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Can Fracking Ever Be Done Safely?

Assurances that fracking can be done safely through regulation should be seen as mass sedatives, not real protection.

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But writer Tom Wilbur counters that, “When claims of water contamination are reported, the DEC Mineral Resources Division, the lead investigative agency, often leaves it up to the industry to settle with property owners who face a high burden of proof and experienced industry legal teams.” 

Assessments, regulations, and enforcement. The Safety Trifecta is not looking that safe. For New York residents, the enforcer will be Brad Field, a climate change denier who believes that fracking is already sufficiently regulated right now. But what about the NY regulations themselves? How are those being devised? 

That’s what the Environmental Working Group (EWG) wanted to know. Since March 2012, the EWG has requested public records (available under the Freedom of Information Act) that document how the DEC developed its fracking guidelines. This inquiry initially revealed that “state regulators gave drillers exclusive behind-the-scenes access to draft regulations that were stacked in favor of natural gas companies and riddled with scientific gaps,” said Heather White, EWG’s general counsel and chief of staff. According to the EWG, “In at least one instance, a representative of Oklahoma-based Chesapeake Energy Corp., one of the nation’s most powerful drilling companies, used this inside track to try to weaken rules restricting discharges of radioactive wastewater.” 

But the EWG identified major gaps in the information revealed. “The paltry number of records we received from the Cuomo administration is remarkable when you consider the magnitude of New York’s fracking debate,” said Thomas Cluderay, EWG assistant general counsel. 

This past Monday, the EWG sued the Cuomo Administration for withholding the complete documentation. “We believe this suit will shed much-needed light on what has been going on behind the scenes,” said Cluderay.

In this context, assurances that fracking can be done safely through regulation should be seen as mass sedatives, not as real protection. Meanwhile, elected officials move on, but state bureaucrats remain. That means that should Cuomo open the gates to fracking, any improprieties committed by the DEC, past, present, or future, will be laid at his doorstep. And that’s why both New York and nationwide fractivists hope that after the pause that refreshes, Cuomo will hit the stop button.


Deborah Rogers, Bill McKibben, Josh Fox and others will headline  Shale Gas Outrage in Philadelphia on September 20. Rogers also appears on the author's radio show, Connect the Dots.

Alison Rose Levy @alisonroselevy writes on health, food and the environment. Her website is and her weekly radio program on Progressive Radio is Connect the Dots.

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