The Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) is responsible for fully evaluating fracking’s potential impacts to public health and the environment, but its draft environmental impact statement and proposed regulations do not protect New Yorkers’ environment, health, and drinking water. DEC recently extended the comment period and the public now has until Jan. 11 to comment on DEC’s fracking plans, which will determine how this industrial activity will proceed in New York. The plans have a number of major flaws, including the DEC’s failure to:
Fully protect the New York City Watershed. The New York City Watershed plus a 4,000 feet buffer around it is protected on the surface, but the DEC’s proposal still leaves the watershed vulnerable to drilling underneath watershed lands. The DEC proposal is also mute on issues relating to wastewater disposal, truck traffic and water withdrawals that could affect the watershed.
Fully protect the tunnels, dams and aqueducts that deliver New York City’s water. While New York City requested a seven-mile buffer around the infrastructure (tunnels, dams, and aqueducts) outside the watershed that supplies drinking water to 9 million New Yorkers, the DEC has only proposed a heightened review for surface wells proposed within 1,000 feet, leaving New York’s water supply vulnerable to damaging vibrations and contamination.
Protect principle aquifers and private wells. The DEC proposal would potentially allow fracking in principal drinking water aquifers after additional environmental review. It could allow fracking near private wells if property owners waive their right to preserve a 500-foot buffer.
Prohibit open pits. In Pennsylvania, open pits have been a major source of concern for nearby residents, who complain of foul odors, air pollution, leakage and potential health problems associated with the pools of hazardous fracking waste. Further, these pools may present a danger to birds and other wildlife. DEC’s proposal would allow open pits in some cases after a heightened review.
Plan for wastewater disposal. There is no wastewater treatment plant in New York designed to treat fracking wastes. In Pennsylvania, fracking wastewater has at times been sent to wastewater treatment plants that weren’t equipped to handle the waste, resulting in discharges to rivers of untreated wastes upstream from drinking water intakes. Now, most Pennsylvania wastewater is trucked to Ohio, where it is injected deep underground.
Consider health impacts. The DEC omitted potential health impacts from its draft environmental review, and has so far ignored a letter signed by 250 doctors and health care professionals calling for an independent health impact analysis. In Pennsylvania, some residents living near fracking sites have complained about the deaths of horses and dogs, and about a range of illnesses they fear were caused by the industrial activity nearby.
Analyze cost to communities for social and emergency services, schools and infrastructure, including road maintenance. The DEC analysis contains hundreds of pages about the possible economic benefits of fracking, but neglects to seriously consider potential negative economic impacts, which could be severe. Increased heavy truck traffic, with 4,000 truck trips per active well, could cost hundreds of millions of dollars in annual road maintenance.
Analyze potential negative economic effects on other industries, like agriculture and tourism. Farming and tourism are the two top economic drivers in much of the Catskills, Southern Tier and Finger Lakes region; heavy industrial activity could seriously disrupt both industries, but the DEC has failed to account for this possibility.
Consider private property impacts. The DEC has not considered potential impacts to private property owners, such as decreased property values (and property tax revenues for local governments and schools), liability for damage due to gas drilling and difficulties getting bank loans for properties encumbered by gas leases. There is also concern that set-backs from private property are inadequate to protect homes.
Study the potential for fracking to trigger earthquakes. There is a strong correlation between fracking and quakes. The U.S. Geological Survey has confirmed that earthquakes have been caused by the injection of fluids into deep wells for waste disposal or oil recovery. And a gas driller in England found it “highly probable” that its operations had triggered earthquakes there. Despite this and other evidence, the DEC has discounted any connection between fracking and earthquakes.
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