Environmentalists and Lawmakers Call for a State Moratorium on Hydrofracking for Natural Gas

Alice Joyce Jun 14, 2010

By Alice Joyce

Environmentalists, lawmakers and concerned citizens gathered around the steps of City Hall June 11 to support legislation that would establish a moratorium on natural gas extraction using hydraulic fracturing for 120 days after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency completes its study of the effects of the controversial process to water quality.

The legislation has been proposed in both the New York State Assembly and Senate by Assemblymember Steven Englebright (D-Suffolk County) and Senator Joseph Addabbo (D-Queens). The deadline for passage of this bill is June 21, the last day of the June legislative session. If the bill is not passed by this date, drilling permits may be granted as early as this fall and actual drilling could begin in December.

The grassroots campaign to stop the extraction of natural gas in New York State using hydraulic fracturing, known as “hydrofracking,” is up against big money. According to Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause, the energy industry spent some $600,000 on lobbying in Albany last year.

Despite the low turnout at the rally — mostly lawmakers or representatives of environmental groups — a one bright note was offered by Martha Robertson, member of the Thompkins County Legislature, when she said, “We’re on the verge of the state telling energy companies that we have to wait.”

Developed in the 1940s by Halliburton, hydraulic fracturing was created to release natural gas that is trapped underground in dense shale deposits. By injecting millions of gallons of water laced with toxic chemicals and sand thousands of feet underground and diverting this pressurized flow into horizontal tunnels created by explosions, the technology affords energy companies a rich harvest of once unattainable natural gas.

But in more than 30 states this process has degraded soil, contaminated aquifers and wells, polluted air, caused disease in people and livestock, deforested thousands of acres of forest land and been identified as the cause of gas explosions. Yet even this sordid history has not deterred energy lobbyists from assuring lawmakers that the process is safe.

The negative environmental impact this technology has had on those other states underscores the fact that the moratorium is absolutely essential. This was made perfectly clear by Sierra Club member Carl Arnold who pointed out, “It would give us the breathing room necessary to assess thoroughly what the drilling would mean for New York State and allow us the time to further educate the public as well as our representatives in Albany.” In other words, the only antidote to industry money spent to promote drilling is the votes cast by informed New Yorkers holding their representatives accountable at the polls in the next election.

After all, if there is nothing to hide, “Why the rush?” asked Craig Michaels, the watershed director of Riverkeeper. “Industry drills first and asks questions later.”

Or is it that once the drilling has been implemented it would be too late to ask questions because the damage would have already been done? Carl Arnold presented the scenario of what New Yorkers can expect if drilling takes place:

“We can expect disposal issues of untold proportions — wastewater treatment plants can deal only with biological waste. They are neither equipped nor licensed to deal with hydro-fracking muds and fluids, with their brew of toxic chemicals, heavy metals and radioactive materials.”

“We can expect drinking water wells contaminated with the resulting conspicuous increase in farm animal stillbirths and deformed offspring, and in humans — more respiratory, kidney, and liver ailments, cancers and brain lesions.”

“We can expect, conservatively, about 65,000 wells drilled across the Southern Tier. The Hudson Valley Business Journal states that an estimated 200,000 wells will be sunk.”

“The amount of freshwater confiscated from New York’s lakes, streams, ponds and rivers would be astronomical. At an average of five million gallons per well, 65,000 wells would require 325 billion gallons of fresh water, all of which would be permanently contaminated and permanently removed from the natural water cycle.”

“That’s just for one fracking.” A well might be fracked ten to 20 times over its 20 to 30 year life. The chemicals would amount to an average of 50,000 gallons per well per frack.”

Again, there is no technology that can handle such vast quantities of water.

Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh (D-Manhattan) deconstructed the industry’s tactics of playing victim by stating that, “It is a victim of its own destructive practices and secrecy by refusing to reveal its chemicals to officials at both the state and federal levels.”

Englebright calls hydrofracking “one of the most dangerous technologies we have today.”

New York City Councilmember James Gennaro (D-Queens), chairman of the Environmental Protection Committee, makes it clear the state should not issue drilling permits until the effects of hydrofracking are known. “Let’s not act,” he said, “until we know what the hell we’re doing.”

For more information on hydrofracking, read The Indypendent’s Oct. 30 cover article “Our Water at Risk.”

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