Of Fracking and Frankenstorms

More than a week has passed since Sandy ravaged the Northeast.

Though far too many remain without power, shelter and other basic necessities throughout the tri-state area, most of us in Manhattan are resuming some semblance of normalcy.  Before we get too distracted by the immediacies of our daily lives, it is a good time to reflect on Sandy’s implications – including with respect to prospective widespread fracking in New York.

As my colleague Amy Mall blogged ahead of the Superstorm, the potential for flooding around fracking sites presents serious risks, particularly with respect to contamination from dangerous wastes.  A significant flooding event on a well-pad or at a wastewater storage site could result in toxic wastes flowing onto nearby properties, be they homes, farms, schools or forests.

While the major gas producing parts of Pennsylvania were spared a direct, hard hit this time, that should not be cause for complacency.  Such a hit could come with the next big storm, or the one after that – storms that scientists, and Governor Andrew Cuomo, tell us will become more and more frequent because “climate change is a reality.”  The impacts of a direct hit that brings flooding in any area with widespread gas development could be catastrophic.

Many parts of New York State that are targeted for new fracking lie squarely within areas that have been hard hit in past storms, including last year’s Tropical Storm Irene.  One farmer I know in Sullivan County, in the Catskills region, likes to say that they have experienced two hundred-year and one five-hundred-year storms in under a decade.  A number of these storms – which, though severe, were not hurricanes – resulted in devastating flooding in the area, destroying acres of productive farmland.  With thousands of acres of similar land leased for gas drilling throughout the Catskills and Southern Tier, the threat is not an idle or a trivial one.

It is absolutely clear that, consistent with the governor’s own admonitions that the state is “vulnerable” to the effects of global warming, as well as his oft-repeated assurances that science will dictate decision making on fracking in the state, the state must ensure that it has fully evaluated the considerable risks of permitting fracking in these vulnerable areas.

Even more critically, Governor Cuomo must move New York to the forefront in advancing real clean, sustainable energy solutions that will help move us beyond fossil fuels and address the climate crisis that those of us in Sandy’s wake are feeling all-too-intimately right now.

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