A leaked report provided to the New York Times and other media outlets claims that health studies have concluded that the controversial natural gas extraction technique, hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking” would be safe to conduct in New York State. According to the Times, the party providing the analysis claims the report, which was submitted to the state Health Department early in 2012, is being kept secret by Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who is allegedly afraid of “strident opposition on his party’s left.” Critics of the report argue that it is out of date and inaccurate.
The eight-page report is a summary of research done by “the state and others” suggests that threats to public health and risks of groundwater contamination would be minimal if the state follows through with a plan to allow a limited amount of fracking along the New York’s Southern Tier, which borders Pennsylvania. The data covered by the report includes analysis of possible environmental impacts, effects of fracking on “naturally occurring radiological material” in the earth and analysis of “potential socioeconomic and quality-of-life impacts.”
Pressure is building on the governor from the drilling industry and the companies who have leased land on the Southern Tier. They’re anxious to begin and are frustrated with the delays foisted upon them by the regulatory process. Cuomo allowed an earlier deadline for a decision — November 29 — to pass, appointing a trio of outside experts to expand upon and verify the state’s findings.
Environmentalists and others fracking opponents, however, say that the leaked report is from early in the study process and that this version contains very little original research. They claim it is incomplete and provides an overly rosy view of fracking’s potential hazards.
New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Emily DeSantis told the Times, “The document you have is merely a summary, is nearly a year old, and there will be substantial changes to that version.”
The real, revised Souther Tier Environmental Impact Statement, said DeSantis, runs to 1,500 pages and has not yet been made available to anyone outside the review process.
Water and natural resources director at Environmental Advocates of New York, Katherine Nadeau scoffed at the idea that the report shows fracking the Southern Tier to be free of risk.
“The document itself is not a health impact study at all,” she said. “As drafted it is merely a defense or justification as to why the administration didn’t do a rigorous study.”
Fracking — high volume hydraulic fracturing — is being touted by some as a way of rendering the U.S. independent of the Middle East and other unstable regions for its supply of fossil fuels. The process extracts natural gas from underground reservoirs by injecting millions of gallons of sand, water and chemicals into the earth, flushing the gas out of rock formations.
Studies have linked the oceans of waste water created by the process to earthquakes, which occur when the waste is flushed into underground caverns, making them unstable over time.
Dr. Cliff Frohlich, Associate Director of and Senior Research Scientist at the Institute of Geophysics at the University of Texas at Austin told StateImpact Texas earlier this year that he has evidence connecting a series of Texas earthquakes to the state’s fracking operations.
“In the last year there have three well-documented earthquakes that occurred during the frack job and were probably related to fracking. They were all small earthquakes – of a magnitude of 2 or 3 – and, considering, that there are millions of frack jobs, fracking-related earthquakes are so rare,” he said.
Rare or not, according to NPR, “South Texas experienced a magnitude 4.8 earthquake in October 2011 near the Eagle Ford Shale Play, which is home to over 550 gas wells. There have been other earthquakes linked to injection wells in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Those quakes are linked to drilling in Barnett Shale.”
Growing evidence also connects fracking to groundwater contamination. The U.S. Geological Survey has found chemicals used for drilling in drinking water close to multiple fracking sites, including methane, ethane and phenol.
The report given to the Times downplays these risks, saying that if “mitigation measures” are followed, “human chemical exposures during normal HVHF (high volume hydraulic fracturing) operations will be prevented or reduced below levels of significant health concern.”
Environmental Advocates’ Nadeau filed a freedom of information request with the Cuomo administration in September, demanding to know whether the state had conducted site-specific studies on the health impacts of drilling the Southern Tier. She has yet to receive any documents.
She told the Times, “This is Governor Cuomo saying to the people of New York, once again, trust me on fracking, when on the health impact side of it, the public has been kept completely in the dark.”
[image via Flickr user danielfoster437, Creative Commons licensed]