Friday, April 22, 2011


In recent weeks, there has been a resurgence in attention to HydroFracking in New York State. Long awaited studies are concluding and reports are showing that there is no good way to spin the reality that Fracking is detrimental to the communities and regions where it is perpetrated.
In the New York Times, we saw the most aggressive approach to the dangers and the ruthless tactics used by the oil & gas companies. Lets not forget how, until recently, the chemicals used in the process were an industry secret that, as it turns out, contains compounds that are highly carcinogenic and cause multiple health hazards including birth defects. I understand why they didn't want the ingredients of the injection slurry exposed.
Back in 2010, under the leadership of Henry Waxman, the House Energy & Commerce Committee, made the initial inquiry which revealed that 14 of the nation’s most active hydraulic fracturing companies used 866 million gallons of hydraulic fracturing products. This of course was before we include water into the equation. 
This issue has come up numerous times in the Ulster County Legislature because of the possibility that companies in neighboring counties are threatening to use the same process to get less accessible natural gas out of the subsurface shale beds that permeate much of the Delaware & Hudson Valleys.
 For those who may not know, HydroFracking is the process of using liquids under high pressure into deep rock formations where current gas pockets are difficult to reach. The liquid chases the gas out of the fissures and permeable shale beds. Fracking yields the best result when pursued horizontally, just below the surface. The process, which is being used to tap into large reserves of natural gas  around the country, opens fissures in the rock to stimulate the release of oil and gas.  

NY AG Eric Schneiderman vowed last week that he would file a lawsuit against the federal government unless officials commit to a comprehensive safety review of hydrofracking. He is giving officials a month to agree to the study that would focus on the impact of hydrofracking in the Delaware River basin,  including portions of Broome, Chenango, Delaware, Schoharie, Green, Ulster, Orange and Sullivan counties.

Of course our own state DEC is stepping up with their own study, expected out in August. Those who would grant permits claim they'll wait until the state study is concluded. I'd urge them to wait until the Fed review or insist that the process be included under the scrutiny of the Clean Air & Water Act. 
If the chemicals used in Fracking were expected to stay deep below the surface, there would be less of a controversy. Unfortunately, they do not. There are numerous accounts of communities across the country that have been evacuated and rendered toxic brownfield status because the pressurized slurry reached the wells and waterways. In some cases, flammable gas and mysterious liquids leak out from back yards. These property owners had no recourse because the companies are not held accountable. They were simply ordered to leave permanently.  

In one town in Pennsylvania, levels of benzene are roughly 28 times the federal drinking water standard in wastewater as it was discharged, after treatment, into the Allegheny River in May 2008. In some cases, the contaminants were radioactive. I can assure you, our treatment plant cannot handle the removal of radioactive elements. 
If that wasn't enough of red flag, there was an explosion in Bradford County PA last week. The well exploded close to the surface so it spewed tons of fracking liquid over containment walls, through fields, personal property and livestock farms. They've found traces in the Susquehanna River.

The push to find new sources of energy, tremendous profits and feed the American addiction on fossil fuels has put out drinking water at risk. 
The question is how many wells need to blow out, how many people need to get sick and how many communities need to be devastated before elected leaders say enough is enough, the risk is too great? 
As my friend Legislator Zimet said "The gas has been there for millions of years, it can stay there a little longer until we figure how to extract it safely.”

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