Opponents of hydrofracking said Monday that Gov. Andrew Cuomo has put the regulatory cart before the horse, with the state Department of Environmental Conservation offering rules to control hydrofracking while a newly launched review of its health impacts remains incomplete.
Opponents at the Capitol called for a public hearing on the potential health risks associated with fracking, something that currently would not be required under the DEC roadmap which will oversee the ultimate decision on whether the natural gas drilling technique should be allowed.
... Walter Hang, an environmental consultant with Toxics Targeting, located in Ithaca, said there are "hundreds" of cases of drinking water contamination and improper disposal of drilling wastes in New York for oil and gas drilling that is already allowed.
He said hundreds of abandoned oil and gas wells could be a pathway for methane and natural gas from new hydrofracked wells to escape into the environment and present a health risk.
Opponents of high-volume hydraulic fracturing have sent a message to Governor Cuomo urging him to stop the shale gas rulemaking process involving New York State’s environmental regulatory agency.
The group also called on Cuomo to restart the environmental review proceeding to require public involvement in the state Department of Health impact analysis of potential fracking.
Walter Hang, president of Ithaca-based Toxics Targeting, says the letter was sent to the governor prior to Thursday’s deadline for the Department of Environmental Conservation to wrap up its shale gas rulemaking effort.
Speaking on WNBF Radio’s Binghamton Now program, Hang said a deadline extension should not be authorized because the health department’s analysis of the DEC health impact study hasn’t been completed.
The state’s environmental agency will know by Thursday whether it will miss a key deadline and delay approval of hydrofracking in New York once again. As Karen DeWitt reports, anti-fracking forces see an opportunity in the likely new delay, while those waiting to benefit economically from the gas drilling process are feeling frustrated.
Governor Andrew Cuomo says he expects the State’s Department of Environmental Conservation will fail to meet a November 29th deadline to propose new rules for the gas drilling process known as hydro fracking.
“We are not going to be able to,” Cuomo said. “The state wont finish the review by November 29th.”
Speaking in Rochester, Cuomo says the environmental agency will have to apply for an extension , which could delay the process for up to another six months.
The Health and Environmental Departments have agreed that a health review needs to be finished before new fracking rules can be finalized. The State Health Commissioner, Dr. Nirav Shah, just a few days before Thanksgiving, contracted with three nationally known health experts to help him examine the material.
Groups who oppose fracking say they’ll use the new delay as an opportunity to try to prevent the drilling from ever happening in New York . Walter Hang with Toxics Targeting, says his group will be writing letters to the three health experts to urge a thorough health review.
“I'm going to do everything I can to make sure that Dr. Shah and the three outside experts are fully aware of all of the pollution problems that have been reported in New York's oil and gas regions for decades and decades. We’re going to call upon them to make sure that they address all of those concerns,” Hang said.
Hang says there have been reports of past drinking water contamination, and failure to clean up past pollution from drilling. But he worries that the review will be narrowly focused, and not address opponents’ concerns, and he says he’s frustrated that the details of the review have not been made public.
“What are they supposed to do? That has never been disclosed,” said Hang. “We don’t know what the scope of their review is.”
With word that the state's health review of hydrofracking will force it to miss a November 29th deadline that opens the door for more public comment and potentially longer delays in gas-drilling regulations, pro-fracking interests are - not surprisingly - upset.
"It was never necessary for the DEC to go back to the drawing board. I think what we're seeing is a lot of claims and fear mongering that is turning out not to be true," said Jim Smith, spokesperson for the Independent Oil and Gas Association of New York.
But anti-fracking activists are upset as well. Walter Hang of Toxics Targeting has led the charge to keep the state's moratorium on fracking in place. But he says because the review is limited to the DEC's own report instead of a comprehensive review of fracking's health and environmental impact.
"It fundamentally fails to address the critical questions: What's the broad spectrum of toxic pollutants associated with fracking. What happens to those pollutants when they're released into the environment?" asks Hang.
At a debate over hydraulic fracturing on Thursday night at Cornell, six experts from various disciplines debated the practice’s implications for the environment and the economy in New York State and the U.S.
The speakers drew on their personal experiences with the controversial practice, which involves injecting chemicals and water into the ground at high velocity to extract natural gas.
John Holko, president of Lenape Resources, an oil and gas company that has drilled in New York State for 30 years, opened the debate by arguing in support fracking for what he called its economic and energy benefits.
We need to “move forward,” Halko said. “You can’t prevent the process, just mitigate issues.”
However, Walter Hang, founder of Toxic Targeting Services, a watchdog group for environmental violations, argued that brine, a liquid containing toxic metals produced in fracking wells, could potentially contaminate drinking water and have a negative impact on the environment.
Asked to address the potential economic effects that the fracking industry could have on New York State, Hang said that the economic success experienced by communities where fracking occurs would not be sustainable in the long-term.
No matter how you look at it, Hang said, “fracking hurts New York State.”
There are more than 5,000 unplugged and abandoned wells across New York State.
And, they pose a threat to homes, drinking water sources and wetlands. That's according to Toxics Targeting, Binghamton Mayor Matt Ryan and two anti-fracking groups. They highlighted their concerns Friday morning. Walter Hang of Toxics Targeting, who got the information from the Department of Environmental Conservation, says the gas and oil wells can leak and cause contamination. He's calling on Governor Andrew Cuomo to withdraw the state's revised SGEIS, which are the preliminary fracking guidelines, so the unplugged well issue can be properly addressed in the report.
Walter Hang says, "DEC's assertion that they've never had contamination problems, that these issues really aren't an issue, that the existing regulations are fine, that's entirely contradicted by this data."