Well water contamination has occurred after gas drilling started
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) held public meetings in Binghamton NY on Sept. 13 & 15 to hear testimony about possible adverse impacts on drinking water caused by gas drilling using a controversial process called hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking". The EPA held a series of such meetings in several states to hear not only from concerned citizens, but also independent experts and industry.
Hundreds of concerned citizens came to express their views in two minute speeches over the course of four meetings in upstate NY. Many demonstrated outside the meeting hall and held placards, as in the photo (courtesy of NRDC.org), and one man carried a jug of fouled drinking water labeled "Dimock, PA", a town where well water contamination has terrified and angered residents who believe that fracking is the cause. Some residents have clear evidence of natural gas in their water since it is flammable and they can ignite their tap water.
The gas industry, on the other hand, has repeatedly declared that the drilling process is safe and has caused no contamination of drinking water. At they same time, they have refused to disclose the chemicals used in fracking, and thus any chemical contamination of drinking water can not be traced to their drilling sites.
Using a new horizontal drilling process, companies are drilling up to 16 horizontal wells from a single vertical well. With as many as 5 million gallons of water per horizontal well, up to 80 million gallons of water are used at each site. Thousands of sites are anticipated, elevating the concern of local residents.
Some of the many questions that the public wants answered are: where the companies are getting the large quantities of water, where the chemically-treated waste water goes, what chemicals are used, what will happen to the waste water that remains underground, and how will the waste water that is returned to the surface be cleaned up?
"There's a big difference between a 100,000 gallon hydrofrack and a three million to five million gallon hydrofrack," said Neil Woodworth, executive director of the Adirondack Mountain Club. He warned that the Northeast probably lacks the capacity to clean up the chemical-laden hydrofracking fluids. "Water in New York State is the most precious resource we have and we can't afford to contaminate it," he said.
The gas industry says that the chemicals are only present in trace quantities, 0.5% of the water. What they do not say, however, is that 0.5% of 80 million gallons of water per well is a very big number. 80 million gallons of water = 640 million pounds, so by weight, 0.5% equates to 3.2 Million pounds of chemicals! Some of the known chemicals are carcinogenic. How much of these chemicals end up in the drinking water of local residents?
"The EPA's study of hydrofracking will be crucial to understanding the gap between the thousands of reported contamination cases and the gas industry's denials of culpability," said Roger Downs, conservation program manager for the Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter. "We are confident that a scientific analysis of drilling will demonstrate that fracking, as it is currently practiced, is unsafe."
U.S. Congressman Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) said the study must be "Unbiased and comprehensive, and EPA must get out into the field to understand what is happening and what must be done to protect water supplies and health. EPA must not be influenced by industry or politics, as they were in 2004, and ensure the study is carried out in the public interest."
The 2005 U.S. Energy Act exempted the gas industry from key federal environmental laws including the Clean Water Act, leaving permitting authority to individual states. The current hearings are a first step in putting the industry under the oversight of the federal government and EPA regulations, and people feel that the gas industry is now in a rush to obtain drilling permits prior to federal control.
The people simply want to know the truth about drinking water contamination by fracking. If fracking is as safe as the gas industry says, they should not be in a rush to drill and should allow the EPA time to determine the truth. If it is not safe, either the process needs to be altered so that it is safe, or else it has to be banned.
To get a feel about what people are going through, listen to some long-time residents of Dimock PA tell their stories about well water contamination which occurred only after the gas drilling started nearby.
There is much to be learned before proceeding with fracking in NY state, and we are fortunate that the EPA has undertaken the task. New Yorkers are also fortunate that the state Senate has passed a bill for a drilling moratorium. However, the bill still needs passage by the state Assembly. To take action, contact Assembly Speaker Silver and your Assembly member by clicking here.