Impacts of Fracking Spread Across New York and New England
Photo Credit: Tara Lohan
Stay up to date with the latest headlines via email.
Just one year ago, New York’s Governor Cuomo hovered on the brink of issuing guidelines to frack New York State. But in March 2013, mounting public demand for a comprehensive health assessment prompted Commissioner of Public Health Nirav Shah to hit the pause button. Since then, there have been no fracking guidelines issued and no green light for fracking in New York, as Shah’s investigation continues. But that doesn’t mean fracking concerns are over. In fact, in New York (and New England) fracking and its infrastructures remain one step ahead of public notice in scary ways.
The bottom line? Shale gas development, long marginalized in the media as a local problem in depressed rural communities, is a state-wide contamination web, with risks for disastrous domino effects. More and more communities throughout New York are discovering that risks are not confined to faraway rural well pads where the gas is fracked. Once pulled up out of the earth, that shale gas is being transported and its contaminants released to residents throughout the state and beyond.
Fracking Status Update
Public awareness about fracking is growing as people have learned about studies demonstrating water contamination and migration; the climate science assessing the contribution of fracking’s methane release to climate change; the concern over radon contamination from shale gas; the increase of seismic activity in fracking regions; and the re-evaluations of early inflated economic projections.
Because of this information, a powerful fractivist movement has arisen, which Bill McKibben called “one of the most successful environmental movements” of record. But despite the increase in awareness, how safe is New York from fracking today?
Many New Yorkers likely don’t know that New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation permits the use of fracking waste to de-ice some public roads. Though banned on certain county roads, it’s allowed in local towns and elsewhere. Without delving into a mass of local ordinances, it’s hard to find out exactly where it’s in use— and most people don’t know to ask.
But more potential health risks are lacking scrutiny as well.
Wes Gillingham, program director for Catskill Mountainkeeper calls the current fracking halt in the state “precarious.”
“We don’t know what Public Health Commissioner Shah is studying or assessing because it’s not being done in a transparent fashion,” Gillingham said on my radio program last week.
Comprehensive health assessments have specific protocols defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But the state has opted out of adherence to those.
“At any moment, the governor could release the Department of Environmental Conservation guidelines, which are a package of regulations that could allow fracking to go forward,” Gillingham says. Given the rapid construction of a web of gas pipelines extending throughout New York State and into New England, fracking in New York would further intensify and increase shale gas development and its risks throughout the region.
Pipelines carrying shale gas pose hazards, including the risk of explosions such as the ones that claimed eight lives in San Bruno, California in 2010 and 52 people in China last month. Such explosions can devastate neighborhoods and entire towns.
Pipelines and Compressor Stations
After three years of opposition from the New York-based Sane Energy Project and other advocacy groups, New York City’s newest pipeline, the Spectra Pipeline, opened in Greenwich Village in November. It runs through a high-rent commercial and residential neighborhood, with pricey shops and cool hotels like the Standard. But few of the district’s trendy fashionistas or celebrity residents bothered to weigh in about concerns to air quality or safety from the pipeline in their neighborhood.