On April 26 NYPIRG – a non-partisan political organization representing students in New York State – presented New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Manhattan office with a petition signed by over 10,000 New Yorkers asking the governor to carefully consider the hydrofracking process and its effects on New York State water.
Hydrofracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is a controversial process by which wells are drilled thousands of feet below the Earth’s surface, sometimes as deep as a mile. Chemical laden water is then pumped under high pressure into the well, fracturing the shale formations below and capturing the natural gas that is released.
According to NYPIRG, the hydrofracking drilling process is fraught with problems that were not initially addressed during the first draft environmental plan –the Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (SGEIS). A document that Brendan Woodruff of NYPIRG describes as, “fatally flawed and inadequate.”
The public has, however, been given another opportunity to comment on a second draft of the SGEIS and NYPIRG and other anti-fracking groups are urging the Governor to fully consider the drilling process and its effects on New York State water. The SGEIS would dictate guidelines to the industry that would govern drilling practices and could potentially require the disclosure of fracking chemicals used during the drilling process and may include additional environmental protections.
Disclosure of fracking chemicals is of vital importance according to Ramsay Adams, Executive Director of Catskill Mountainkeeper – an environmental conservation group located in Youngsville, New York – because it allows for baseline testing so landowners and scientists can determine if the gas drilling process has contaminated local water.
The SGEIS comment period is typically 90 days making public comments and the concerns of water conservation groups a timely issue. Two recently released reports that have cast aspersions on the hydrofracking process are also likely to play a significant role in its regulation.
On April 16 Democratic Energy and Commerce committee members released a detailed report summarizing, “types, volumes, and chemical contents of the hydraulic fracturing products used by the 14 leading oil and gas service companies” over a five year period. The report stated that the fracking process used a number of chemicals recognized as deadly poisons and carcinogens, including: benzene, toluene, xylene, and ethylbenzene known as BTEX compounds. According to the report the companies injected into the ground, “11.4 million gallons of products containing at least one BTEX chemical over the five-year period.”
Other chemicals used in the gas drilling process included lead, methanol, Isopropyl alcohol, 2-butoxyethanol, and ethylene glycol, the study found; all considered to be highly toxic to humans.
The companies additionally used chemical concoctions that were listed as proprietary substances and thus not divulged to the Congressional Committee. The report also suggests that the companies may not even be aware of the full list of the chemicals they used.
An outline of the study summarized that:
“The 14 leading oil and gas service companies used more than 780 million gallons of hydraulic fracturing products, not including water added at the well site. Overall, the companies used more than 2,500 hydraulic fracturing products containing 750 different chemicals and other components.”
A troubling aspect of the Congressional report is that these disclosures were voluntary. In other words, this is only the information that the gas and oil companies – an industry rife with corruption and illegal pollution of the environment – turned over voluntarily upon Congressional request.
Another damning study was recently revealed by Cornell University stating that the natural gas drilling process, when considered throughout its entire lifecycle, is actually more energy intensive and deleterious to global warming than traditional fossil fuel sources such as coal and oil. Natural gas is often praised as a low emission green house gas producing fossil fuel. The Cornell University study found, however, that natural gas recovered through the hydraulic fracturing process is in fact “dirtier” vis-à-vis global warming if the entire life cycle is considered in the assessment of its impact.
This is due in part to lost methane, a very harmful green house gas emission, during the life cycle of natural gas acquisition. The study states:
“The footprint for shale gas is greater than that for conventional gas or oil when viewed on any time horizon, but particularly so over 20 years. Compared to coal, the footprint of shale gas is at least 20% greater and perhaps more than twice as great on the 20-year horizon.”
The outcome of these two studies suggests that the benefits touted by proponents of hydrofracking have been greatly exaggerated while the potential dangers and side effects have been greatly minimized. The impact on New Yorkers could be drastic.
New York City gets its water from a series of reservoirs in upstate New York in the Catskill/Delaware Watersheds and the Croton Watershed. These reservoirs are located in areas that overlap the New York State Marcellus Shale area; an area earmarked for intense and pervasive gas drilling.
If hydrofracking is allowed to continue with minimal oversight and lax environmental protection it will greatly increase the likelihood of New York City watershed contamination in upstate New York, which will jeopardize the water supply of over 9 million New York City residents. Neighboring Pennsylvania has suffered from similarly predicted watershed contamination associated with hydrofracking water seeping into the water table that has rendered some municipality and township tap water unsafe for consumption.
Moreover, because of the high quality water of the New York City watershed, particularly with regard to bacteria and microorganisms, this water is delivered unfiltered as tap water, making the protection of this water source of the highest priority.
The work of conservation groups like NYPIRG and Catskill Mountainkeeper has had an impact on the struggle for the safety of New York water but the battle appears far from over. When asked what local residents can do Ramsay Adams had this to say: “We are lucky. We live in a Democracy but that means it’s up to us to get out there and demand our rights. It’s our obligation.”