Hydraulic Fracturing, or hydro-fracking, is a well-drilling process that the industry hopes to use to extract natural gas from the Marcellus shale, a huge geological formation in New York’s southern tier. The process involves drilling down thousands of feet into shale rock formations, and then drilling horizontally. Water and a large mixture of chemicals are pumped into the well at high pressures to fracture the rock. This mixture is then pumped back out and proppant (a type of sand) remains to hold open the fractured crevices, allowing the natural gas to escape.
Hydro-fracking needs our attention. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has taken a position that is supportive of hydro-fracking in New York. The process in it of itself is not new to the state. There are already about 13,000 oil and gas wells in New York, many of which do use horizontal hydro-fracking. However, the regulations that would govern hydro-fracking have not been updated since 1985. In 1992, the DEC released a Generic Environmental Impact Statement (GEIS) which contained some updates (Testimony of DEC Commissioner Grannis)
In truth, these updates do not really address the scope of hydraulic fracturing’s potential impact on our water supply, amongst other things. In 1992, the average “frac job” needed less than 100,000 gallons of water. Today, a common “frac job” would consume between one and five million gallons. Additionally, the DEC only has jurisdiction over public water supplies (Testimony of DEC Commissioner Grannis). This means that any river, swamp, or pond that is not part of the public water supply could be used by drilling companies without oversight. More troubling is that there is not a single water treatment plant in New York State capable of treating this “produced water” (“‘Hydrofracking:’ Toxic Gas-drilling Technique”). Despite the need for updated regulations, and a new study that will take into account the potential environmental impact of hydro-fracking on such a large scale, the Department of Environmental Conservation appears dedicated to promoting hydro-fracking in New York, and is seeking to begin issuing new drilling permits by December.
We do not have enough information. This type of “regulate as you go” approach has proved disastrous for Pennsylvania, where hydraulic fracturing has resulted in the poisoning of the water in Dimock with numerous cancer-causing compounds, including benzene. Recently, a well exploded in the same area because of high levels of methane in the water as a result of the ongoing drilling (“Nearly A Year After…Explosion…”). The other 150-plus chemicals used with along with the water are an industry secret that the drilling companies refuse to divulge.
We need to make a more educated decision on hydro-fracking. Senator Addabo and Assemblyman Englebright of the NYS legislature have put forward a bill that would impose a moratorium on all new hydraulic fracturing permits in New York State that would last until 120 days after an EPA study on the potential impact of hydro-fracking in New York State. This time frame would allow the legislature, which has decision making power over the DEC, enough time to make a thoughtful decision based off of the results of the EPA study.
While the Addabo Englebright bill (bill SB 7592) has passed the Assembly, there are some concerns that it would not pass the Senate, or would be vetoed by Governor Paterson. In response to this, Senator Thompson, who heads the Environmental Conservation Committee, introduced his own bill calling for a one-year moratorium, which would expire well before the EPA completes it’s study (expected to take two years). While a good start, we need stronger legislation.
We must make sure that the Addabo Englebright, or an equally strong moratorium bill is put in place. Once permits begin to be issued, it will be that much harder to protect our New York water and New York citizens from what is an incredibly destructive and dangerous process.
The Addabo-Englebright bill is headed to the rules committee today for a vote, updates will be forthcoming.
(co-written by R. Rosenbaum)