Volume 79, Number 45 | April 14 - 20, 2010
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Outpouring of safety concerns  at forum on watershed drilling

By Albert Amateau 

New York State’s proposed permit rules for hydrofracture gas drilling, including drilling in the city’s watershed, inspired a forum by opponents on April 1 at John Jay College and another scheduled for Thurs., April 15, at Cooper Union.

Opponents, including Albert Appleton, former commissioner of the city Department of Environmental Protection, and Deborah Goldberg, attorney for Earthjustice’s northeast regional office, told the April 1 forum that hydrofracking drilling for gas in the Marcellus shale formation in the Southern Tier of the state presented unacceptable risks to the city’s drinking water and to other water supplies in the state.

In addition to the two forums in the city, the federal Environment Protection Administration held a two-day scoping hearing April 7 and 8 in Washington, D.C., on the impact of hydrofracking on drinking water. The hearing is in connection with proposed federal legislation to amend the Safe Drinking Water Act to repeal the federal exemption from restrictions on underground injections of fluids near drinking water sources and to require oil and gas companies to disclose the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing.

“We need the E.P.A. to go beyond drinking water because we need to know the impact on air quality, soil quality and broader health issues,” Goldberg said.

Others at the April 1 forum said the chemicals in the drilling fluid could endanger fish and other wildlife.

However, panelists acknowledged that the promise of gas lease money for property owners and tax revenues for counties and municipalities puts enormous pressure on the state to approve the pending 800-page draft supplemental generic environmental impact statement, or D.S.G.E.I.S., on hydrofracture gas drilling. 

While city advocates continued to demand that Governor Paterson and the state Department of Environmental Conservation rethink the proposed permit, Upstate property owners have been urging approval. In December, the Delaware County Board of Supervisors voted to support gas drilling in the Marcellus shale as long as the D.S.G.E.I.S. is “based on sound science and regulated safety.”

“There’s a lot of poverty Upstate,” Thomas Shelley, a chemist recently retired from the Cornell University Environmental Health and Safety Department, told the April 1 forum. “And there’s also a lot of money in leasing mineral rights. But some of my neighbors in Tompkins County who leased their rights now regret it. They’ve started a new organization called Fleased,” Shelley said.

Appleton told the forum at John Jay that streams in northern Pennsylvania where there is active hyrdofracture gas drilling have been dying because of an invasion of algae from the Gulf Coast. Drilling contractors, who brought in equipment from Gulf Coast oil and gas fields didn’t clean the equipment properly, Appleton explained.

Appleton said that if some of the chemicals used in the hydrofracking fluid leached into the water supply, they would remain even if the water were filtered.

“You can’t filter benzene out of water,” Appleton said. 

He noted that drilling companies boast that 97 percent of hydrofracture wells turn out to be safe. 

“All you need is 3 percent of the wells to go bad — 3 percent of 10,000 wells is a lot of wells, and you can’t live with that standard,” he said.

Speakers at the April 1 forum said that existing federal and state environmental regulations on gas drilling are not enough.  

“The oil and gas industry has been successful in carving itself out of the national and state environmental regulations,” said Goldberg. Moreover, the environmental impact statement under review was largely written by natural gas developers, she added.

The Thurs., April 15, Cooper Union forum at 6:30 p.m. at the Great Hall, 7 E. Seventh St., will include Appleton, who is also a Cooper Union adjunct professor; Theo Colborn, president of the Endocrine Disruption Exchange in Paonia, Colorado; Michael Boufadel, director of the Temple University Department of Environmental Engineering; and Kevin Bone, director of the Institute for Sustainable Design at Cooper Union.

Regarding the state hydrofracking rules, a March article in Business Week quotes a gas industry consultant based in Syracuse as saying that approval of the regulations, which was expected this year, is likely to be deferred.

The consultant, Dave Palmerton, indicated that Governor Paterson has been a strong supporter of gas drilling but his political problems and investigations have distracted him from the issue. State action on the issue is not likely until after elections, Palmerton said.


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