Don’t Frack with New York! Governor Patterson Poisons the Well to Balance the Budget

By Alison Rose Levy via

Former New York State Governor Eliot Spitzer may have had his sexual peccadilloes but he knew how to stand up to corporate interests that threatened the public good. It was a big boost for oil companies, planning to despoil New York State, when the powerhouse Spitzer was replaced by his easily rolled-over successor.

While belt-tightening throughout the state budget, Governor Patterson added $3 million to fast track harmful gas drilling practices–a quick fix economic solution with tragic long-range health, economic, and environmental consequences.

On Monday, a statewide coalition of New York state residents, businesses, and environmental groups rallied in the state capital of Albany to ask legislators to oppose Patterson’s plans to contaminate state-wide water supplies (including New York City’s) by permitting a damaging form of gas drilling, known as “fracking,” or hydraulic fracturing.

Thanks to lobbying by Halliburton and other energy companies, under the Bush-Cheney administration, fracking got exempted from the Clean Water Act even though it releases large quantities of undisclosed carcinogens and toxic chemicals into the earth and water supply.

According to a recent study, conducted by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), just one drilling site deploys harmful chemicals sufficient “to contaminate more than 100 billion gallons of drinking water to unsafe levels … more than 10 times as much water as the entire state of New York uses in a single day.”

The chemicals used in fracking “pose a serious threat to the nation’s water supplies, but those risks have been largely ignored,” says the report. “Drinking water contamination and property damage have been linked to hydraulic fracturing in four states–Colorado, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wyoming. In one incident that polluted a Colorado creek, the drilling company is still trying to clean it up–four years later.”

Nor does the drilling create local jobs or business. Instead, companies bus in workers from Texas, housing them in “man camps,” sites where reportedly alcohol and drug abuse, and sexual predation abound. While no one wants a “man camp” next door, a gas well also ruins the neighborhood. If one owner sells property for drilling, all neighboring land can be conscripted for leasing, with no rights of refusal. Fracking also releases chemicals into the air; an army of trucks must carry over roads and New York State highways up to four million gallons of contaminated water (per well)– which amps up air pollution and costly highway repairs. There is currently no way to effectively decontaminate the high quantities of waste water produced by fracking.

“We can’t let the gleam of potential profits leave us with a legacy of polluted water and industrialized landscapes,” said Wes Gillingham, program director of Catskill Mountainkeeper.

Last month, New York City’s Department of Environmental Protection issued a report urging a halt to gas drilling since, “Natural gas drilling and exploration are incompatible with the operation of New York City’s unfiltered water supply system and pose unacceptable risks for more than nine million New Yorkers in the City and State.” They noted that drilling entails “invasive industrialization and creates a substantial risk of chemical contamination, and infrastructure damage.”

This week, Mayor Bloomberg chimed in, “The consequences are so severe that it is not a risk that I think we should run. I do not think that we should allow fractured drilling anywhere near our water supply.”

Although land can be fenced in, water can’t be. It flows underground, it rises into clouds, it’s borne by the winds, and released by the rains, far from its source.

While the Mayor nobly aims to protect the immediate area surrounding the city’s upstate water reservoir, so far no studies have investigated how far water-born contaminants from throughout the state could flow downstream to impact NYC, or it’s water supply. Fracking originated in arid western regions, and its proponents don’t know the extent of pollution possible in a region of interconnected rivers and frequent rains like New York and New England.

In New York State, gas drillers hope to use fracking in the regions of the New York City Watershed, the Delaware River, the Finger Lakes, and upstate watersheds, the source of waters that flow downstate to New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware.

With fresh water resources becoming scarcer worldwide due to population growth and climate change, it’s unconscionable for a short-term Governor to short-sell a precious resource to balance his budget. Perhaps the soon to declare gubernatorial candidate, Andrew Cuomo, will like his popular father, Governor Mario Cuomo, become a successful champion.

To take action, sign up with the Environmental Advocates NY, Citizens for Safe Energy The Environmental Working Group proposes a national ban or better regulation. Or join No Fracking Way on Facebook. Or cut to the chase, and ask soon to declare candidate, Andrew Cuomo to make New York State a model for future-oriented policies, rather than a disastrous object lesson in the costs of short-sighted gain.

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