Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Hydrofracking: DEC Must Protect Our Drinking Water -- Take Action!

High-volume hydraulic fracturing, also called hydrofracking or fracking, is a method to mine natural gas from shale rock seams deep underground. The process requires horizontal drilling from a vertical well, uses millions of gallons of water mixed with sand and some toxic chemicals, and produces large volumes of flowback wastewater containing additional toxic chemicals and radioactive elements extracted from shale. Fracking wastewater is hazardous.

A moratorium has been in effect for the past three years while NY state considers permitting high-volume hydraulic fracturing. The NY State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has produced a revised draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (SGEIS) that is currently under public review. The public is strongly encouraged to send comments on the SGEIS to the DEC, which must be received or postmarked by January 11, 2012 (see links and postal address below).

The SGEIS contains a surprising proposal along with a number of major gaps that the DEC needs to address.

The DEC SGEIS proposes that watersheds for New York City and Syracuse "should be off-limits to surface drilling for natural gas using high-volume hydraulic fracturing technology." This proposal amounts to an admission by the DEC that fracking and hazardous wastewater are threats to drinking water in these two watersheds. Given these threats, should fracking and hazardous wastewater be permitted in other State watersheds?

NY State Watersheds - DEC
We All Live in a Watershed is the title of a DEC webpage. A watershed is the land that water flows on the surface or underground on its way to a river, lake, stream or bay. The DEC defined 17 watershed basins in NY state (map, at right). The watershed basin for Buffalo and vicinity (blue area on left side of map) drains into Lake Erie and the Niagara River, both of which provide drinking water for the region.

All NY State residents have a right to clean water and deserve equal rights to protection from water pollution. What's good for NY City and Syracuse watersheds should apply equally to all watersheds in the State. Demand that the DEC protect all State watersheds from the threats of fracking and hazardous wastewater, not just NY City and Syracuse watersheds, in order to provide safe drinking water.

Fracking wastewater contains brine, radioactivity, carcinogens and other hazardous chemicals. In Pennsylvania, millions of gallons were sent to sewage treatment plants until it was found that the discharged water was contaminated. Some fracking wastewater from Pennsylvania was shipped to the City of Buffalo for treatment, but this is no longer permitted. Pennsylvania is now shipping fracking wastewater to Ohio for disposal in deep injection wells, a method that may be short-lived since it has been recently linked to earthquakes. NY geology is not suitable for injection well disposal. What is the DEC's plan for fracking wastewater disposal?

The DEC SGEIS does not describe a proven method to cleanup fracking wastewater. Disposal of the hazardous wastewater poses threats to NY drinking water, including watersheds in the state where gas drilling will not occur. The public needs to inform the DEC that they can not permit fracking in the absence of proven, cost-effective methods to remove all hazardous chemicals and radioactive elements from the wastewater. 

Additional gaps in the SGEIS have been pointed out by the Governor's Advisory Panel on High-Volume Hydraulic Fracturing. These include the absence of estimates on what resources will be needed by four major state agencies: Health, Transportation, Agriculture & Markets, and Public Service. The socio-economic analysis by a local firm, Ecology & Environment, highlighted the economic benefits but did little to quantify potential costs, according to some members of the Advisory Panel. The DEC directed the firm to also look at the cost on communities, the housing market and emergency services. 

Even more gaps in the SGEIS have moved over 21,000 people to sign a letter requesting that Governor Cuomo immediately withdraw the SGEIS in order to resolve documented fundamental shortcomings. You can examine the letter and additional gaps here. The public can sign the letter online.

At the very least, the DEC should Extend the Moratorium. High-volume hydraulic fracturing is a very complex process. It is a threat to clean water and to our health and well-being. There are too many unknowns that require further research, evaluation and time. The gas will still be there as a reserve.

The revised draft SGEIS document and related documents are here.

TAKE ACTION: Send comments to the DEC on the revised draft SGEIS by January 11:
  • Electronic submission using a web-based comment form on the DEC's website. 
  • Paper submission can be sent to:  New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, 625 Broadway, Albany, NY 12233-6510. Attention: rd SGEIS Comments. Please include the name, address, and affiliation (if any) of the commenter.
For earlier blog posts on various aspects of fracking, click here.

No comments: