The public has until Wednesday to comment on a plan to open up 85 percent of the state of New York to the controversial practice of hydraulic fracturing or "fracking." In 2010, a moratorium on this form of "natural" gas and oil extraction in the state was put in place, but a plan to lift it, advanced by Governor Andrew Cuomo, could change this.
The New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has received over 18,000 comments on its recommendations for fracking. Comments of those opposed to the practice appear to outnumber supporters by at least a 10-to-1 margin. After the comments are considered, the department is expected to produce a final impact statement and regulations. Additional funds to regulate fracking, if the moratorium is lifted, are not expected to be included in the governor's budget to be released mid-January.
New York's Water Supply in Jeopardy
The plan would exclude drilling on the surface of the watersheds of New York City and Syracuse, but these watersheds could still be accessed -- and potentially contaminated -- from underground through the horizontal drilling technique used in fracking. The plan also does not address disposal of the chemical-laden and often radioactive wastewater of fracking, nor does it protect the infrastructure used to transport water to 9 million people in New York City.
In a letter written to a local newspaper, a former technician tasked with managing groundwater contamination for the DEC said that based on his experience, fracking would undoubtedly compromise New York’s water supply.
"Let me be clear: hydraulic fracturing as it's practiced today will contaminate our aquifers," he said. "Not might contaminate our aquifers. Hydraulic fracturing will contaminate New York's aquifers. If you were looking for a way to poison the drinking water supply, here in the north-east you couldn't find a more chillingly effective and thorough method of doing so than with hydraulic fracturing."
A new report by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency links fracking to water pollution for the first time (meanwhile citizens across the country have witnessed these links, as documented by Josh Fox in his documentary film "Gasland" and by others, such as Toxics Targeting). Additionally, the DEC's own environmental impact statement outlines the link, noting that there are a "significant number of contaminants" in fracking fluids which could seep into surface water or aquifers.
Industry Spends Big in New York
The gas industry has had its eye on New York since before the moratorium on certain new fracking activities and has been pushing to overturn the partial ban. The Marcellus Shale, which encompasses Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and New York, has seen a heavy boom in the amount of wells drilled in the past few years and an upsurge in opposition to fracking because of its effects on the natural environment and the health of neighbors to the drilling, processing, and transportation operations. New York is currently the only state on top of the Marcellus Shale with a moratorium on new injection wells.
Energy companies have spent millions in television advertising, lobbying, and campaign contributions to sway the state and its politicians, to open the floodgates for the industry to frack New York freely. According to the New York Times, the governor has received over $106,000 from the gas industry and its allies since 2010. So-called "Energy Citizens," a front group for the American Petroleum Institute, has sent hundreds of comments to the DEC in support of drilling by collecting names and addresses on its website. Those comments have been vastly outnumbered by the comments of people concerned about fracking.
'Water Ranger' Hits the Airwaves
New York constituents, with less financial backing than the billion dollar gas industry, have been working to ensure that the DEC hears their concerns about how fracking will affect their lives and the lives of future generations. Recent statewide hearings were flooded with constituents voicing concern about the looming decision on whether to re-open the state to massive fracking for methane gas.
The New York Water Rangers, a partnership of environmental and community groups, launched an ad this month to combat the pro-fracking messaging permeating local television markets. The ad depicts a man dressed as a superhero saying that he is fighting to "safeguard our water from industrial gas drilling" asking the governor to be the "hero we are looking for."
Public comments can be submitted online, here.