March 19, 2012
Honorable Barack Obama
President of the United States of America
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500
Dear Mr. President:
I respectfully write regarding the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) implications of utilizing horizontal hydrofracturing to extract natural gas from America's vast shale formations.
In your 2012 State of the Union Address, you declared:
"We have a supply of natural gas that can last America nearly one hundred years, and my Administration will take every possible action to safely develop this energy (emphasis added). Experts believe this will support more than 600,000 jobs by the end of the decade. And I’m requiring all companies that drill for gas on public lands to disclose the chemicals they use. America will develop this resource without putting the health and safety of our citizens at risk (emphasis added).
The development of natural gas will create jobs and power trucks and factories that are cleaner and cheaper, proving that we don’t have to choose between our environment and our economy. And by the way, it was public research dollars, over the course of thirty years, that helped develop the technologies to extract all this natural gas out of shale rock (emphasis added) -- reminding us that Government support is critical in helping businesses get new energy ideas off the ground."
Regarding your shale gas extraction proposal, Section 102 [42 USC § 4332] of NEPA requires that: "all agencies of the Federal Government shall --
(C) include in every recommendation or report on proposals for legislation and other major Federal actions significantly affecting the quality of the human environment, a detailed statement by the responsible official on --
(i) the environmental impact of the proposed action,
(ii) any adverse environmental effects which cannot be avoided should the proposal be implemented,
(iii) alternatives to the proposed action,"
To date, this onerous requirement has not been fulfilled by your administration with regard to horizontal hydrofracturing of shale. I write today to request that you address this regulatory failure without further delay.
USDA Loan Programs
It is my understanding that the U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is responsible for managing various loan programs in areas where shale gas extraction is taking place or could take place in the future. These programs include, but are not limited to: the Rural Housing Service Program and the Rural Business and Cooperative Program. Together, those programs recently made nearly $20 billion in loans and loan guarantees to approximately 140,000 families and 15,000 businesses.
USDA earlier determined that its loan programs warranted a "categorical exclusion" level of NEPA review since the loans did not involve adverse environmental effects.
I now understand that USDA is considering issuing an "Administrative Notice" that "extraordinary circumstances" are related to the environmental impacts of horizontal hydrofracturing regarding oil and gas production. As a result, the "categorical exclusion" level of review might no longer be acceptable.
I further understand that a comprehensive environmental proceeding might be required to assess the full range of environmental impacts associated with horizontal hydrofracturing and mortgage lending in order to fulfill NEPA requirements. This reportedly would require either an "environmental assessment" or an "environmental impact statement" as part of USDA's loan review process.
The policy implications of the USDA matter are sweeping and just received extensive national coverage in The New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/19/us/drilling-property-mortgages-may-get...
I believe that USDA NEPA action is clearly warranted because hundreds of fires, explosions, polluted water wells and massive drilling wastewater releases associated with natural gas activities have been documented by environmental and health authorities in New York. See: http://www.toxicstargeting.com/MarcellusShale/drilling_spills_profiles and http://www.toxicstargeting.com/sites/default/files/pdfs/jamestown/CCDOH-...
Shale Gas Concerns Regarding NEPA Requirements for All Federal Programs
Moreover, NEPA applies to all federal programs. As a result, a USDA determination could set a precedent for a wide array of other federal loan and loan guarantee programs, including, but not limited to the Federal Housing Authority, the Veterans Administration, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Many other federal programs related to shale gas activities also might warrant NEPA review.
Given those concerns, I hereby request that you immediately require:
a) all federal loan and loan guarantee programs to fulfill NEPA requirements with regard to shale gas concerns;
b) all other federal programs associated with shale gas activities to fulfill NEPA requirements; and
c) all NEPA regulatory proceedings to be open, transparent and sufficiently rigorous to warrant full public trust and participation.
New York's Shale Gas Horizontal Hydrofracturing Moratorium
The State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) adopted a moratorium in 2008 on horizontal hydrofracturing in New York's shale formations pending adoption of comprehensive environmental and public health safeguards pursuant to a Final Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (SGEIS). That is why not a single horizontal hydrofractured shale gas well has yet been drilled in New York.
A Draft SGEIS was proposed in 2009, but it received withering criticism. It was ultimately deemed to be so woefully insufficient that then-Governor Paterson signed Executive Order No. 41 requiring the Draft SGEIS to be fundamentally "revised."
A Revised Draft SGEIS was released last September and public comment on the proposal ended on 1/12/12. It also received scathing criticism. More than 22,000 elected officials, business owners, farmers, physicians, scientists, academic researchers, environmental, civic and public interest groups as well as citizens are signatories to a coalition letter which requests that Governor Cuomo withdraw the Revised Draft SGEIS in order to address a total of 17 critical shortcomings. See: http://www.toxicstargeting.com/MarcellusShale/cuomo/coalition_letter/2011
One of the 17 shortcomings is the Revised Draft SGEIS' total failure to address mortgage lending and gas leasing concerns in any way:
"The RD SGEIS ignores gas leasing impacts on mortgage lending documented by lenders, including lender reluctance to secure mortgage loans with properties with gas leases; concerns about property valuation and marketability; "set-back" issues regarding the sale of mortgage loans on the "secondary" market and potential voiding of title insurance."
See documented lender concerns regarding mortgage lending in New York: http://www.toxicstargeting.com/MarcellusShale/documents/impact-on-lendin...
In conclusion, I believe New York State's mortgage lending and gas leasing concerns demonstrate the need for immediate NEPA action. I trust that you will find my NEPA requests to be self-explanatory.
Regarding overall shale gas environmental concerns in New York, please note that Region 2 of your U. S. Environmental Protection Agency recently submitted a total of 26 pages of technical comments regarding the fundamental inadequacies of the Revised Draft SGEIS. That far exceeds the 14 pages of technical comments submitted by Region 2 regarding the 2009 Draft SGEIS.
Finally, given the irreparable harm that shale gas horizontal hydrofracturing could cause on New York's environment and public health, it is imperative for Governor Cuomo to maintain the moratorium on Marcellus Shale horizontal hydrofracturing until there is a consensus among all local, state and federal authorities as well as potentially impacted parties that the 17 major shortcomings documented in the Withdraw the Revised Draft SGEIS Coalition Letter have been fully resolved. I respectfully request that you strongly support that public policy approach.
Thank you very much for considering my requests. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions that I might be able to answer. I look forward to your reply.
Very sincerely yours,
Walter L. T. Hang