health concerns for residents, and could create a housing crisis through technical defaults of mortgages not written to allow drilling permits. While America’s need for energy has increased so too has the need for government to weigh the economic benefits for a few versus the ecological and environmental impact that could last generations. 

I find it very disappointing that the New York State’s Department of Environmental Conservation’s (DEC) most recent report simultaneously reviews the appropriateness of permitting hydraulic fracturing and proposing regulations. The implication is that the decision to allow the process has already been made and the act of proposing regulations is for the purpose of speeding up the Agency’s ability to issue permits. Additionally, it gives carte blanche for oil and gas companies to exploit New York State’s land for gas with the caveat that this drilling be outside of the watersheds of New York City and Syracuse. This strategy seeks to undermine and quiet the collective voices of New York City residents who rightfully should be concerned with the environmental, and health impact of Hydraulic Fracturing anywhere in the state. The strategy of DEC fails to take in to account the devastating impact that Hydraulic Fracturing has already caused through its implementation in neighboring Pennsylvania. Furthermore, it is short-sighted as the revenues which will be created for the State of New York will only come from the amount received through permits, and will be far less than the cost of ameliorating the situation if an accident takes place. Since 1996, there have been at least four major floods that have devastated the region where fracking may occur. Confronted with the images of the recent flooding catastrophe after Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee it is hard to assess how much more destruction would have been wrought if contaminated flow back water had also been unleashed. Flood waters, by their nature, are uncontainable. In fact, to visualize the widespread dispersal of soil and other material, one only had to look at the Hudson River, which ran brown for two months following the late August storm, and had large amounts of debris in it. The thought that New York City’s reservoirs could be kept safe and uncontaminated in the face of these increasingly destructive storm events would be laughable if it weren’t for the potential hazards involved.

I am especially concerned about the toxicity of fracking. In order to capture a commercially viable amount of gas from the Marcellus Shale formation a well will have to be drilled vertically to approximately 500 feet above the formation and then the well-bore is turned horizontally to tap all the tiny pockets and veins of gas in the shale. Each of these drilling wells require an intensive industrial procedure; furthermore the drilling process itself uses and pollutes huge amounts of water. In fact, a single well requires between 1 million and 5 million gallons of water. About 40 percent of what’s injected into the wells is pumped back out, and it must be treated before it is discharged back into public waterways. The current report by the DEC mentions nothing about the treatment of this contaminated water. This failure to address this most critical public health threat alone should result in withdrawal of the SGEIS. It appears that there is no appropriate waste treatment plant in New York State. Approval of permits could create a crisis in waste handling. With hydrofracking, a single well can produce over a million gallons of wastewater that contains highly corrosive salts, carcinogens such as benzene, and radioactive elements like radium. Other carcinogenic materials can be added to the wastewater by the chemicals used in the hydrofracking itself.

In Pennsylvania hydraulic fracking has caused water supplies to be contaminated with methane and heavy metals. Chemicals used in drilling affected the water run off and in turn the drinking water. There are confirmed reports of Pennsylvania residents stricken with illness that has been attributed to high toxicity and carcinogens in their blood stream caused by fracking. Many properties have been deemed unlivable due to undrinkable water. Crops and animals have suffered and died. Parents have been forced to worry whether they or their children will develop cancer from the amount of toxins in their bodies.

Drilling companies such as Chesapeake, Chevron, and British Petroleum state that there is no danger of contamination or accidents with hydrofracking, just as they claimed deep water drilling in the Gulf was safe, which it is until it isn’t. The consequences are too grave to allow profits ahead of our clean water. The gas and oil industry denies there is any connection between the illnesses that crop up in new areas of drilling, and count on the inability of individuals to fight them. It is the responsibility of the government to protect the people and our environment. The chemical industry made similar claims of safety a generation ago. It was the same message New York State was given before the Love Canal catastrophe. Must we see history repeat itself at the cost of our residents’ health?

Clean water is one of our Nation’s greatest and most valuable resources. Currently storing, transporting, and treating the water wastes as a result of the fracking process poses an unacceptable risk to the water quality of New York State and New York City residents. Although the current plan to prohibit the process in and around the Syracuse and New York City watershed offers some protection, it does not account for the flow back water from the process, estimated to have between 9-35% of the chemicals used in the process still in it, seeping into the groundwater resulting in a contamination across the state of private and public wells and watershed systems. The most recent SGEIS requires a disclosure by oil and drilling companies as to the composition of the fracking fluid. While it is better to have the information of what chemicals are used- it is of questionable value knowing that multiple carcinogens have been pumped into the ground beneath one’s well. Furthermore what role will the trade secrets law have in protecting these companies from fully disclosing the chemicals in use? The oil and gas industry has a pattern of denying responsibility for damage to water, property, people and animals in areas negatively impacted from drilling operations. Why should New Yorkers believe that any of this will be different here?

Another serious concern left unresolved is the impact on the ground and surface water from the brine created by the actual production itself.  The brine is five times saltier than seawater and flows to the surface level during the process. The resulting brine is untreatable and cannot be returned to drinking water quality. Currently, New York State’s waste water treatment infrastructure needs an estimated $3 billion dollar investment to bring it up to good repair. It is beyond comprehension that our already strained infrastructure can accommodate the conservative annual projection of three million gallons of waste water drilling will generate.

Since many localities are instituting bans on gas drilling, it can be reasonably assumed they will also reject entreaties to withdraw clean water from any sources under their control for use in the actual fracturing process. So it may be required to truck in clean water to begin the process. Additionally, the transportation of this waste water and drilling equipment will be another burden on New York State’s failing transportation infrastructure. In light of the fact that New York State’s highways and bridges are in desperate need of repair the DEC SGEIS report does not shine any light or information as to where the funding to maintain the already overburdened bridges and highways will come from in order to transport the estimated drilling waste water, or the clean water to be trucked in. Furthermore, this sort of truck traffic releases polluting chemicals into the air as well as destroys quality of life from noise pollution to surrounding residents. It also should be noted that within this venture there will be an increase of danger on the roads from hazardous chemicals – if waste water is transported and an accident occurs. What emergency response assets will be available to localities? Who will be incurring the liability for this potential disaster?

Additionally, there are naturally occurring radioactive properties in the Marcellus Shale that will be widely disseminated through fracking. Current EPA testing has already found levels of radiation that are 267 times the recommended amount in vertical wells. As you know, the DEC’s most recent SGEIS report states that the Marcellus Shale has been found to be higher in radioactivity than other bedrock formations including other potential reservoirs that could be developed by high-volume hydraulic fracturing. It is greatly disturbing that the DEC chooses to ignore the risks that fracking may have on releasing this radioactive material into the environment. Recent reports of seismic activity in areas where fracking is underway should be reviewed. Not only is there grave concern about damage to water tunnels carrying water to New York City, but the potential for the release, or migration of radioactive material is yet another red flag that demands review that DEC has not undertaken and requires a withdrawal of the SGEIS.

Fracking also may cause financial devastation to many by triggering a technical default on their mortgages. A great number of national and local banks are reluctant to issue mortgages for properties leased for gas drilling; and many banks will simply refuse to issue mortgages on these properties. The Congressional Research Service has stated in their annual report that signing drilling leases without prior approval on property with a mortgage owned or guaranteed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac “generally will be considered an act of default under the mortgage.” This poses a significant financial risk of a homeowner being in default or foreclosed upon by their financial institutions. New York cannot afford to have more of its citizens suffer from default or foreclosure, especially when this potential danger has not been disclosed by gas companies seeking to lease property.

Finally, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is preparing data based on the information they have collected as to the effects of fracking on water. This report is due during the spring of 2012.  The cost-benefit analysis that is always at the heart of choosing between a societal need and the risks associated with a dangerous process has resulted in national determinations that there are some sacrifice zones in different regions of the country. Frequently, these have been associated with energy needs and the toxic by-products of production. The densely populated areas of New York are not appropriate for consideration as a sacrifice zone. This is equally true for the heart of our large and increasingly critical agricultural regions, which fall outside of watershed protected areas, but are equally important as our food shed. Agriculture is our third largest industry and it can offer more economic activity if it becomes part of a renewable energy resource. We should be supporting agriculture and assisting in it being more diversified, not undermining the public’s confidence in its safety.

It is my opinion that due to the inherent risks of hydraulic fracking as well as the invaluable resource that is New York City and New York State clean water fracking cannot be allowed in NY State. Implementing this technique in New York State is poor public policy and represents a danger to New York’s residents. In the event that the Administration seeks to allow this methodology diligent further study and information must be gathered before permits are granted. That study must include the delineation of where all the new water for drilling will come from, and where toxic waste water will be sent. Furthermore, no state resources should be liable for any future clean up costs. All liability must be the responsibility of the corporate entities that are spending millions of dollars on persuasion advertisements and lobbying. Furthermore, it is clear that the cuts to personnel at DEC make it impossible to adequately monitor the industry’s activities, so regulations may not be worth the paper they are written on if they cannot be enforced.

Finally, any drilling activity must also generate more revenue than just permit fees, it should require at a minimum a fund to clean up the environment as well as a gas capture fee. Although fracking may appear to be a financial boon for the state, the ultimate cost to the environment far outweighs any financial gain. Therefore, I urge you to reject and deny any proposal for permits for hydraulic fracturing in New York State. Instead, the Department should be asserting the need for New York to become the nation’s leader in renewable energy.

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