Groups Flag Top 10 Flaws in NY's Revised Fracking Review

State's Fracking Assessment Lacks Teeth to Protect Water, Communities

ALBANY, NY (07/19/2011)(readMedia)-- After a preliminary review of the 1,095 pages of the Department of Environmental Conservation's (DEC) revised Draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (SGEIS), the assessment that would guide how gas drilling by means of hydraulic fracturing or "fracking" would be conducted in New York, environmental groups noted several serious deficiencies, as well as improvements. Unless addressed in the state's final fracking review, these flaws jeopardize the health and safety of New York's waters and communities. The groups stressed that the document is still preliminary and subsequent versions may be adjusted.

"David Letterman would ask Talisman Terry the Fracosaurus to introduce our Top 10 Fracking Flaws on 'Late Show,' but we'll settle for the New York Water Rangers," said Katherine Nadeau, Water & Natural Resources Program Director, Environmental Advocates of New York. "If Governor Cuomo thinks fracking can be done safely, he needs to put some regulatory muscle behind his words before he allows any drilling in New York."

"No matter how diligent the Department of Environmental Conservation is, and how many experts double-check the agency's work, there is an entropy factor that we really can't plan for. There's a big risk in allowing this industry to operate here. Every New Yorker needs to think carefully about whether the reward is worth the risk," said Deborah Goldberg, Managing Attorney with Earthjustice.

"New Yorkers want the DEC to demonstrate that natural gas development can be done safely before it's allowed to expand, but instead the revised SGEIS downplays risks that are already evident in other states," said Nadia Steinzor, Marcellus Regional Organizer with Earthworks. "Stringent regulations must be in place and loopholes favoring industry must be closed before permits are issued."

"This document gives the industry a road map for fracking in the Catskill Park, the Delaware River Watershed and throughout the Southern Tier of New York," said Ramsay Adams, Executive Director of Catskill Mountainkeeper. "The reality is that no amount of regulation, no amount of permitting guidelines and no amount of laws and ordinances can protect our water and communities from a reckless industry when our regulatory agencies don't have the staff and resources to enforce the laws they have, no matter how stringent they are."

Key concerns include the state's failure to prohibit the use of cancer-causing chemicals in fracking fluids and the failure to subject toxic and potentially radioactive fracking wastewater and solid waste to possible classification as hazardous waste. The groups also noted improvements in the preliminary revised document.

Top 10 Fracking Flaws

  1. New York State isn't proposing to ban any chemicals, even those known to be toxic and carcinogenic. While the proposed public disclosure component has been strengthened, telling New Yorkers what toxic chemicals will be used is not the same as protecting the public from negative health impacts.
  2. The preliminary draft allows drilling waste to escape treatment as hazardous waste, even if it is in fact hazardous under the law. This means fracking waste could be sent to treatment facilities unable to properly treat it, putting the health and safety of our waters and communities at grave risk.
  3. The state proposes allowing sewage plants to treat drilling wastes, even though such plants are not permitted to handle the toxic elements in such wastes, and even though the DEC itself has called into question New York's capacity and ability to treat fracking wastes.
  4. Drinking water supplies would be inadequately protected. The preliminary draft increases buffers and setbacks from aquifers and wells. However the protections are inconsistent and can be waived in some instances. All setbacks and buffers must be set to provide maximum protections that cannot be altered.
  5. Some fracking restrictions would have sunset dates. The preliminary draft proposes to place some areas of the state off limits to gas drilling, but upon closer examination, many of the restrictions have sunset dates and some of the protective buffers only call for site-specific individual environmental review, rather than clear restrictions.
  6. The preliminary draft does not analyze public health impacts, despite the fact that fracking-related air pollution and the potential for water contamination have serious effects on people-especially the elderly and children, and communities downwind and downstream of proposed fracking operations. There is growing evidence of negative health impacts related to gas extraction in other states.
  7. The DEC proposes issuing permits before formal rulemaking is complete, a backward move that leaves New York's waters and communities at risk.
  8. The state is breaking up environmental impact reviews. The thousands of miles of pipelines or compressor stations required for drilling to get the resulting gas to market will be reviewed by a different agency under a different process. Without an accounting of such impacts, New York's environmental assessment is incomplete and the full impacts of fracking are unknown. The Public Service Commission has jurisdiction over gas infrastructure. As such, Governor Cuomo should direct state agencies to coordinate their efforts in order to protect our air, water and communities.
  9. While proposing to put the New York City and Syracuse watersheds off-limits to drilling, critical water supply infrastructure would not be protected. The state proposes a buffer around New York City drinking water infrastructure in which only an additional review would be required and upon which projects could be permitted-not a formal ban. The proposed buffer is only one-quarter as long as a typical horizontal wellbore, too close to the sensitive, aging infrastructure that provides the city with drinking water. There are no proposed buffer requirements for Syracuse.
  10. New York's environmental agency has been subject to steep budget and staff cuts and does not have adequate staff or resources to properly oversee fracking, even if every possible protection were in place. This reality raises the possibility that the DEC will be forced to cut corners with its reviews or fast-track permits despite the risks. Natural Resources Defense Council and Environmental Advocates of New York are members of an advisory panel expected to weigh in on agency resources and staffing in the months to come.

The DEC's preliminary revised draft fracking assessment was released earlier this month. The complete revised draft is expected to be released for public comment and review in August. The groups are strongly requesting the DEC to expand public comment period from 60 days, one month less than the public comment period for the first draft of the SGEIS, to at least 180 days.

"Without providing the necessary measures that will prevent pollution from drilling and fracking, New York's communities and environment will suffer like Pennsylvania's, where drilling is running wild. On the whole, the revised Draft doesn't cure the ills of gas development that are the most dangerous so the industry's interests will win out over public health," said Tracy Carluccio, Deputy Director, Delaware Riverkeeper Network.

"While Riverkeeper is encouraged that the SGEIS proposes that no surface drilling will take place in the NYC and Syracuse watersheds, primary aquifers, public and private water supply wells, as well as on state-owned forests and parks, the buffers set forth are insufficient to prevent horizontal drilling underneath these sensitive areas," said Kate Hudson, Watershed Program Director for Riverkeeper. "It is critical that DEC measure the buffer from any gas extraction activity, including the furthest reaches of subsurface horizontal drilling, in order to sufficiently protect our drinking water supplies and state-owned conservation areas."

To frack a gas well, millions of gallons of water, sand and toxic chemicals are pumped deep underground at high pressure. This fractures the rock that has trapped the gas for millennia and allows it to escape. From start to finish, gas development that relies on fracking is an industrial process that threatens our water. State after state, from Wyoming to Pennsylvania, has documented its dangers. New York can't afford to put short-term gas profits ahead of the long-term health of our water and our communities.

For more information

Erica Ringewald, Environmental Advocates of New York, 518.210.9903

Sarah Eckel, Citizens Campaign for the Environment, 518.339.2853

Nadia Steinzor, Earthworks, 315.677.4111

Tina Posterli, Riverkeeper, 516.526.9371

Deborah Goldberg, Earthjustice, 212-791-1881, ext. 227

The New York Water Rangers campaign is supported by a network of organizations working to protect the rights and health of New Yorkers and one of our most precious environmental resources-water-from the dangers of irresponsible, poorly regulated, and under-inspected natural gas exploration and development. The campaign is supported by Catskill Mountainkeeper, Citizens Campaign for the Environment, Earthjustice, EARTHWORKS Oil & Gas Accountability Project, Environmental Advocates of New York, Natural Resources Defense Council and Riverkeeper. Visit to learn more.