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Kate Sinding’s Blog

New Concerns Confirm NY Not Ready For Fracking As Comment Period Closes

Kate Sinding

Posted January 10, 2012 in Curbing Pollution

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Tomorrow marks the last official moment for New Yorkers across the state to speak up and have their opinions heard about the current proposal for the expansion of fracking here. The public comment period for the state’s environmental impact study (known by its full name as the revised draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement or “RDSGEIS”) and proposed regulations on fracking is coming to a close.

As the deadline approaches, NRDC is putting the finishing touches on more than 500 pages of detailed technical and legal comments - both from scientific experts and our own expert legal staff - to add to the more than 20,800 comments the state has received so far, and the thousands more expected tomorrow.  (A link to our full comments will be made available as soon as they are submitted.) 

Although it would be impossible to give a complete rundown of what we will be submitting, I wanted to share just a few of our top-line takeaways.

First and foremost, although there were some notable improvements and it’s clear that DEC has done some hard work since the last review, there are still significant deficiencies in both the impact study and the regulations, demonstrating that the state is not prepared to move forward with fracking.

The bottom line: when you rush, you make mistakes, and that is exactly what happened here. Not only are critical analyses still missing and/or incomplete, but the decision to release the impact study together with the draft regulations has resulted in many of the proposed “mitigation” measures getting lost in translation.

Since July, we’ve gathered a team of experts – covering the fields of hydrology, geology, toxicology, petroleum engineering, water quality, air quality, health and others – who have provided an in-depth review and critique of the state’s findings and have likewise confirmed that there are significant parts of the review where the state needs to go back, re-do the review properly, and reissue it for public review and comment.

On top of the issues we have previously identified, this in-depth technical analysis has identified a host of additional deficiencies. Here are just five of our most pressing new concerns, each one of which, on its own, demonstrates that the environmental review process is far from complete:

  • There’s no plan at all to deal with toxic wastewater.  The wastewater generated from fracking operations is among the worst our expert toxicologist has ever seen. Yet the state has absolutely no plan whatsoever for how the vast amounts of toxic wastewater expected from fracking operations would be managed.  We’ve seen the impacts of improper wastewater management elsewhere – including contaminated rivers from treatment in municipal sewage plants in PA and earthquakes from improper deep well injection in OH – and it is inexcusable for the state not to have some plan in place before allowing new fracking here.
  • The scope of the action is too broad. The current version of the impact study and proposed regulations purport not only to address fracking in the Marcellus shale region, but also shale formations such as the much deeper Utica Shale, yet the study only directly looks at the impacts of drilling in the Marcellus. As our experts point out, every shale formation is different, and so are the environmental concerns with developing different regions. Separate shale formations demand their own environmental reviews. Until that happens, drilling in these other formations should be off the table.
  • Health risks are omitted entirely. There’s next to zero exploration of the health impacts fracking could have on New Yorkers. Yet it is increasingly recognized that a full health impact assessment is a critical component of a thorough examination of the potential risks of fracking.  Just last Thursday, the nation’s top environmental health expert called out the need for comprehensive new analysis of the health risks of fracking.
  • Flawed socio-economic analysis doesn’t calculate negative impacts. The state itself has acknowledged that it needs to re-do its socio-economic analysis because of glaring omissions. Most significantly, while overstating potential economic benefits, the report includes only 7 pages out of more than 250 on the potential negative economic impacts, when we know that there are real and substantial economic risks associated with fracking.
  • Fracking could be allowed in flood zones and other critical vulnerable areas. The analysis fails to consider how the effects of climate change could result in fracking operations taking place in major flood plains, including places that were under water during Hurricane Irene last year. This presents serious pollution risks, particularly as drilling is proposed to occur in and around flood-prone communities.

Over and over, we’ve told the state to slow down, yet the Fracking Express keeps barreling forward.  Governor Cuomo rushed to push out the environmental impact study and proposed regulations after only six months in office, and the result is huge gaps in the proposed regulatory program. These are gaps that would make moving forward with new fracking not only dangerous, but contrary to the purpose of the environmental law that requires the study’s creation (the NY State Environmental Quality Review Act, aka SEQRA).

We recognize that there is significant pressure from industry to move forward, but taking the time to undertake a complete, legally sufficient consideration of the impacts of fracking is not too much to ask when the risks involved could have grave, lasting -- if not permanent -- effects on New Yorkers and communities statewide. One needs only to look next-door to Pennsylvania to see that’s true.  Fracking is the biggest environmental issue facing New York in a generation, and Governor Cuomo must stay true to his word that he will not authorize any new fracking unless the risks have been properly and fully evaluated, and necessary safeguards identified and implemented.

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Comments

James FilesJan 10 2012 09:58 PM

For a good example of how things should not be done you should look at the new law in West Virginia. The only protection for the water table is an offer to provide water for water well owners who can identify pollution within 6 months and then only if the well is within 1500 feet of the gas well. No controls on the fracking chemicals. No real protection for Karst formations. Tailings need not be dealt with if "arrangements can be made with landowner". Only a few of the deficiencies in a terribly flawed law.
http://www.legis.state.wv.us/Bill_Status/bills_text.cfm?billdoc=hb401%20enr.htm&yr=2011&sesstype=4X&i=401

RonJan 11 2012 09:38 PM

Dallas, Texas Jan.10, 2012 (Business Wire) 100% "Green" Fracking Solution- STERIFRAC!!!

All the "anti frackers" out there might want to read this article, so you can conjure up more bs
and spread more lies about this technique!

Becky BrookJan 13 2012 01:30 PM

Anyone who wants to see what fracking is doing must see the movie, Gas Land. It shows exactly what is happening to our people, our environment, and it was done by a man who had no interest in big money. This is all about big money. Sure, people get jobs, but what is needed are jobs that will keep our country from being flushed down the toilet in a sea of gas waters and exploded atmosphere. This is real people. This needs to be stopped, and don't let the slick talkers tell you it's Sterifrac. What the heck! Watch this movie, it shows it all. GAS LAND.

Tim LillardJan 13 2012 01:35 PM

It is the norm for environmental impact studies to cover all significant impacts, including ecological ones, in an objective, scientific manner, regardless of any conflicting goals that the Department of Environmental Conservation may have. Only then can they inform anyone and serve as a basis for policy.
This EIS, and NRDC's comments, ignore the greatest of all the impacts. Why is hydrofracturing done? To produce natural gas. What is done with the gas? It is burned, and there lies the problem, the big one, global warming and its climate effects, which come from burning hydrofractured shale gas, as they do from all fossil fuels, effects that can't be mitigated or avoided. I have searched the whole EIS, and there are no mentions of climate effects related to burning the produced gas. The relatively trivial greenhouse gases from equipment use and leakage were addressed, but these amount to about 1% of the problem; it is the burning of the produced, delivered gas that has the large impact and which the EIS, and NRDC too, it seems, studiously ignored.

How bad does NRDC or anyone else want things to get before finally conceding that fossil fuels are obsolete, that all fossil fuels are a bridge fuel to sustainable, renewable power, and that it's time to burn that bridge?

Instead of tallying all the negative effects of fossil fuels, which will lead civilization and perhaps humanity to their ends if we continue to rely on them, shouldn't we be abandoning them completely and using the resources for conservation and building sustainable, renewable power sources? Couldn't the NRDC refocus itself?

Kate SindingJan 13 2012 02:16 PM

Tim, although our blog posts have focused on only some of the immediate environmental and public health impacts of fracking on New Yorkers and the New York environment addressed in our comments, those comments absolutely do address the important climate change issues you raise. In particular, our comments focus on (1) the critical need to address methane leakage, and (2) the complete failure of DEC to consider how climate change-induced changes will affect and enhance impacts associated with proposed fracking..

Fighting global warming and promoting clean energy is a top NRDC priority and we work hard to promote energy efficiency and renewable power across the United States, including in New York State. Electricity produced from natural gas produces fewer global warming emissions than electricity produced from coal, but, as you mention, natural gas production produces wasteful and highly polluting methane emissions. For a discussion of our view on global warming emissions from natural gas and coal facilities, go to http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/dlashof/natural_gas_needs_tighter_prod.html. For a discussion of a roadmap to a cleaner and more sustainable energy future, go to: http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/dlashof/what_will_the_transition_to_a.html.

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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