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Source: Politics on the Hudson

Enviros release top 10 list of fracking concerns


Posted: July 20, 2011
Originally Published: July 19, 2011

Taking a page straight from David Letterman’s book, a coalition of environmental groups released today a top 10 list of its most pressing concerns with the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s latest proposed regulations for mitigating the environmental impacts of hydraulic fracturing for natural gas.

Five groups—Environmental Advocates of New York, Earthworks, Earthjustice, Citizens Campaign for the Environment, and Riverkeeper—were part of the list, ranking the issues while calling on the DEC to triple the public comment period on the document, which is scheduled to start in August, from 60 days to 180 days.

While the groups said the second draft of the DEC’s document is generally an improvement from the first (released in 2009), they said there is still improvements to be made.

Brad Gill, executive director of the state Independent Oil & Gas Association, said in a live chat with the Buffalo News today [1] that the proposed rules are tough, but will move the state forward. High-volume hydraulic fracturing has been on hold in New York since the DEC review was launched in 2008.

“Although very stringent and comprehensive, we feel the SGEIS document will provide the assurances and maximum environmental protections that NYers need to feel comfortable and move forward,” Gill said. “Certainly the pending economic impact is much needed.”

The environmental groups, however, say more work needs to be done. After the public comment period, the DEC must make another round of revisions to its report before issuing a final document and allowing high-volume fracking in the Marcellus Shale and other formations.

The coalition’s “Top 10 Fracking Flaws” are listed below:

1) New York State isn’t proposing to ban any chemicals, even those known to be toxic and carcinogenic. While the proposed public disclosure component has been strengthened, telling New Yorkers what toxic chemicals will be used is not the same as protecting the public from negative health impacts.

2) The preliminary draft allows drilling waste to escape treatment as hazardous waste, even if it is in fact hazardous under the law. This means fracking waste could be sent to treatment facilities unable to properly treat it, putting the health and safety of our waters and communities at grave risk.

3) The state proposes allowing sewage plants to treat drilling wastes, even though such plants are not permitted to handle the toxic elements in such wastes, and even though the DEC itself has called into question New York’s capacity and ability to treat fracking wastes.

4) Drinking water supplies would be inadequately protected. The preliminary draft increases buffers and setbacks from aquifers and wells. However the protections are inconsistent and can be waived in some instances. All setbacks and buffers must be set to provide maximum protections that cannot be altered.

5) Some fracking restrictions would have sunset dates. The preliminary draft proposes to place some areas of the state off limits to gas drilling, but upon closer examination, many of the restrictions have sunset dates and some of the protective buffers only call for site-specific individual environmental review, rather than clear restrictions.

6)The preliminary draft does not analyze public health impacts, despite the fact that fracking-related air pollution and the potential for water contamination have serious effects on people—especially the elderly and children, and communities downwind and downstream of proposed fracking operations. There is growing evidence of negative health impacts related to gas extraction in other states.

7)The DEC proposes issuing permits before formal rulemaking is complete, a backward move that leaves New York’s waters and communities at risk.

8)The state is breaking up environmental impact reviews. The thousands of miles of pipelines or compressor stations required for drilling to get the resulting gas to market will be reviewed by a different agency under a different process. Without an accounting of such impacts, New York’s environmental assessment is incomplete and the full impacts of fracking are unknown. The Public Service Commission has jurisdiction over gas infrastructure. As such, Governor Cuomo should direct state agencies to coordinate their efforts in order to protect our air, water and communities.

9) While proposing to put the New York City and Syracuse watersheds off-limits to drilling, critical water supply infrastructure would not be protected. The state proposes a buffer around New York City drinking water infrastructure in which only an additional review would be required and upon which projects could be permitted—not a formal ban. The proposed buffer is only one-quarter as long as a typical horizontal wellbore, too close to the sensitive, aging infrastructure that provides the city with drinking water. There are no proposed buffer requirements for Syracuse.

10) New York’s environmental agency has been subject to steep budget and staff cuts and does not have adequate staff or resources to properly oversee fracking, even if every possible protection were in place. This reality raises the possibility that the DEC will be forced to cut corners with its reviews or fast-track permits despite the risks. Natural Resources Defense Council and Environmental Advocates of New York are members of an advisory panel expected to weigh in on agency resources and staffing in the months to come.