As state officials and lawmakers wrestle with how or whether to allow a water-polluting form of gas drilling to proceed in New York State and federal officials scramble to find a large enough venue for a public hearing on the issue, conservation groups are banding together to educate New Yorkers on what’s at stake.
The groups—Catskill Citizens For Safe Energy, Catskill Mountainkeeper, Damascus Citizens for Sustainability, Earthjustice, Natural Resources Defense Council and the producers of the critically-acclaimed Gasland documentary—have launched a series of billboards along Route 17 in the Catskills—a gateway to the region of New York where drilling companies are clamoring for access to Marcellus shale gas reserves. Passing motorists are reminded of the similarities between the BP oil spill and proposed drilling in New York and directed to the 'Drilling Isn’t Safe' campaign website (http://www.drillingisntsafe.org).
“Our campaign seeks to educate New York citizens on the public health risks of natural gas drilling using dangerous techniques such as hydraulic fracturing. Once they understand the risks involved, most New Yorkers say 'No!' to fracking,” said Tom Wilinsky, president of Catskill Citizens for Safe Energy. “Our job is provide the public with the education they need to make informed decisions.”
The effort comes as officials at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced the postponement of a public hearing in New York on the controversial method of extracting gas—known as hydraulic fracturing or “fracking.” Fracking is when drillers blast millions of gallons of chemically-treated water into the earth to force the gas from tightly packed shale deposits. Thousands of people from throughout the state were expected to turn out to the EPA hearing, originally scheduled for today in Binghamton, but postponed at the 11th hour due to crowd concerns.
“This is about preserving our health and quality of life. New York state is a special place—home to bustling cities, beautiful mountains, and some of the cleanest drinking water anywhere,” said Earthjustice attorney Deborah Goldberg. “If we do let the oil and gas companies drill here, they should have to meet the highest standards and strictest requirements anywhere. The people of New York deserve nothing less.”
Natural gas development is largely exempt from federal environmental laws, including the Safe Drinking Water Act. Some 350 of the chemicals used to extract gas or found in the waste produced by this water-intensive method have already been identified. Among these chemicals are known toxins like benzene.
“The industry is acknowledging that they are injecting toxic chemicals in huge quantities underground,” said Josh Fox, director of the award-winning documentary Gasland. “Most of this fluid stays under the ground. Only 25 to 50 percent of the toxic, non-biodegradable material is recovered. The rest is just left there, infused into the landscape forever or until it can be cleaned, which is enormously expensive and high in energy costs as well.”
But the identity of hundreds of the other chemicals used are kept secret, as are their effects on human health.
“Unfortunately secret chemicals are only one of many concerns that we as New York State residents need to demand our Department of Environmental Conservation, Governor Paterson and the State Legislature address more carefully and comprehensively in order to protect the health of all New Yorkers,” said Ramsay Adams, Executive Director of Catskill Mountainkeeper. “Until that is done, drilling isn’t safe and no permits should be issued. It is no less than our responsibility as citizens to hold our state officials accountable on this matter.”
In areas where fracking has occurred, reports of water contamination, air pollution, and severe illness among people and animals are multiplying at an alarming rate. Across the border in Pennsylvania, water wells over 9 square miles have been contaminated by gas drilling in the town of Dimock. And last month, a well blowout in the western part of the state spewed a contaminated mix of water and toxic chemicals 75 feet into the air for 16 hours.
“If New York demands to have no impacts from drilling, then they better have a moratorium that extends not just through May 2011, but forever,” said Joe Levine of Damascus Citizens for Sustainability. “You cannot have drilling, even done well, and get zero impact.”
To learn more, visit http://www.drillingisntsafe.org. Images of the billboard are available upon request.
“The ‘Drilling Isn’t Safe’ campaign provides a new opportunity for citizens to act on growing public concerns about the risks of natural gas development,” said Kate Sinding, Senior Attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Recent events including the disastrous spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the tremendous impact of the film Gasland and the real possibility of a formal moratorium on new gas production in New York State have raised people’s awareness that under-studied, under-regulated drilling just isn’t safe.”