Reversal of hydrofracking ban faces flack

Land within the New York City and Syracuse watersheds could notbe touched by companies using the controversial process known ashydrofracking to drill for natural gas, but other areas of thestate would be open for drilling, thanks to a change in state policy that is expected to beproposed shortly by Governor Andrew Cuomo

It’s just plain old dangerous, proclaimed Brooklynite IdaSanoff, chair of the Natural Resources Protective Association. It’s notenough. It’s an accident waiting to happen. New York City’s watersupply is too important to jeopardize for the sake of a fewbucks.

Nonetheless, on July 1, the New York State Department of EnvironmentalConservation (DEC) released a draftof its environmental impact statement for the drilling of naturalgas. The report recommends that fracking – a process in whichchemicals, mixed with water, are blasted into solid rock to releasefuel from pockets under the earth’s surface – be allowed on privateland, excluding the stated watersheds. This would effectivelyoverturn a statewide ban.

These recommendations, if adopted in final form, would protectthe state’s environmentally sensitive areas while realizing theeconomic development and energy benefits of the state’s natural gasresources, read a press release from the DEC.

But, Sanoff and other environmentalists disagree. AllenBortnick, a member of Community Board 10, stressed, The problem isthat fracking is an underground process, and the chemicals andpoisons leach into the underground water reservoir that goes intothe watershed and comes down to New York City.

In the 32 or 33 states where drilling has been allowed sincefederal safe water rules were relaxed in 2005, it’s been adisaster, he contended. In Dimock, Pennsylvania, people can’tlive within a 9.5 square mile area because of the drilling thattook place and the poisons that have leached into thewater.

This April, a blowout of a fracking well in northernPennsylvania – a short drive from the New York border and Dimock –released thousands of gallons of chemical-lacedfracking fluid into farms and creeks and resulted in all frackingbeing halted in the state. The drilling was tapping into theMarcellus Shale, which runs under New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio,Virginia and West Virginia.

The change in policy would open a whopping 85 percent of theMarcellus Shale to development.

Once you introduce toxic chemicals into the ground, there is nosaying what could happen, added CB 10 member Justin Brannan, whosaid that the government should invest in alternative energysources first.

The 500-foot rule, whereby drilling could not occur within thatdistance of the watershed, is laughable, said local activist BobCassara. They are fooling themselves. Five hundred feet isnothing, he asserted.

Eric Weltman, senior organizer for Food &Water Watchprotested hydrofracking last month outside StateSenator Marty Golden’s office

As this paper went to press, Weltman was in Albany for a pressconference with many of his fellow petitioners. He says this is thestart of a substantial fight that will last throughoutthe 60-day comment period that begins in August and must becompleted for the state to enact any rule change. You can countthat we’re going to be on the barricades in the coming months, hesaid. It may be difficult to visualize, but it would have anabsolutely catastrophic [effect] for the contamination of ourdrinking water.

However, fracking advocates such as Jim Smith, spokesperson forthe IndependentOil and Gas Association of New York

There’s a perception out there that hydrofracking material willcome into contact with groundwater, Smith explained. That’ssimply not the case. There’s been over a million wells hydrofrackedin the U.S. with no case of groundwater contamination from frackfluid.

Smith says that New York’s drilling regulations are the toughestin the country, but his organization feels that the industry couldwork within the new rules proposed by the DEC.

There’s a lot of misinformation out there thatenvironmentalists spread that is simply not true, Smith said.

Weltman disagreed. This is not just an environmentalist issue,he said. This is a human health issue.

Heather J. Chin contributed reporting to this article.

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