EPA hearings next week will give New Yorkers the chance to say no new drilling until we get some answers!

Binghamton, NY, is ground zero for the debate over proposed natural gas fracking in New York’s Marcellus Shale formation – and next week EPA will bring the national fracking debate there as well.

On Monday and Wednesday (Sept. 13 and 15), EPA will be holding public hearings in Binghamton on the plan for its forthcoming study into the impacts of the controversial, environmentally intense practice of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” to produce natural gas.  This study will be the first-ever credible, comprehensive examination of this practice – something that should’ve happened before drills were allowed to break ground anywhere in America. But now that it’s underway, it would be foolish for New York to not take a giant pause until we see what EPA finds out.

EPA held prior hearings in Denver, Dallas and most recently in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, the last of these attracting over 1,200 attendees.  And many more attendees are expected in Binghamton; indeed, so many people (over 8,000) that EPA was forced to move the hearings from a previously scheduled August date to next week, and split them into 2 days. While the crowds may be somewhat reduced with this new schedule, thousands of concerned New Yorkers and Pennsylvanians are expected to descend upon Binghamton to express their serious concerns about the effects of fracking – and related gas development practices – on their health and the environment.

The growing body of horror stories coming from just across the border in Pennsylvania  – which most recently include a man burned while working on a water slide for his children when gas seeping from his water well exploded – have only intensified what has been an increasing public sentiment that new drilling in New York’s Marcellus Shale should not go forward unless and until it has first been proven to be safe. And that conclusion must be based on all the available science, including the findings from the upcoming EPA study.  We will be sounding just this message at a rally and press conference Monday at 10 am, with representatives from a wide range of environmental and grassroots interests and elected officials.

In August, the New York State Senate passed a first-of-its-kind measure to suspend any new permitting for drilling in the Marcellus until next March.  While bold in its willingness to put off the (often false) promise of quick buck until the risks are better understood, the measure is also eminently reasonable.  This “time out” will provide time for an incoming gubernatorial administration and the next legislature to take a fresh look at the issues and evaluate what additional investigation is required before any final decision is made to allow drilling to proceed in New York.  Pressure must be kept up on the Assembly to pass the companion measure the next time it comes into session this month – you can help do this by sending a letter to Assembly Speaker Silver here.

Meanwhile, the EPA study – if unbiased, done properly and allocated adequate resources – holds out the possibility for a much more complete understanding of the full range of potential impacts to water resources and human health associated with fracking.  Particularly in light of the serious deficiencies in the environmental review conducted by the state to date, this will provide new, critical information to inform future decisionmaking about Marcellus Shale development in New York and elsewhere.

We will post our full written comments highlighting what NRDC believes must be included in the study shortly.  In the meantime, some of the key substantive recommendations include:

  • Evaluate the full scope of impacts to our water. This means taking the broadest possible approach to defining water impacts associated with fracking, including but not limited to water and chemical usage in fracking fluids; the potential for surface spills and leaks; risks associated with casing and cementing well bores; risks associated with fracking; wastewater generation, treatment and disposal; and landclearing and stormwater runoff.
  • Find out where the frack goes. EPA should conduct a full examination into industry practices and available technologies to do pre-and post-fracking evaluation of hydrogeologic conditions and where fracks and frack fluids actually go.  This would include pre-fracking hydrogeologic mapping, use of frack tracers, and thorough groundwater monitoring.
  • Study it on the ground. This means conducting thorough, on-the-ground field studies in known or suspected contaminated sites across a range of geographic locations and geologic formations.

If you can, we hope to see you Monday and Wednesday in Binghamton to join in the calls for a new way of approaching energy development: develop the facts and the science first, then, and only then, decide whether and if so how to proceed. New Yorkers’ health and clean drinking water are on the line.