Bright Future for Fracking in New York State?

Friday, July 01, 2011

Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. New York's Department of Environmental Conservation has recommended that the moratorium on hydraulic fracturing be lifted outside of state-owned land, the NYC and Syracuse watersheds and within 500 feet of primary acquifers statewide. Today on the Brian Lehrer Show, David Gahl, policy director of Environmental Advocates of New York, discussed the recommendation and the ongoing fracking controversy.

What it means for fracking

At this point, the proposal to lift a moratorium on hydrofracking is just that: a proposal. David Gahl said he wanted to be very clear on this point. Nothing has happened yet, and nothing will happen for a while. The first hurdle is a sixty-day public comment period, but that won't start until sometime in August, pushing the timeline for this debate into 2012.

There are going to be no permits issued in New York State until the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) finishes its environmental impact review, which probably won't be finished until next year.

Gahl said he wanted to see a commitment to updating the state's regulatory framework, as well as sound reasoning behind the state's guidelines for how far fracking operations need to be from water sources in order to be considered safe. The DEC seems to be saying that 500 feet is a safe distance, but how did they come up with that number?

We need to understand exactly what their rationale was, why they believe that's protective. Should it be 1,000 feet? 2,000? Those are the kinds of questions we're going to face over the next couple weeks as we dig deeper into this thing.

Past mistakes, future considerations

Gahl said that one of the flaws of the first fracking allowance was that the state really didn't take into consideration the cumulative impacts of siting all of these different wells every year. The DEC is contemplating 2,000 wells per year as a reasonable amount over the next few years, but Gahl said that number would come under scrutiny during the review period.

Also needing review will be the DEC's staffing situation. Union leaders have claimed that there aren't even enough employees to adequately enforce regulations on all the potential new sites that would spring up as a result of relaxing the moratorium.

As the state moves in this direction, the DEC is going to have to re-calibrate how it deploys its people, but also definitely need more staff. They'll need more inspectors, more cops on the ground to make sure drilling companies are complying with permit conditions and whatever regulations are put on the books. In our view, the industry has to pay for that; through permit fees and taxes, it needs to support the level of oversight that will protect New York's water resources.


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Comments [27]

Alex Ellram from Schoharie, NY

There are many documented cases of well contamination and livestock poisoning due to toxic chemicals used in this process. There has been a ban on fracking in the Delaware watershed that supplies water to NYC. So why is it ok to poison the rest of the state? Our clean water is one of our greatest assets. Well/ water contamination can easily last 100 YEARS! Why should the health and safety of the many people be sacrificed to increase the wealth of a few individuals.

Aug. 25 2011 11:51 AM
Stan Scobie from binghamton, ny

natural gas:


Stanley R Scobie, Ph.D, Binghamton, NY

Jul. 04 2011 11:21 AM
Mike from Brooklyn

If the "experts" are wrong about what fracking will do to our water supply, we are all screwed! And there is no going back. There's no "Oops, we were wrong, we'll fix it"
And then there's air quality, which does'nt recognize "500 ft"

Jul. 03 2011 12:21 PM
Joe the plumber from Park slope

The way i understand fracking drilling is not just straight down but down then out Horizontally or laterally.Point,so it can be 500ft.or5000ft.
On inspections,you and i and every person i know has to pay to have car,house whatever it may be y not big business or industry.This is a good time 4 gov.2 get out of the way.Companys open up hire trained people to go out and inspect,no-yes.The same goes 4 the FDA,USDA&all the other 2,3and 4 letters national & local gov. use.

Jul. 01 2011 12:00 PM
Clayton Price from Brooklyn, NY

Brian -
You've been talking about restricting drilling to
500 feet from fresh water sources. Aside from
what's already been said about migration of underground water, there's also the very important fact, that the drilling goes to multiple levels and runs very long distances underground - way longer than 500 feet.
It's folly to assume people will not discover these hydrofracting basics. Find them out on time, is one of the basic challenges to us all.

Jul. 01 2011 10:53 AM
J Reilly from Bellmore, NY

Regarding earthquakes and nuclear plants; I heard (I think it was on your show) that the majority of death during an urban earthquake was a result of damaged gas lines. Fracking is more dangerous for this reason, too!

Jul. 01 2011 10:53 AM
Troy from NJ

An important point that has never been raised in these discussions is that the entire process of fracking involves taking water near the surface and pumping it to a location miles beneath the surface, where it cannot be recovered. Aside from environmental damage associated with methane, benzene and pumping chemicals, what do you get when you pump water, permanently, away from forests, meadows, streams, wildlife, and everything else that depends on water? Answer: you get a desert.

Jul. 01 2011 10:53 AM

Fracking fragments & destroys the subterranean rock formations to get to the gas.

Since the formations will be dissolving, there's no way to control where the chemicals & waste water goes.

Despite all the building in Manhattan there are still underground streams that run for fairly long distances.

Do we really want to chance long-distance underground seepage that can travel as long as it finds passages or leechable walls underground?

Jul. 01 2011 10:46 AM
Amy from Manhattan

500 feet? That's 1-2/3 football fields. Does anyone really think water can't carry the chemicals that far, esp. through rock that's been fractured?

How large an area around the injection point actually gets fractured in the hydrofracking process anyway?

Jul. 01 2011 10:44 AM
ml from inwood

Sounds good on paper - proper regulation and it will be safe. Let's check with the people of the Gulf and see if the off-shore drilling regulations worked correctly to protect them. When making plans, it's best to abide by the old adage: what can go wrong, will go wrong.

Jul. 01 2011 10:44 AM
JP from New York

Cuomo will be out of politics if he does this and when the carcinogens show up in our drinking water. He won't be considered even for cat catcher.

Free markets and jobs are always cited for this and there will be almost no jobs generated for New York State residents. I am a paid to understand risk and this is a fast track to disaster. You can't regulate 900 carcinogens used in fracking and make them safe. We need to eviscerate and repeal Cheany's act covering the corporations.
Here is the deal. For little jobs and an unknown payback in gas extraction we can lose our drinking water and the feds will impose a clean water treatment plants costing over 9 billion dollars.
Here's what I propose.
If corporations are given the go ahead for fracking, they must set aside the cost of water treatment plants for us to the tune of 10 billion with a percentage for inflation risk.

There is also the question of the Delaware water authority being sued.

Cuomo is yet another politician that spits in the face of the people who elected him.

Profits do not trump human rights.

Jul. 01 2011 10:43 AM
Ellen from chelsea

500 feet is a joke - because once they drill down, they can drill horizontally under land owned by people who don't agree to or want their land fracked. Also, water by nature is hard to contain, poison water, no less sol. How can they say with any certainty, and with a straight face, that chemically laced water is going to stay where it is injected? That is simply ludicrous. This is too great a waste of water, too great a risk to our shred resources.

Jul. 01 2011 10:42 AM
Liam from East Elmhurst

Oh, and, too many people from all politcal perspectives believe that if the government approves something, it is safe.

Follow the money and the vested interests!
They'd both kill us all for a quick buck!

Jul. 01 2011 10:42 AM
Ned from Brooklyn

I can't understand how your guest could possibly work for an environmental organization. Fracking is clearly dangerous. Aren't there other alternatives for energy in NY?

Jul. 01 2011 10:40 AM
Elizabeth from Stone Ridge, NY

We live in Stone Ridge NY, just a few miles from the border of the nyc watershed. It is crazy to think that if we and our neighbors agreed to hydrofracking on our private lands that it would NOT contaminate the watershed.

Jul. 01 2011 10:40 AM
Smokey from LES

Doesn't sound like a wide enough boundary from water supply. Why not a few miles? That still leaves great amount of drilling space.

Jul. 01 2011 10:39 AM
David from ditmas park

500 ft? sounds completely arbritrary to me...

Jul. 01 2011 10:38 AM

500 ft! omg. please.

Jul. 01 2011 10:37 AM
Henry from long island city

500 feet is the distance you're supposed to keep back from a fire truck.

Jul. 01 2011 10:37 AM
Ray from Scotch Plains, NJ

Fracking is a dangerous experiment on our water supply. If it winds up contaminated, who pays for remediation? Is this another grand example of privatizing the profits and socializing the losses. The loss being drinkable water?

Jul. 01 2011 10:36 AM
moocow from manhattan

I think the problem with fracking is that things can go wrong, and when they do, you contaminate and ruin lives, regions. No amt. of regulation can ensure accidents don't happen.

Jul. 01 2011 10:35 AM
Liam from East Elmhurst

No one should be suprised that a 'CUOMO' is willing to sell-out his constituents.
Check out daddy's record.
I think it's dual-party population control.
NYC water is already LEAD CONTAMINATED.
Hey, maybe it's better on the other side.
We are lost with both politcal parties running this nightmare.

Jul. 01 2011 10:34 AM

This guy claims to be an environmentalist? What a joke! I'm willing to bet he doesn't live where the drilling will occur.

Jul. 01 2011 10:32 AM
Yosif from Manhattan

Now we know what horse was traded for gay marraige. Atleast they are not Fracking with New York city's water supply. If upstate doesn't mind their water being contaminated, that is their prerogative. First Cuomo runs ads against a millionaires tax and now this. tsk tsk.

Jul. 01 2011 10:30 AM
SusanV from Harrison from Harrison

Fracking can't be properly regulated or just kept out of part of the state. Gov Cuomo has shown his business allies that will shift all the risk of this extreme gas drilling onto the taxpayers and the landowners. The DEC's own union called for a moratorium due to the lack of resources to properly enforce. The health impacts were not examined in the draft SGEIS. This is not a complete study. Schneiderman is on the right track and is protecting NY.

Jul. 01 2011 10:27 AM
lj from upstate

So If you live in NYC or Syracuse, your children's health and access to clean water are protected, but my kids become lab rats in a life-long experiment with chemicals so toxic the gas companies won't even say what they are. In the face of all the evidence, big money wins over public health

Jul. 01 2011 10:21 AM
Susan from nyc

The most salient environmental issue facing New York is stopping hydrofracking before it starts and destroys our water, our environment and our health. Could the governor explain why the health and welfare of those in NYC and Syracuse deserves protection, while everyone else can be sacrificed? In light of the New York Times investigative reporting on the outright criminal behavior of the gas industry, and the diasterous effects they have visited upon the communities they sold a bill of goods, I am completely disgusted that Cuomo is willing to sell us out. How many pieces of silver did he get?

Jul. 01 2011 10:20 AM

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