Hydrofracking — Still Number One —
Time is running short on the public comment period for the pending environmental impact statement and regulations on hydrofracked gas drilling in New York State. The NYS Department of Environmental Conservation is accepting comments on this document until December 12, and it is critically important that as many New Yorkers as possible make their voices heard.
In addition, DEC has announced the schedule for public hearings on the hydrofracking rules (see below). There no doubt will be a strong showing of opposition, but it also can be anticipated that gas drilling companies will do all they can to pack the hearings with leaseholders and others who stand to profit from the drilling pollution.
There is strong evidence that even with the strictest rules hydrofracking poses significant dangers to ground water, including drinking water supplies, and also to surface waters which will be used as withdrawal sites for the immense quantities of fresh water required for this activity. In addition, the regulations allow open pit storage of drilling wastes and flowback fluids, posing a threat to birds and other wildlife. Drilling wastes and other materials such as pit liners can be disposed of on site under DEC’s regulations. There are no extra safeguards for proper handling and disposal of radioactive wastes that are commonly found at drill sites.
The regulations gloss over the threats to habitat including critical grassland and large forested areas from disturbance and fragmentation by drilling construction and operations. DEC says it will require additional review in very limited areas — carried out by the drillers — and that “mitigation” will be permitted for damage to habitat.
The rules continue to allow drilling companies to hide the chemicals used in fracking fluids from the public. The known chemicals include carcinogens, diesel fuel and other toxic materials.
There is no discussion or consideration of the long-term effects of leaving fractured geologic strata contaminated with fracking fluids and solids to keep the fractures open. These will remain for millennia — threatening future generations for short-term energy gains.
What you can do —
Make sure that at a minimum you submit comments to DEC before December 12. (A link to all the documents is on the DEC home page). Even a one-page list of your concerns can be effective. DOAS’s position is that this activity is fundamentally unsafe and environmentally unacceptable, regardless of regulations. You may want to take the same tack.
Some additional points to make:
- Wildlife is still at risk under the proposed regulations. There should be a clear and comprehensive ban on open storage of any wastes resulting from drilling and fracking—no exceptions. Also, a site specific assessment of the habitat impacts of every drilling location should be carried out by independent agents paid for by the drillers, but hired and overseen by DEC.
- Drillers should not be permitted to take water from water bodies within the Marcellus and Utica shale areas. This area will be overburdened by withdrawals from the large scale operations envisioned.
- The prohibited distance for drilling should be increased to one mile from water bodies, aquifers, public water supplies, and existing water wells and springs in order to protect these waters and public health.
- There should be full disclosure to the public of all chemicals used in drilling and fracking prior to approval of a well.
- The environmental impact statement should consider the long-term ramifications of fractured geology and remaining chemicals and other materials left underground.
If possible, try to attend and speak at one of the public hearings. The closest to our area are November 17: The Forum Theatre, 236 Washington Street, Binghamton, NY, and November 29: Sullivan County Community College, Seelig Theatre, 112 College Road, Loch Sheldrake, NY. Both will run from 1-4 and 6-9 PM.
In addition, the City of Oneonta and others have organized a local opportunity for public comment at 7 PM on November 10 in the Hunt Union Ballroom at the State University College at Oneonta. Although not an official hearing, all comments will be transcribed and submitted to DEC to become part of the official record.
Local elections — they will make a difference this year —
In November, we will be voting to elect local government representatives — town, village and county board members, supervisors, mayors, and others. Normally these officials don’t play a big role in environmental decisions and policies; these are largely set at the state and national levels. However, the actions of our local leaders may be critical in determining whether or not we see hydrofracked gas drilling in the next few months and years.
With release of the latest draft of regulations (see below) it is apparent that Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joe Martens have decided the state will go ahead with this drilling, despite opposition from the citizens of central NY and elsewhere. However, there has been action in some municipalities to ban drilling within their borders. Locally, the Otsego County towns of Middlefield, Otsego and Springfield have done so, as has the City of Oneonta. Gas companies and lessees are challenging these laws, and the outcome is not certain, but there is a good chance the bans will stand.
Other towns are considering similar actions, and some are awaiting legal determinations. These decisions will be made by town and county boards and other local officials, so their views on hydrofracking should be a major issue in the upcoming elections. A number of candidates — including political newcomers — have made opposition to fracking the centerpiece of their campaigns. This is grassroots action at its best — citizens stepping forward to lead when those in charge are not doing so. The makeup of your town or county board in the next couple of years may well determine whether or not you have drilling in your neighborhood.
What you can do —
Learn the positions of the candidates in your town and county elections. Many delayed taking a stance until the DEC regulations appeared — they can no longer use that excuse. Ask if they will support a ban on drilling in your town. If there is an anti-drilling candidate, give them your support as well as your vote — talk to your friends and neighbors. Local elections often turn on just a handful of votes. Letters to the editor are particularly effective in local elections. Remember — this is where you live, and your voice matters when your neighborhood is threatened.
Comment period for hydrofracking regulations —
As noted above, the draft regulations for horizontal hydrofracked gas drilling are now complete, and the NYS DEC has opened a 90-day comment period through December 12. A preliminary discussion of the document appeared in last month’s Kingfisher, and DOAS will be preparing comments on behalf of our organization. These will follow our existing position statement on hydrofracking, which calls for a ban on the practice. When these are complete, they will be posted on the DOAS web site, and can be used for reference. Our position statement is also there.
However, it is critically important that citizens speak out during the comment period, and ideally attend the yet-to-be-announced public hearings. Only a strong and continued show of opposition can halt or limit this dangerous activity.
What you can do —
Take this opportunity to review at least the executive summary of the draft regulations (a link to all the documents is here). If you would like to receive notification when the DOAS comments are available, please contact me at (607) 652-2162.
Hydrofracking — the battle continues —
In July, the NY State Department of Environmental Conservation took a major step in the ongoing process of establishing regulations for horizontal drilling and hydrofracking for natural gas production in the state. The release of the Preliminary Revised Draft Supplementary Generic Environmental Impact Statement lays out the state’s vision for drilling and related activity and includes its proposed rules for energy companies, as well as anticipated environmental impacts and mitigation measures.
This is a large document — over 900 pages — and not yet fully complete. However, the state is providing only a 60 day public comment period, clearly too short to adequately assess and evaluate the statement. Environmental groups and others are calling on DEC and Governor Cuomo to extend the comment period to 180 days.
The revised draft does include some improvements over the previous version, including positive responses to issues raised by DOAS and others. The revised draft requires mitigation measures to lessen, but not eliminate, the negative impacts to wildlife from habitat fragmentation as a result of drilling operations.
The newer regulations prohibit drilling in the New York City and Syracuse watersheds, as well as on State Forests, State Parks, and State Wildlife Management areas. However, even with these restrictions, the state will permit the activity in 85% of NY’s Marcellus Shale region.
A review of those portions of the draft relating to habitat and wildlife impacts, water withdrawals, waste material disposals, and drinking water protections shows that the DEC rules are still lacking:
- They would still allow water withdrawals for hydrofracking in the millions of gallons from the state’s lakes, rivers, wetlands and aquifers.
- Flowback wastes and other materials could be stored in open lagoons, although closed systems are recommended. There is no adequate system or capacity for proper disposal of these wastes in NY.
- DEC remains in denial about the threat to groundwater and aquifers from gas drilling and production processes, despite such problems in Pennsylvania and elsewhere.
- There is no assessment or response to the cumulative impacts of drilling the anticipated thousands of wells in NY State.
In addition, DEC does not, and cannot, address one of DOAS’ main reasons for opposing hydrofracking: that large quantities of toxic materials will be left underground essentially forever when the wells are closed — an immoral environmental time bomb for the future.
What you can do —
The entire PRDSGEIS is available at the DEC web site and at public libraries in Oneonta, Walton and Cobleskill. Much of the document is technical, and deals with the drilling activity, geology and the review process itself. An executive summary and the sections on environmental impacts and mitigation, which can be downloaded separately, are the heart of the document. Try to familiarize yourself with at least these sections in advance of yet to be scheduled public hearings, and/or submitting comments.
In addition, contact DEC Commissioner Joe Martens, (NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, 625 Broadway, Albany, NY 12233) and Governor Andrew Cuomo (Executive Chamber, New York State Capitol, Albany, NY 12224) and urge them to increase the public comment period on the revised GEIS to 180 days.
A growing number of towns and other municipalities have enacted bans on gas drilling. If your town is considering this, let your support be known. If the issue has not yet been raised in your town, there are good models to follow in the Otsego Co. towns of Middlefield, Otsego and Springfield.
Water withdrawals for hydrofracking – right in our own backyard —
Until now, the threat of hydrofracking for natural gas in our region has seemed just that — a threat. But now it is real: XTO Energy, a subsidiary of Exxon Mobil, has submitted an application to the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) for withdrawal of 250,000 gallons of water a day from the Oquaga Creek, a tributary of the West Branch of the Delaware River in Broome and Delaware Counties. The purpose of the withdrawals is to provide water for anticipated hydrofracking activities by the company. The DRBC regulates ground and surface water withdrawals in the Delaware River basin.
There was a brief window of opportunity to comment on this request. The DRBC gave the public just 10 working days notice of the scheduled vote on the withdrawals. A public hearing was scheduled in Trenton, NJ, over 4 hours from the site that would be affected. A quick response by those concerned about drilling and water withdrawals did result in nearly 8000 comments, mostly opposed to the withdrawals, and asking for a longer comment period. To their credit, the DRBC has extended the comment period until a public hearing is held in the vicinity of the withdrawal site, to be scheduled before June 11.
This is just the first of what can be expected to be a flood of water withdrawal attempts within the Delaware and Susquehanna River basins if and when state and federal regulators approve hydrofracking. The DRBC estimates between 15,000 and 18,000 wells to be drilled in the Delaware Basin, and each well uses up to 6 million gallons of water. Not only is this immense quantity of fresh water taken from rivers and aquifers, but it also becomes tainted with fracking fluids and materials from the wells, and is transformed into a dangerous waste material.
It is very important that regulators hear a strong outcry from the public over this inappropriate and threatening use of our clean water — particularly in this case which will set a precedent for how such requests are handled in the future. This withdrawal is physically close to us, and will affect the Delaware River, one of our most important natural resources.
What you can do —
Let the DRBC know your opinion on the Oquaga Creek water withdrawal proposal. Written comments may be submitted by e-mail to Paula.Schmitt@drbc.state.nj.us or by mail to Commission Secretary, DRBC, P.O. Box 7360, 25 State Police Drive, West Trenton, NJ 08628-0360. E-mails should include “XTO Energy” in the subject line and include the name, address, and affiliation (if any) of the commenter. The draft XTO Energy water withdrawal proposal (termed a ‘docket’ by DRBC) can be viewed on the Commission’s web site.
Also, keep an eye out for announcement of the public hearing, likely to be held in Broome County. If you would like to receive notification of this information, sign up for the DOASnews listserve at Another good source for information on hydrofracking is the Catskill Mountainkeeper web site.
A very bad day for wolves —
In one of the worst cases of politics trumping science, the April budget deal to avoid a federal government shutdown included a backdoor provision to remove gray wolves in the Northern Rockies from protection under the Endangered Species Act. This marks the first time Congress has stripped ESA protections for one particular species.
The anti-wolf provision was an end run around federal court decisions barring the Obama administration from turning wolf management over to the states. Wolf hunts had already been held in Montana and Idaho, and these and other states are considering gassing wolf dens to reduce the population. All of this is being done in the name of increasing numbers of elk and other game species for hunting, despite science showing wolves are an important part of healthy ecosystems in the Rockies.
Although wolf management has absolutely nothing to do with the budget, President Obama agreed to the “wolf rider”, and both NY Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand were supporters. Local Congressman Chris Gibson also voted yes. To their credit, Congressmen Paul Tonko and Maurice Hinchey were in opposition. Congressman Richard Hanna did not vote.
Not only is this a setback for re-establishing wolves throughout their original range, and a death knell for many wolf packs, but Congress’ action sets a terrible precedent for political meddling in one of our most important environmental laws. Although many species remain without recovery plans, the ESA has generally worked well, bringing any number of plants and animals back from the brink of extinction. However, there is now an example for local politicians to follow to placate developers, farmers, hunters, and others who do not want to see species protected.
What you can do —
Contact President Obama and Senators Schumer and Gillibrand to express your disappointment in their participation in this anti-environmental political deal. If you are in Rep. Gibson’s district, the same message is appropriate. Reps. Hinchey and Tonko should receive thanks for their losing, but courageous, votes.
Solar Energy Legislation in NY —
A bill that would require electricity suppliers and distributors in New York State to utilize solar power has been introduced in the state legislature. The Solar Industry Development Jobs Act of 2011 establishes a target of 5000 megawatts of solar power in the state by 2025, with utilities to ramp up their percentage of solar each year until the total is reached.
Supporters of the legislation also stress the estimated 22,000 jobs that will be created by the increased demand for solar power. The environmental benefits are clear—no greenhouse gas, acid rain or mercury emissions, as now exist from conventional fossil fuel plants.
What you can do —
Let your state legislators know that they should support this bill (A.5713/S.4178). Local State Senator John Bonacic is already a co-sponsor and should be commended for his vision.
Obama administration National Forest proposals would weaken wildlife protections —
This year the Obama administration will create sweeping new policies to determine the future of our national forests for generations to come. These policies, known as the Forest Planning Rule for the National Forest Management Act, lay out the “rules of the road” for the U.S. Forest Service to manage its 155 national forests and 20 grasslands nationwide, a total land area as big as Texas — all belonging to the American people. This presents an opportunity to improve protections for wildlife in these important habitats — one of the primary purposes of the National Forest system.
Among the Forest Service’s responsibilities is maintaining biodiversity in the forests. For many years, the agency has used a viability standard for this purpose. This policy works by requiring that management actions provide for the long-term persistence of fish and wildlife on our national forests. However, the Obama proposal limits the viability standard to those “species of conservation concern” determined by the local forest. There is no formal mechanism, scientific standard for determining whether a species should receive this protection, opening the process to undue influence from timber companies, oil drillers, mining companies and others seeking to exploit forest resources.
In addition, the Obama proposal fails to define what protections are required for those species that do fall under the viability standard, again leaving it to local discretion. Also, it does not provide for monitoring of populations or species diversity. The proposal does include a large loophole for local forest administrators to avoid the viability standard completely.
What you can do —
Comments on the Forest Planning Rule are being accepted until May 16. Please let the Forest Service know that they need to maintain strong protections for wildlife in their future plans. Comments can be submitted at govcomments.com, or Forest Service Planning DEIS, C/O Bear West Company, 132 E 500 S, Bountiful, UT 84010. Also, Defenders of Wildlife has provided an easy way to submit comments through their web site. Sending a copy of your comments to President Obama will let him know the Forest Service needs to improve their rule.
Senators Seward and Bonacic cosponsor bill to allow larger ATVs —
Local State Senators James Seward and John Bonacic are cosponsors of dangerous legislation that would change the definition of all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) to include machines weighing up to 1500 lbs., a 50% increase over the current limit of 1000 lbs. These off-road vehicles are a major cause of damage to public lands from illegal use. Increasing the size of ATVs that can be registered in the state will only worsen the problem.
DOAS was instrumental in keeping the state from opening up local state forests to ATV use several years ago. It was clear that this was an inappropriate use of these lands, and would negatively affect habitat, wildlife, and water resources, and conflict with low-impact activities. However, the Department of Environmental Conservation admitted that it cannot adequately patrol the forests to keep ATVs out, and the numerous rutted and eroded paths from the machines prove this. Allowing larger, heavier machines would bring even more damage to our ecosystems.
What you can do —
Contact Senators Seward and Bonacic, and tell them that they should withdraw their support of this bill. The illegal use on public and private lands of existing ATVs is bad enough. They should not be sponsoring legislation that would worsen the problem.
Environmental Assault in Washington —
The new Republican majority in the House of Representatives has begun its expected attack on environmental regulations under the guise of creating jobs and improving the economy.
Typical of the rhetoric was a quote from Representative Joe Barton of Texas that regulations to curb pollutants and limit greenhouse gases will “put the American economy in a straitjacket, costing us millions of jobs.” Another Republican leader, Darrell Issa, chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, actually solicited complaints from big business leaders to bolster the “Chicken Little” argument that basic protections such as the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts hurt the economy.
A particular focus of House Republicans is Environmental Protection Agency regulations, especially of greenhouse gases. EPA is currently moving forward with regulations for fossil fueled power plants and petroleum refineries. The GOP effort will include de-funding implementation of regulations, aggressive oversight hearings, and overturning rules through the Congressional Review Act.
Other anticipated targets in the House include the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Drinking Water Act, and fuel economy and emissions standards for motor vehicles.
The reality is that not only have environmental regulations brought about significant improvements and savings in public health, and cleaned up our waters and skies, but they have had a net beneficial impact on the economy. A recent University of Massachusetts study shows that construction and retrofitting investments in the eastern US under two new EPA air quality rules would produce nearly 1.5 million jobs over the next five years. The rules limit the emissions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, mercury, lead, dioxin, arsenic, and other pollutants. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said the agency’s implementation of the Clean Air Act, even in the last year of a George W. Bush administration loath to admit to the dangers of global warming, “contributed to dynamic growth in the US environmental technologies industry and its workforce.”
None of this includes the obvious other positive impacts. “Air regulations will also provide substantial economic benefits from cleaner air, improved public health, and increased competitiveness through innovative technologies,” the study said.
What you can do —
Our area has two new Republican Representatives in Congress who will be deeply involved in the debate over the effort to weaken or kill environmental regulations. It is important for Richard Hanna and Chris Gibson to hear that they have constituents who do not support rolling back clean air and water protections, and who want endangered species and other wildlife protected. The beginning of their terms is an excellent time for them to get this message, while their priorities are still being formed.
Let your representative know that the Republican leadership’s efforts to improve the economy in this fashion are misguided, and that the jobs created by cleaning up the environment outnumber those that would keep it polluted — and at the same time protect human health and make America more competitive.
Changes in Albany —
The new regime has taken over in Albany, with Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s inauguration and his State of the State speech in early January. The governor’s approach to the environment is still largely unknown, but his appointment of Joe Martens as Commissioner of the Department of Environmental Conservation has drawn a positive response. Martens served in Mario Cuomo’s administration and had a hand in drafting and enacting some of the state’s important environmental laws. Most recently he was president of the Open Space Institute, a non-profit organization dedicated to land preservation that often served as an interim owner of lands purchased from private interests then sold to the state.
The next environmental test for the new governor will be his budget proposal, and particularly his treatment of the Environmental Protection Fund. This is the primary source of monies for land preservation, clean air and water programs, recycling initiatives, and numerous other state efforts that keep NY green. The EPF is funded from a real estate transfer tax that generates between $500 million and $1 billion annually. The fund should receive $200+ million, but has regularly been raided for other purposes and to help balance the state budget. Over $500 million has been misappropriated from the EPF in the past 7 years.
With the state’s poor fiscal outlook, the governor and legislature can be expected to again tap the EPF for non-environmental programs. In addition, staff cuts to agencies such as DEC and state parks have been disproportionate to other departments and may again bear the brunt of layoffs.
Without an outcry from those who recognize the need to keep NY’s environment a top priority — including Auduboners — the EPF will suffer again this year. A coalition of environmental groups is urging the governor to fund the EPF at $222 million, to provide for the critical programs that have been slashed in recent years.
What you can do —
More information on the EPF and its benefits and history is available at We Love New York. There is also a link to let Gov. Cuomo know how important the fund is and urge him to provide adequate resources. You can also write the governor (address below) to make sure he knows NYers care about the environment, and that the EPF needs $220 million to fulfill its purpose. Since the legislature will also have to approve a final budget, including the EPF, send a copy to your State Senator and Assemblymember.
A Grim 2010 for NY’s Environment —
It’s hard to be anything but pessimistic for the environment in the coming year in NY State. Budget cuts, a likely gridlocked legislature, and a new governor who does not seem to make protection of our natural areas a priority all point to a standstill at best, and backsliding on the environment at worst.
The damage has already begun. Outgoing Governor David Paterson announced major personnel cuts in an already under-staffed Department of Environmental Conservation. Over 200 positions were originally slated to be lost, although that number now appears to be lower.
Although the cuts are part of a larger workforce reduction in state government, DEC is bearing 10 percent of all state layoffs, although the agency only accounts for 2.5 percent of the total state workforce. And this is on top of major losses in recent years:
- In the last 2.5 years, the agency has lost 595 employees, 16 percent of its workforce.
- The DEC’s non-personal services budget (travel and equipment for inspections, oil clean ups) has been cut in half from 2007-08 to 2010-11.
Locally, the most noticeable impact of these cuts will likely be the announced closing of the Rogers Environmental Education Center in Sherburne, Chenango County. This wonderful facility has provided environmental and conservation opportunities for thousands of children and adults. One of four such facilities in the state, the Rogers Center exemplified the best of DEC and its staff.
Even without an anticipated demand for more inspectors should hydrofracked gas drilling proceed, it is obvious DEC cannot meet its obligations to preserve and protect the state’s environment. Incoming Governor Andrew Cuomo has not specifically addressed the DEC cuts, but he did make downsizing state government a major theme of his campaign. His previous experience has been in social services and law enforcement, so it is likely he will not be particularly sympathetic to the needs of DEC.
As for the legislature, it appears that the Senate will be in Republican hands, while the Assembly remains Democratic — a recipe that has kept environmental initiatives in stalemate for decades. Even the champions of the environment in the legislature will have a tough time keeping the wolves away over the next couple of years at least.
What you can do —
Contact Governor-elect Cuomo before he takes office and tell him the environment is important to NYers, present and future. Ask him to not disproportionately slash DEC’s staff and budget — our air, water and lands will suffer.
Keep up the pressure on your State Senator and Assemblymember. They can be expected to work to protect local interests, but DEC needs to be effective statewide, and not spread so thin they can’t do their job.