Turn out and tell NY not to plow ahead with risky fracking

Tomorrow night is the final of four hearings being held by the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (details here and below) on its most recent proposal to allow new fracking across major parts of the state.  This is NYC residents’ opportunity to tell Governor Cuomo to slow down because the state still has much work to do.  We have long argued that new gas development using the risky fracking technology should not be permitted in New York unless and until it has been demonstrated that it can be done safely.  We’re simply not there yet.

As we did in 2009 when DEC issued its initial draft environmental review of proposed new fracking in the Marcellus Shale, NRDC has partnered with Earthjustice, Riverkeeper, Catskill Mountainkeeper and the Delaware Riverkeeper Network to retain a team of top-notch experts to assist in reviewing the latest proposal (which includes the so-called revised draft supplemental generic environmental impact statement, as well as proposed amendments to the regulations governing gas development in NY).  Our groups will be formally submitting these comprehensive technical comments, coupled with our own legal analyses, by December 12th, when the public comment period is scheduled to close.

Although the revised draft is certainly an improvement over its predecessor, what these collective comments will unfortunately demonstrate is that there remain far too many unanswered questions and inadequately protective proposed measures to assure that new fracking can be safely done in NY.

Our comments last time around ran to almost 300 pages, and we expect a similar submission this time.  But a handful of our top-notch concerns include:

  • Still no real analysis of cumulative impacts. The revised environmental review gives what amounts in many cases to lip service to the fundamental issue of cumulative impacts. Despite repeated criticisms that the review is fatally flawed without an analysis of the potential impacts to water, air, forests and other habitat, human health, etc. expected from a full build-out in the Marcellus Shale, the state still has not provided a competent technical analysis.  [Notably, DEC does provide an (overstated) assessment of full build-out to support alleged economic benefits from drilling, but does not apply those same calculations to evaluate the range of potentially significant health and environmental harms.]
  • Insufficient setbacks. Although NY boasts that it would have the toughest fracking rules in the nation, many of the proposed setbacks – from water bodies, homes, aquifers and wells – are less protective than those in other states, and inadequate to safeguard public health and the environment.
  • Inadequate protection for unfiltered watersheds. Although the state would place the unfiltered NYC and Syracuse watersheds off-limits to surface impacts from drilling, drilling would still be potentially allowed under these critical resources upon which more than half the state’s population depends for clean, safe drinking water.  Also still permitted would be drilling using vertical wells, which result in, if anything, greater surface impacts and similarly serious subsurface impacts. Moreover, NYC’s fragile drinking water infrastructure would receive grossly inadequate protection from fracking activities, putting the water supply at risk.
  • Inadequate protection for other watersheds and aquifers. Proposed setbacks from public watersheds and primary and principal aquifers are inadequate, and would not protect against drilling under these essential drinking water supplies.
  • Toxic wastes could be handled as non-hazardous waste. Despite all the problems we have seen caused by toxic wastewaters and solid wastes across the country, the state is still proposing that contaminant-laden, potentially radioactive drilling and fracturing fluids, mud-drilled cuttings, pit liners, flowback water and produced brine be classified as non-hazardous industrial waste.  Fracking waste does not belong in landfills or standard wastewater treatment plants.
  • Rulemaking before environmental review is complete. DEC is proposing to issue new fracking rules concurrently with its review of comments on the environmental impact statement.  Combining the environmental review process and the rulemaking process undercuts the spirit and intent of the State Environmental Quality Review Act, which is meant to ensure that agencies fully evaluate the potential environmental risks of a proposed action – including considering comments from the affected public – before making major decisions such as promulgating new rules for fracking.

Our full comments – covering air quality, engineering, surface and subsurface water quality, toxicology and human health, socioeconomics, transportation, noise, visuals, community character, local government control and climate change – will be posted publicly on December 12th (although we continue to hope that DEC will provide us and all interested New Yorkers with additional time to respond to what is the most complex and controversial environmental study in New York State in recent memory).

In the meantime, it is critical that the public join us tomorrow night to tell DEC that it must address the critical shortcomings that continue to make proposed new fracking too risky for NY.  Here are the details:

                                                   Wednesday, Nov. 30th

                                    1:00 pm to 4:00 pm and 6:00 pm to 9:00 pm

                                            Tribeca Performing Arts Center

                                    199 Chambers Street, New York, NY, 10007

                                Speakers will be limited to three minutes apiece.

If you can get there early, a pre-hearing rally is scheduled for the evening session.

If you can’t testify in person (or if three minutes just aren’t enough), written comments can also be submitted on-line through DEC’s website.

Hope to see you there!