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EPA RD SGEIS Comments Letter to Cuomo

January 12, 2012

Honorable Andrew M. Cuomo
The State Capitol
Albany, NY 12224

Dear Governor Cuomo:

You recently received a coalition letter with more than 21,000 signatories which requests that you withdraw the Marcellus Shale Revised Draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement because it has at least 17 major shortcomings, fails to fulfill the requirements of Executive Order No. 41 and cannot assure that horizontal hydrofracturing will be done “safely” in New York’s tight shale formations. See: http://www.toxicstargeting.com/MarcellusShale/cuomo/coalition_letter/2011

Region 2 of the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency just submitted a total of 26 pages of comments that are highly critical of virtually every aspect of the Marcellus Shale Revised Draft SGEIS. EPA’s hundreds of detailed comments reiterate many of the key shortcomings spelled out in the above-referenced coalition letter.

EPA Region 2 submitted nearly twice as many pages of critical comments regarding the Revised Draft SGEIS than the original 2009 draft SGEIS. EPA Region 2 shares legal responsibility with DEC for overseeing many of the regulatory programs that would be associated with shale gas extraction activities. It is extremely troubling that EPA identified more shortcomings with the Revised Draft SGEIS than the original draft SGEIS.

See 12/30/09 EPA draft SGEIS comments: http://www.toxicstargeting.com/sites/default/files/Marcellus_dSGEIS_Comm....

See: 1/11/12 EPA Revised Draft SGEIS comments: http://www.epa.gov/region2/newsevents/hydro.html

You pledged that DEC’s Marcellus Shale permit guideline and regulatory proceeding would be based on “good science.” DEC Commissioner Martens similarly promised that the Revised Draft SGEIS would assure that horizontal hydrofracturing will be done “safely” in New York.

EPA is the leading environmental regulatory authority in the nation. That agency has now made it crystal clear that the Revised Draft SGEIS fundamentally fails to fulfill those requirements. EPA notes over and over that concerns the agency identified in 2009 still have not been resolved in the Revised Draft SGEIS. EPA also references extensive new information from horizontal hydrofracturing hazards in Pennsylvania that DEC did not include in its review.

Among the major problems identified by EPA in the Revised Draft SGEIS are: inadequate gas drilling wastewater treatment safeguards, insufficient regulatory control of gas drilling wastewater discharged into Publicly Owned Treatment Works, air pollution threats, radiation hazards to drilling rig workers and the environment, insufficient SEQRA review, a failure to ban land-spreading of contaminated gas drilling wastewater and concerns about inadequate protection of water quality and drinking water.

In 2009, EPA requested that DEC share “co-lead agency status” with the New York State Department of Health in order to resolve concerns about inadequate protection of public health. DEC did not fulfill that request.

EPA has made public health protection proposals that differ vastly from the Revised Draft SGEIS. For example, it has proposed a one-mile buffer zone around selected water supply wells compared with DEC’s proposed 150 foot buffer.

In its new comments, EPA notes: “… the New York State Department of Health in its Source Water Assessment Program Plan (Nov 1999, p. 55), used a one-mile (5,280 ft) radius around community and non-transient non-community wells as the area in which it developed an inventory of potential pollution threats. This implies that New York State Department of Health considered potential pollution sources as far as one mile away possible threats to the public water supply. Furthermore, active oil and gas wells were included in the list of potential pollution sources in the New York State Department of Health Source Water Assessment Program Plan (p. 64). The NYSDEC should describe in the final SGEIS the difference between the proposal in this document and the use of a 1-mile radius in the New York State Department of Health Source Water Assessment Program Plan.”

The Revised Draft SGEIS fails to identify the direction of groundwater flow regarding the above-referenced water supply wells. According to the SWAP program plan, “If a reasonable estimate of the ground water flow direction towards a supply well can not be made, then the delineation of the Outer Well Zone will be a fixed radius of up to one mile in all directions around the well.”

As you can see below, EPA’s concern would exclude horizontal hydrofracturing from more than 607,000 acres around at least 528 New York State public water wells in the Marcellus Shale formation. This is a vastly larger area than DEC proposed.

Moreover, even a one-mile buffer zone is insufficient to protect water wells from gas drilling hazards based on DEC’s own data. I compiled extensive data regarding an extraction mining incident that DEC investigated in 1996 in Freedom, NY. An uncontrolled natural gas release reportedly migrated approximately 8,000 feet in a matter of seconds and impacted water supply wells that remain contaminated to this very day.

See: http://www.toxicstargeting.com/MarcellusShale/bixby_road and http://www.toxicstargeting.com/MarcellusShale/drilling_spills_profiles

Finally, EPA expressed grave concerns that DEC would not be able to implement its Revised Draft SGEIS: “Page 9-4, Second Paragraph – The NYSDEC asserts that it will match the rate of permit issuance to the availability of personnel who will review those permits, inspect well pads, oversee well construction, waste disposal, and enforce other permit conditions and regulations. However, with the multitude of requirements and best management practices that the revised dSGEIS calls for – much of which provide protection for water resources – it is not made clear in the revised dSGEIS how NYSDEC plans to do this, given the current state of the economy (emphasis added)

Given all these extensively documented concerns and the irreparable harm that shale gas extraction could wreak on New York’s environment and public health, the de facto moratorium on Marcellus Shale horizontal hydrofracturing must be maintained until there is a consensus among local, state and federal government officials as well as all potentially impacted parties that the 17 critical issues identified in the coalition letter have been fully resolved. I request that you pledge to implement that policy.

The coalition letter’s 21,000 + signatories include elected officials, environmental and civic groups, scientists, physicians, farmers, wineries, tourism businesses, religious organizations and citizens. They are sending you a loud and clear message that DEC’s Marcellus Shale Revised Draft SGEIS is fatally flawed and totally unacceptable.

Those signatories respectfully request that you immediately withdraw the Revised Draft SGEIS and send it “back to the drawing board” yet again in order to fulfill the stringent requirements of Executive Order No. 41. Adopting a Final SGEIS based on the factually incorrect, inadequate and incomplete Revised Draft SGEIS would be irresponsible.

Very truly yours,

Walter Hang