A New York state Department of Environmental Conservation statement that is currently pending approval could increase regulations for oil and gas companies planning to drill in the Finger Lakes region.
The statement, written in September of last year, was created to address growing public concerns about pollution and take steps to ensure drilling sites are well regulated.
The statement was made public and open for comment. Though it covers possible regulation options and assesses environmental threats like the contamination of drinking water, a host of resident complaints and expert testimony allege that the document glosses over several key concerns.
Hydraulic fracturing is a process used by drilling companies to help natural gas trapped underneath rock formations move to wells where it is collected after drilling. A fluid composed of sand, water and a series of chemicals is injected thousands of feet into the rock, boring small pathways through the shale and unleashing natural gas. The series of chemicals, which can contaminate groundwater, are designed to prevent cracks in the shale from closing. The fluid that doesn’t remain in the ground is collected in pools of waste following the procedure.
In the next months, the extent of gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing in the Marcellus Shale, a layer of rock stretching from New York state to northern Tennessee packed with reserves of natural gas, will be revealed along with the fate of the Draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement.
Dusty Horwitt, senior counsel of Environmental Working Group that is for regulation, said the statement is based on a compilation of literature rather than on-site testing. While the Environmental Protection Agency has deemed hydraulic fracturing safe in some rock formations, in cases where testing was conducted, many drill sites have shown signs of contamination.
“Just because gas drilling hasn’t been conclusively linked to groundwater pollution doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist,” Horwitt said. “These are precautionary measures, and there hasn’t been enough testing to make sure these procedures are safe.”
The carcinogens benzene, toluene, ethyl benzene and xylene are among the chemicals injected at fracking sites, Horwitt said. These chemicals can be found in diesel fuel and gasoline. While the DEC requires drilling companies to gain permission before injecting diesel fuel, the use of petroleum distillates wasn’t addressed in the draft statement even though they are equally toxic.
By taking control of local water resources, it is possible to regulate hydraulic fracturing to protect local communities said Susan Riha, director of the New York State Water Resources Institute. Anyone is free to extract water from Cayuga Lake, Riha said. But if the DEC had the authority to monitor the withdrawal of water from the Great Lakes basin, then they would be able issue permits and even charge fees for drilling rights.
Riha recommends that there be no drilling until the DEC has authority over New York water basins. Pending state legislation could give the state this authority.
Randall Hansen is the president of Elexco Land Services, a company that contacts private landowners about leasing their land to oil and gas companies. Hansen said he does not believe fracking contaminates drinking water.
“There has been a lot of political and emotional discourse over this topic, and I just wish it was possible to confine discussion to the fact instead of rumor, falsehoods and innuendo,” Hansen said.
Hansen said fracking has been used since 1946 and there have not been conclusive documented cases of contaminated drinking water.
The main concern of the Shaleshock Citizens Action Alliance, a network of local activists hoping to prevent hydraulic fracturing from harming communities in the Finger Lakes region, is long-term economic and environmental effects upon a community. Andrew Byers, operator of SCAA’s hot line, said people need to look at the issue as more than an environmental movement.
“This is about how our society relates to money and politics,” he said. “We are working for autonomous local control of our economy, natural resources and our health.”