Green Party of New York State Comments on the DEC Hydrofracking

On January 9, 2,000+ fracktivists rallied for a fracking ban outside Cuomo's State of the State address. The next day,
January 10 the Assembly Environmental Conservation committee heard 11 hours of testimony on the proposed regulations.  Friday January 11, our allies in the New Yorkers Against Fracking Coalition delivered 204,000+ comments to the DEC on the proposed regs, all including a call for a hydrofracking ban.  Below are the official comments submitted to the DEC from the Green Party of New York State - our candidates, including 2010 candidate for Governor Howie Hawkins, all support a statewide and national ban on hydrofracking. 

The Green Party of NY comments to the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation,” re: “High Volume Hydraulic Fracturing Revised Proposed Regs, ID No. ENV-39-11-00020-RP”

Hydrofracking of natural gas poses significant environmental and public health risks. There is no evidence that hydrofracking can be safely regulated.

The Green Party of New York is convinced that all the evidence shows that hydrofracking for natural gas should be banned in New York State. Natural gas is not “clean” energy but rather another polluting, non- renewable fossil fuel that releases greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Hydrofracking will contribute to the growing problem of climate change. Instead of investing in development of natural gas, the state needs to ensure that investments continue to be made in clean, renewable energy, energy efficiency and conservation that do not result in the emission of greenhouse gases.

Hydrofracking will almost certainly destroy more jobs than it creates.

Hydrofracking means injecting fresh water, dangerous chemicals, and sand at extremely high pressure into rock layers to shatter the stone and release the gas. Each frack injects 2 to 9 million gallons of water with 20,000 to 90,000 gallons of toxic chemicals.

With a well failure rate of between 2 and 8 percent, hydrofracking poses an unacceptable risk to NYS’s abundant water supplies, a natural resource that sustains our communities and is the state’s most important natural resource base for sustainable economic development in the agriculture, manufacturing and tourism sectors.

Where it has been done in Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania — in fact, in over 30 states — hydrofracking has generated immense environmental problems, including:

• Air, Water and Noise Pollution

  • –  Contaminated drinking water aquifers and wells, reservoirs, lakes and streams.

  • –  Toxic waste ponds full of the waste fluids that come back up the wellbore; there could be up to40,000 of these ponds across the New York State if full-scale fracking is permitted.

  • –  Air pollution from flaring (burning “excess” gas to relieve well pressure), along with pipeline and compressor station venting and leaks, release of nitrogen oxides, particulate matter, sulfur oxides,benzene, toluene and other volatile compounds — all of which contribute in various ways to cancers, genetic mutations, nervous system disorders and lung disease, along with increases in rates of CVD, stroke and asthma from increased amounts of diesel exhaust, flaring and compressor station exhausts.

  • –  Global warming increase due to carbon dioxide from flaring and methane from leaks, with methane (the largest component of unrefined natural gas) being 72 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide over 20 years, according to the International Panel on Climate Change’s measure of Greenhouse Warming Potential.

  • –  Increased risk of Vibro-acoustic disease (VAD) in humans from noises from compressor stations metering stations, and dangers to wildlife, farm animals, pets who communicate via vibration.(We note that the industry’s use of confidentiality or non-disclosure agreements makes it difficult if not impossible for researchers to accurately and comprehensively study the health and environmental

impacts of fracking. The gas industry often requires people who settle damage lawsuits to sign non- disclosure agreements. )

• Accidents

  • –  Well blowouts, fires and explosions

  • –  Pipeline fires and explosions

  • –  Drilling fluid waste pond leaks and spills

  • –  Trucking accidents and spills of toxic chemicals in drilling and waste fluids

  • –  Compressor station explosions

• Property Damage

  • –  Natural gas can seep into water systems and homes to pollute kitchen faucet water so it can be lit on fire, and cause houses and drinking water wells to explode.

  • –  Heavy metals and radioactive substances can also seep into the water systems of many rural upstate New York homes with private wells and no access to municipal water.

  • –  Intentional removal of hundreds of thousands of trees, increasing risks to watersheds and retarding and/or disrupting the recharging of aquifers

• Disease

Residents of drilling areas can become chronically ill due to the seepage of carcinogens and neurotoxins into the air, water and soil, with immediate symptoms that can include:

  • –  Headaches

  • –  Dizziness

  • –  Blackouts

  • –  Muscle spasms

  • –  Loss of hearing, vision, taste and smellRepeated or prolonged exposure can cause liver, heart, blood and brain damage as well as leukemia and other cancers.

• Land Theft

These impacts can be far from the drill site because hydrofracking involves horizontal drilling up to a mile and a half from the wellhead. When 60 percent of the land in a “drilling unit” is leased to a driller, neighboring landowners who do not want drilling can be forced to allow gas extraction under their land against their wishes. This policy is called “compulsory integration” in New York State. We regard it as an unlawful seizure of private property and call for its repeal.

Extensive drilling will turn the rural landscapes of upstate New York into an industrial belt of drilling rigs, heavy truck traffic, wastewater ponds and pipelines. It will undermine property values, increase the tax burden on local citizens and reduce the tax base of the state. The industrial and transportation activities of the gas and oil industry will place an enormous strain on local public services and emergency services, including roads, water, fire and police departments, emergency medical services, hospitals and health care providers.

Existing wastewater treatment facilities in New York State are equipped to deal with biological material in sewage and rain runoff — not the types of drilling “muds” and fluids that flow back from hydrofracked wells.

We urge the state to ban hydrofracking.

Below are comments to specific sections of the proposed regulations.

(statements from DEC and its proposed regulations are cited in italics.)

* There is no ban on dangerous chemicals and their identity can be kept secret from the public (Section 560.3):

The DEC merely asks that the chemicals used exhibit reduced aquatic toxicity and pose at least as low a potential risk to water resources and the environment as all known available alternatives. But the industry is allowed to keep the public in the dark by claiming “trade secrets.”

The chemical constituents in fracking fluid can be hidden from the public—and from medical professionals—at the companies' request. And this provision goes to the heart of why fracking cannot, under these circumstances, be regulated.

Regulations are supposed to be based on knowledge, not ignorance. No public health expert can predict the health effects from chemicals that are unidentified. And proprietary carve-outs present a human rights problem. Without public disclosure we cannot offer informed consent to the risks we are being asked to assume.

Between 10,000 and 50,000 gallons of chemicals are used to frack a single well. Of the 600-odd chemicals that are their presumed potential ingredients, 25 percent are linked to cancer, 40-50 percent harm the brain, and 37 percent interfere with our hormone systems. A special amendment to the 2005 Energy Policy Act specifically grants fracking an exclusion from the Safe Drinking Water Act (a law which authorizes the U.S. EPA to regulate the injection of toxic chemicals into the ground). This loophole means that the federal government has no power to require the full disclosure of fracking chemicals. In its proposed regs, the state of New York does not assume that authority.

* Weak, arbitrary setbacks (Section 560.4): Setbacks are distances from drilling pads.

The Regs allow a gas well 500 feet from an inhabited dwelling or place of assembly, but there is no scientific basis to say that this buffer provides safety. Air pollutants from drill rigs, like benzene, can travel much farther, as studies from Colorado show. School playgrounds may not even qualify as “places of assembly” and, therefore, would not be covered by the 500-foot rule.

There is no scientific basis for claiming that 500 feet provides safety. It does not take cumulative impacts into consideration, as when your home is surrounded by multiple well pads. Also, evidence from Colorado shows that air pollutants from drilling and fracking operations travel much farther than 500 feet and that people living within a half mile (= 2640 feet) from a well pad can experience health problems. Long-distance air pollutants from drilling and fracking operations include benzene (a known cause of leukemia) and methylene chloride (an ingredient in paint thinner and a known brain poison). A new study found 44 hazardous air pollutants in the backyard of a Colorado home located 0.7 miles from a state-of- the-art drill pad - seven times farther away than 500 feet.

* Drinking water is not protected (Section 560.4):

Primary aquifers, which provide drinking water to major municipalities, have a drilling setback of 500 feet. Again, no scientific basis exists for this number. Smaller aquifers are not protected at all. No consideration is given to natural underground faults, which can act as pathways for chemical migration. And monitoring wells are not required: we’ll find out our water is bad when we get a rash after showering or discover that our kitchen tap water is flammable.

* Dangerous radiation not adequately addressed (Section 560.7):

Our shale bedrock is highly radioactive, but companies just have to test for radiation, not prevent its release. What’s more, radon levels in fracked gas are many times higher than in conventional natural gas and can enter homes and apartments while cooking with gas stoves and ovens. No level of radiation exposure is safe.

There are rules specifying WHEN and HOW fracking waste should be carried away from the well, but there are no rules that say WHERE its resting place must be. The regulations leave it up to drillers to come up with a plan for disposal. These wastes are toxic but because of federal exemptions specific to the oil and gas industry, they are not classified as such and are thus legally treated no differently than other waste.

Drill cuttings can end up in our municipal landfills. Flowback and production water can contain benzene, biocides, and radiation. In September, 2011, 59 scientists wrote to Governor Cuomo about the inability of sewage treatment plants to remove toxic chemicals from the millions of gallons of wastewater generated by fracking. Should we truck them to Ohio? Injection of fracking wastewater into underground wells in Ohio is linked to earthquakes.

* Does not provide a clear plan for wastewater disposal (Section 560.7):
The revised Regs leave it up to drillers to say how they’ll dump their toxic wastewater. * The State would avoid costs if it were to ban fracking.

the DEC anticipates that one cost-related impact of fracking under these regulations will be a rise in the reporting of possible public health problems. These will necessitate investigation. Other impacts for the DOH: more assessing of toxic substances, more assessing of human exposures, and more assessing of health risks. And more dealing with radioactive substances.

Under Revised Regulatory Impact Statement, 4. Costs to the Department and the State

DOH will incur costs investigating possible public health issues. DOH would also be expected to have a [sic] maintain its significant role in human exposure and risk assessment, protection of drinking water supplies, toxic substance assessment, handling of NORM, possibly conducting population health studies, and providing health information and education.

Later in the document, in section 8, DEC considers the possible impacts of alternative approaches— including the "no-action" alternative. That is, NOT allowing any fracking in New York.) Here's what it says:

Revised Regulatory Impact Statement 8. Alternatives Approaches

Another alternative the Department has considered is the denial of permits for HVHF in New York State. This alternative would fully protect the environment from any environmental impacts associated with HVHF but it would also eliminate all of the economic benefits that could be generated by the activity. This alternative also contravenes New York State's declaration of policy in Article 23 of the ECL to develop oil and gas resources that will maximize the ultimate recovery of those resources.

The state could avoid these costs if it chose the no-action alternative (otherwise known as a ban on fracking). In so doing, it would sidestep the anticipated task of assessing human exposures (along with the need to publish reports with titles such as, "The Impact of Drilling and Fracking Operations on the Health of New Yorkers Living in Areas of Intensive Shale Gas Extraction"). However, that option directly contradicts a standing policy that says New York must maximize its extraction of oil and gas.

New studies show that west Antarctica is thawing twice as fast as previously believed and so is on track to contribute mightily to rising sea levels around the world. Developing additional natural gas sources will worsen this problem.

Preliminary research from Pennsylvania finds evidence of harm to newborn babies whose mothers spent their pregnancies living near drilling and fracking operations. There should be definitive research before we place New York's infants at risk. Developmental problems in newborns are expensive and often necessitate lifelong medical and educational interventions.

* The State overstates the job creation potential of hydrofracking.

Revised Job Impact Statement
High-Volume Hydraulic Fracturing - 6 NYCRR Parts 52, 190, 550-556, 560, and 750 Nature of Impact

The proposed revised rules, implemented in combination with the Final SGEIS, once issued, will have a positive impact on jobs and employment opportunities for such businesses as waste haulers, construction firms and providers of lodging, food and other services. Positive impacts will be created through direct employment, induced employment and indirect effects. This impact is expected to be concentrated in the counties where the Marcellus and Utica Shales are more likely to be commercially producible. Lesser though still positive impacts may also be experienced in adjacent localities and statewide.

Categories and Numbers Affected. The proposed revised rules themselves will not negatively affect employment opportunities, and the activities guided by the proposed revised rules will create jobs.

Hydrofracking will almost certainly destroy more jobs than it creates. The gas and oil industry is about 10 times more capital intensive than the US economy as a whole. Few jobs are created compared to comparable investment in other economic sectors. Most of the workers skilled in the industry are from outside the state and will be imported. Hydrofracking will destroy other jobs in agriculture, tourism, and sport fishing and hunting as rural landscapes are transformed into industrial wastelands.

DEC entirely denies any job losses whatsoever, in any sector of the economy, as a consequence of opening New York State to fracking under its set of proposed regulations. To make such a claim, the agency entirely ignores reams of evidence to the contrary, some of which it has received as expert commentary during previous public comment periods.

The DEC's assertions lack a time frame and ignore the temporary nature of the jobs created. According to a critical report prepared for the Southern Tier Central Planning and Development Board, the vast majority of the employment generated by natural extraction is concentrated in the drilling phase, which lasts only 10-15 years, leading to a boom and bust economic cycle.

The Job Impact Statement ignores data showing that most job growth will benefit non-local workers.

The Job Impact Statement ignores data on projected losses in jobs from tourism (caused by industrialized viewscapes and heavy truck traffic on rural roads) and decreased revenue from hunting, fishing, and other outdoor recreation in upstate New York—and thus job losses in the businesses that support them (as a consequence of habitat loss and degraded streams).

The Job Impact Statement ignores declines in property values and lost revenue from the real estate industry. Some areas of the Catskills are already suffering from a drop in home sales as a result of anxiety about anticipated drilling.

The Job Impact Statement treats all jobs equally, ignoring costly occupational hazards of the jobs directly created by the industry. Gas industry jobs are dangerous, toxic jobs. Oil and gas industry workers have an on-the-job fatality rate seven times that of other industries. Workers on the well pad are exposed to airborne silica in ways that cannot be fully mitigated with use of respiratory protection. Silica exposure is definitively linked to silicosis and lung cancer. The Job Impact Statement ignores the direct and indirect costs of disabling injuries and illnesses common to this industry.

The Job Impact Statement ignores the economic and employment losses associated with the destruction of productive farmland and pastureland caused by the construction of well pad, pits, access roads, and pipelines.

The Job Impact Statement ignores trends from other states. Data from Western states show that counties reliant on energy development underperform economically and suffer diminished future competitiveness. In Pennsylvania, counties with intensive drilling experienced a 19 percent decrease in both milk production and number of dairy cows, whereas counties with no drilling performed showed no appreciable change over the same time period. Reasons for the decline are unclear.

New York ranks third in the nation in number of certified organic farms. All together, New York farms sold $107 million in organically produced commodities in 2011. Organic food is a rapidly growing industry. Nationally, organic product sales nearly doubled between 2008 and 2011.

There are no projected job losses as a result of fracking the trout streams, hunting grounds, hiking areas, vineyards, orchards, hayfields, and pastures of New York.

*The proposed regulations are invalid since DEC has not complied with the dSGEIS

The State Administration Procedures Act (SAPA) requires the DEC to first complete the draft Supplemental Generic Impact Statement (dSGEIS), which governs SEQRA reviews of hydrofracking well permits. The DEC failed to finalize the dSGEIS within a year from its last hearing.

* Inadequate protection from air pollution

556.2 would allow a gas well to vent or flare raw gas for over 168 hours, or seven days. Since there is no setback of the vent or flare from any land use, this means that a well could vent or flare next to a milking barn, winery, hotel or marina for this period of time.

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