Fracking Threatens Public Safety and Health
An impotent government regulatory body is a recipe for disaster
November 29, 2011
Let's be very clear about the situation that we're facing in New York: Hydraulic fracturing will be a roll of the dice. We've witnessed the litany of leaks, spills, and contaminations associated with hydraulic fracturing in other states. If we're not diligent and precise in the way that we regulate fracking here in New York, we risk potentially catastrophic repeats of past incidents inside of our own borders. The recent developments in Pennsylvania are instructive. In Bradford County, just south of the New York state border, a blowout earlier this year at a Chesapeake drilling site caused toxic brine water and hydraulic fracturing fluids to spew into nearby Towanda Creek for over 13 hours. This is just one of the incidents that prompted Pennsylvania regulators to levy 284 violations and 58 enforcement actions against Chesapeake Energy in recent years. In the small town of Dimock, residents cannot consume their own drinking water and have been receiving water deliveries from Cabot Oil & Gas Corp. since 2009 (Cabot still claims no responsibility for the contamination).
Beyond environmental considerations, it is troubling that the rosy economic projections related to drilling made by government agencies and outside experts have often not been as advertised. Here in New York, the advocacy group Food and Water Watch just released a report that the 62,620 direct and indirect jobs expected in the state may likely come in at one tenth of what's been projected. The report also examined private-sector job figures in five Pennsylvania counties for the years 2007 to 2010, and found overall declines in employment among residents of those counties, despite the existence of many active wells. It's indisputable that hydraulic fracturing will create some number of new jobs--however, I believe we should be wary of some of the optimistic estimates that are out there.
Finally, I am deeply concerned that staffing levels at the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation may not be adequate to sufficiently regulate hydraulic fracturing if the state allows this type of drilling to occur. One of the bitter lessons learned from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in April 2010 was that an impotent government regulatory body is a recipe for disaster. We cannot allow inadequate DEC staffing levels to degrade an extremely capable agency into a homegrown version of the Minerals Management Service. New York needs to not only keep the DEC off of the chopping block when it comes to jobs, it must bolster its ranks in order to preserve public safety and health.