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Fracking: What We Don’t Know May Hurt Us

Speakers agree an army of New Yorkers is needed to ban fracking

The purpose of the gathering at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Shelter Rock on April 23 was to educate and encourage Long Islanders to take action against hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. And Sam Bernhardt, Long Island organizer of the national organization Food & Water Watch, wasted no time providing an explanation of fracking, saying it is a relatively new procedure for extracting natural gas through the process of pumping water and chemicals into the ground to crack open the rock that contains the natural gas. The process, he added, can contaminate water, produce large amounts of air pollution, cause earthquakes, crumble roads and deplete the water supply. Despite these concerns, Bernhardt indicated, Governor Cuomo and the department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) are drafting regulations to allow fracking in New York. Maybe even sometime this year, if they act expeditiously.

Speakers were brief, to the point, and encouraged all present to write to Senator Jack Martins and Governor Andrew Cuomo to ban fracking in New York State. Bernhardt announced they have collected more than 2,600 “petitions” from Senator Martins’ constituents asking that he support current legislation to ban fracking. A spokesperson in Martins’ office indicated he received “one list of 1,735 names, many of which do not reside in the district, with no addresses and no signatures.” Bernhardt said there have been encouraging words from Martins; however, he said, “What we need, as our local representative in the senate, is action to back up his words.” While Martins has indicated action is needed to keep wastewater treatment plants out of our area, and he did sponsor a bill to accomplish that, Bernhardt said, he has yet to support banning it all together. In fact, Martins, in a Nov. 3, 2011 column for Anton Newspapers, discussed his concern with the negative environmental impact of fracking.

The necessity of securing political support was mentioned by most of the speakers. Long Islanders must take action—that was the message of the evening—repeated over and over.

Bernhardt encouraged the audience to first call Senator Martins for his support for legislation against fracking and second, generate more petitions against fracking. “We won’t stop until we are heard,” he said.

Senator Martins said he is co-sponsoring legislation to extend the moratorium against hydro-fracking for another year. The DEC environmental review will not be released until after the legislature is out of session in June, he added. “The moratorium will extend past the time the DEC environmental review comes out and will ensure that a moratorium will not expire with the legislature out of session. This will allow,” the senator continued, “the legislature to take action with the DEC environmental review completed.”

Jim Peters, Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Shelter Rock social justice committee, was armed with facts on the merits of green energy. He stressed that there are alternatives besides nuclear energy, oil or coal saying that there are green sources of energy. In fact, the Union of Concerned Scientists released a report recently, Peters said, saying achieving energy independence by green energy sources by 2030 was possible without building another coal or nuclear plant.

Adrien Esposito, executive director, Citizens Campaign for the Environment (CCE), formed in 1985, stood at the podium holding the audience’s gaze, pausing momentarily, she leaned forward saying, “Let’s talk fracking.” Given a brief six minutes, she hurriedly rolled out what she said are some myths and facts of fracking.

Drinking water contamination by fracking was first on her list. “Clean drinking water is not a luxury,” she stressed, “it’s a necessity.”

Esposito recounted how water in areas of Pennsylvania had been contaminated by fracking and that Chesapeake Energy (self-described as “America’s champion of natural gas”) had the rights there, and that for three years they delivered fresh water to people whose water was not drinkable. “Think about it,” she said. “When your water is located outside it changes everything. How you wash, how you brush your teeth.”

Earthquakes, she said, are becoming more common in areas where fracking is permitted. It’s natural for some movement of the earth, she said, but the method of disposal of fracking wastewater seems to increase earthquakes.

Not In My Backyard

Potential sites for storage of wastewater brought the issue to Long Island. In the revised draft of the Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (SGEIS) potential sites were mentioned in Nassau County.

The industry believes the solution to pollution is dilution, Esposito said, elaborating that the ocean can seem a perfect disposal site to the gas industry because some of the fracking liquid contains a high brine level. Suffolk County passed a law banning storage of wastewater, Esposito reported, and Nassau County is in the process of doing the same.

What Is The Impact Of One Well? What’s The Cumulative Impact?

How many drill sites and how many wells are there in New York? What is the impact of one? What is the cumulative impact? We don’t even know where the wells are, Esposito said. The clerks’ offices are not computerized. And, Esposito said, they discovered that the landowners received varying payments from gas companies to extract natural gas from their properties. So her group decided to spearhead a study of the Finger Lakes region because it has aquifers, produces a lot of water and supports a healthy tourism industry. They researched it themselves, she said, government had never compiled the facts. Esposito told how they trained an army of volunteers and how it took 18 months—very labor intensive—and discovered 30 percent of the Finger Lakes region had signed leases. No over arching database existed. “What’s going on here?” she asked, then answered her own question. “The energy industry wants the resources and wants to leave when they’re done.”

The process, it was said, favors the industry, and the question is can the public trump the industry. That was the intent of the speakers that evening. And they were hopeful because they said they have never seen this level of engagement by the public—as witnessed by the several hundred concerned citizens in the audience. Speakers agreed that hydrofracking is not a magic bullet for solving economic problems.

Patti Wood, executive director, Grassroots Environmental Education, encouraged all to go to the website www.amillion frackingletters.com for contact information and then send Cuomo a letter, send him many letters, call him. Cuomo wants to get re-elected, she said, write letters to him to ban fracking. Even without his leadership, already 97 towns, Wood said, have bans or a moratorium on fracking, and 50-60 more are in the process of doing that. Wood added that the gas industry has filed two challenges, one against the town of Ithica and one against a landowner. A judge ruled in favor of the town and another judge ruled in favor of the individual. Wood called fracking, “the biggest environmental issue of our lifetime.”

Patricia Katz, Reach Out America, said if Cuomo were to allow hydrofracking in New York, “the effects are irreversible.” She said her group is focusing on Senator Martins. The speakers were adamant that if elected officials want to be re-elected, they should do what is best for their constituents, not for the deep pockets of the gas industry. “Go on Martins’ and Cuomo’s Facebook and Twitter pages,” she said, “and demand they ban fracking.”

Eric Weltman, senior New York organizer, Food & Water Watch, the clean up speaker, said the benefits of fracking were exaggerated while the negative impacts were understated or overlooked and that fracking is inherently dangerous and beyond our control. He said the oil and gas industry is a powerful one and everyone needs to join the army fighting fracking.

The meeting ended as it began with Weltman asking everyone to call, write and post on Senator Jack Martins’ and Governor Cuomo’s Facebook pages to ban fracking—he also stressed the importance of getting more petitions.

There was time for few questions and comments from the audience and Peggy Maslow, of the Audubon Society, informed the audience that it is not only people affected by areas where fracking has been allowed, but birds and wildlife too.