Thursday, December 1st, The League of Women Voters and the Croton Watershed Clean Water Coalition hosted a community discussion at the Katonah Library on the issue of Hydrofracking. On the agenda was how Fracking could affect the water we drink, the air we breathe and the economies in which we live.
That was enough to congregate about 50 residents for a ten minute trailer of the Oscar nominated documentary, Gasland and a Q&A with local experts. But the chance to be educated and engage in activism was not limited to just constituents. “I drove back seven hours from Pennsylvania
Appropriately, it was the issue at hand that had the senator away. With competing interests in Albany making their case for and against, he said, I decided I had to go there and see for myself what impact Fracking has had in Pennsylvania.
Out of the mini underground earthquakes created by a mass infusion of water and almost a thousand chemicals, Mr. Ball witnessed family farms destroyed, polluted ponds and streams and vastly diluted property values. He also discovered a subtlety that has broader implications for the rest of the environment and the human beings who occupy it. “Cows are dying from eating the grass on nearby farms,” he says.
That said, he cautioned the audience not to view the politics through the narrow prism of Democrats and Republicans – especially after the trailer invoked the Halliburton Loophole and the name of Dick Cheney. "In Pennsylvania, the legislators have been bought off on both sides," said the Senator, and created a red carpet treatment that has left the gas industry free of regulation, he added.
Kevin Winn of the Bedford Department of Public Works then took the discussion both underground and above the water table. With Bedford intercepting New York City aqueducts for its water supply, he said, lack of regulations seen throughout the country will likely produce similar chemical leakage in our water.
For instance, New York City doesn't want any drilling within seven miles of tunnels, but typical Fracking regulation only require a thousand feet of separation. At the same time, 70 year old tunnels at the mercy of seismic shifts could create massive infrastructure problems for the water system.
That is among the economic arguments that the gas industry has left out of its calculations, according economist Dr. Jannette Barth. They have not been truthful in their forecasts in terms of both costs and economic gain, said the Senior Economist
She began with the discrepancy on reserve estimates in the Marcellus Shale region. "The industry claims 410 trillion cubic feet of recoverable gas exists, while the US Geological Survey estimates only 84 trillion," she says.
On the other side, industry studies do not take into account possible impacts on upstate tourism, agriculture, outdoor recreation, highway infrastructure, property value loss and health related illness. A simple look at Pennsylvania can provide an applicable forecast, according to Dr. Barth. "Gas producing counties are not better off as unemployment and poverty have risen," she says.
That may have a lot to do with the fact that the oil and gas industry is much more capital intensive and is not really a job creator. Leases made with families also have done little to protect private land owners from environmental liability that so often come of the process.
And as an addendum, the goal of energy independence the gas companies claim is a myth that is easily found in the paperwork. Foreign companies are getting many of the permits - thus paving way for the export of the gas output, she says.
Of course, the most important quality of life issue is life itself. Given the distinct possibility of elevated cancer rates, children's health advocate Larysa Dyrszka finds the omissions in 15,000 pages of industry study are the most telling. "There's no mention of the effects these chemicals will have on the human endocrine system," says Dr. Dyrszka who frequently speaks on the issue of Fracking.
No mention of children is also of concern and she fear gas companies will be able to bypass New York SEQR laws, which force environmental impact studies prior to approval. Otherwise, New York has held off the industry for three years, but strong backing from Governor Coumo puts that in jeopardy.
Nonetheless, despite the almost dictatorial power in the hands of the executive and the leaders of both houses, Assemblyman Robert Castelli took the floor and implored the audience to continue exercising democracy. "Write letters, make phone calls, get up and speak up, your voice is definitely heard," he concluded.
Go to http://www.amillionfrackingletters.com/ in order to petition Governor Cuomo. Website will also hand deliver individual letters to the Executive.