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Univ. Meeting Reviews Environmental Impact


As time runs out to comment on the draft of the Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement for Oil and Gas Mining through horizontal drilling and high-volume hydraulic fracturing, Walter Hang, president of Toxics Targeting, made a passionate plea last night to kill the draft of the SGEIS altogether.

The proposed draft of the SGEIS is supposed to cover any environmental impact that was not addressed in the original 1992 Oil, Gas and Solution Mining Generic Impact Statement. The new draft covers the environmental impacts that could result from drilling into the Marcellus Shale using horizontal drilling and high-volume hydraulic-fracturing techniques.

“If we avoid the drilling now, we can prevent problems. It’s not like in Wyoming [or] California where they have hundreds of problems. Tompkins County doesn’t have irreparable problems now but if this goes forward we’re probably cooked,” Hang said.

Hang outlined several ways that the dSGEIS is insufficient in mitigating environmental impacts and protecting the health of people living in New York in a coalition letter that he hopes to deliver to Governor David Paterson (D-N.Y) in the next four weeks. Chief among them is the fact the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has been unable to properly prevent hazardous oil or gas spills, let alone clean them up sufficiently. According to Hang, Toxics Targeting has found 270 incidences of oil or gas spills that caused fires, contaminated drinking water sources, and severally degraded farmdrinking water sources, and severally degraded farmland. Worse, of these 270 spills, 65 did not meet clean-up standards according to the letter.

The coalition letter highlights five areas that were not sufficiently addressed in the dSGEIS: wastewater runoff from horizontal drilling, reporting and liability concerns, dedicated oil and natural gas spill remediation funds, the use of private insurance to clean up environmental damage caused by drilling and understaffing at the DEC to monitor the well sites. The letter states there are already 7,000 gas drilling sites in the state, but only 17 inspectors to monitor them.

So far, Hang claims that 4,500 people have signed the letter indicating they would like the Governor to withdraw the dSGEIS. Hang said that Paterson is in an especially vulnerable position right now given that his poll numbers are down and the recent debacle over raising car license plate fees.

Hang gave one example of a gas spill that significantly impacted Freedom, N.Y. forcing 12 families to evacuate as a result of natural gas escaping through fault in shale, stemming a Dale Fox drilling gas well. In this spill, natural gas traveled over 8,000 feet in minutes and actually started leaking into one homeowner’s basement that was built on the shale.

Though Hang admitted he had limited success in implementing large-scale environmental reform in the past, he said the breakthrough for him came in 2003 when he was able to assist in stalling a $31 billion energy bill that would have exempt energy companies from $30 million in liability if it has passed. Energy companies would have been protected from any lawsuits stemming from product defects related to a gasoline addictive.

“I believe that unless this dSGEIS is withdrawn, I think we’re doomed. I think it would be adopted really quickly after the comment period is over and then the drilling permits would be issued,” Hang said. “Once drilling permits are issued god knows where the water will go.”

Each well used for drilling is expected to require three to five million gallons of water in order to fracture the shale and release the natural gas.

Others were skeptical of Hang’s plea for everyone to sign the coalition letter. Prof. Larry Brown, department chair of earth and atmospheric sciences, questioned whether people should be signing the coalition letter if they have not fully read the 800-page dSGEIS.

He said, “We argue that the energy position should be considered but the energy source should be used responsibly. If you’re not going to use Marcellus Shale, it will come from somewhere ... Are we so special that we can ignore that and let other people deal with that problem? Responsible drilling and responsible oversight are critical and I have problems with signing something I haven't seen.”

Michael Ristorucci, coordinator of Palante responded, “You have to read that 800-page with a grain of salt. The goal is to become aware of it, but also understand that environmental regulations have historically been under implemented.”

Ryan Clover, one of the leading organizers of Shaleshock Citizens Action Alliance also spoke at last night’s talk, discussing strategies that the group is using to raise awareness about this issue. Among one of they key strategies is to build a broad coalition of various people and skills. Clover cautions that Shaleshock is not just an environmental campaign, but rather a movement.

Clover touched upon the importance of reaching out just beyond environmental groups for this cause.

‘It can’t be just one group. We can’t be marginalized as just environmentalists that don’t want any kind of industry. You have to look at the broader context and that it's a social issue that affects everyone,” he said.

Last night’s talk was sponsored by Palante (Proyecto Palante and Palante Salsa en Rueda Dance Troupe), KyotoNOW!, New World Agriculture and Ecology Group, Shaleshock Citizens Action Alliance. The event was in part financed by Graduate and Professional Student Assembly.