Why 'Safe' Regulation of Fracking in New York Is a Fiction
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This article was published in partnership with GlobalPossibilities.org.
A New York State commissioned Health Review is central to the debate over whether fracking can be done safely in New York. The long awaited release of the Review findings, commissioned in September by the state Department of Health (DOH) at Governor Andrew Cuomo's behest, will inform the Governor's impending decision about whether or not to go forward with proposed fracking guidelines, the prelude to permits to frack New York State.
The Governor has promised that he will only allow fracking if regulations can be developed to assure "it be done safely," which is often asserted, recently for example, by outgoing Energy Secretary, Stephen Chu. But the perennial promises of safer regulations fail to account for fracking as the next in an ever-growing and ever more toxic series of health-damaging industrial outputs that people inhale, eat, or absorb into their skin, guts, and brains. When industry has blocked the EPA from studying or regulating 70,000 chemicals, (from BPA and flame retardants to potent neurotoxins), since 1975, why would regulating fracking be possible?
The Safe Regulation Fiction
Posing a safety debate tempts people to ignore the unsavory thirty-year history of industry blocking regulations aiming to protect public health. Instead of regulation, public officials have routinely allowed industries to unleash novel health hazards without either scientific study, protective legislation, accountability, or any plan for compensation for instances of harm. Whether it's unstudied toxic chemicals in personal products, novel genetic materials in GMO foods, Corexit in the Gulf, antibiotic overuse in mass agriculture, or the latest iteration -- radioactive metals to be recycled as zippers and eyeglasses, when government fails to study, regulate, or plan for the costs or waste management of industrial outputs, the burden of health harms and health costs is transferred to ordinary people. The singular focus on the economic bottom line pervasively masks the health bottom line. In the current regulatory and legislative context, the presumption that any dangerous but profitable practice could be regulated to be "done safely" is a PR inspired fiction.
If government regulators or legislators (at federal, state, or municipal levels) had been willing or able to instate and enforce fracking regulations, they would have started by repealing the Halliburton Loophole, which exempts fracking chemicals from all major EPA regulations. By what mechanism do would-be regulators propose to improve the safety of carcinogenic chemicals that infiltrate underground aquifers after they're exempted from the Safe Drinking Water Act? Halliburton cement pipes, which failed at Deepwater Horizon and are known to always fail are not the cure-all for breached regulations.
Even if legislators had been able to properly classify fracking chemicals as what they are, namely "hazardous waste," rather than compromise to designate them as "special," (and later approve their use to de-ice public roads), that could have begun a public dialogue about what safe regulations might consist of. But the question is moot. If fracking could be done safely, health and environmental studies and planning would still be ongoing to determine whether and how. But such studies are not being done. Instead fracking is being done.
The View From Pennsylvania
In Pennsylvania, where all of the impacts of unregulated fracking are on full display, suburban Philadelphia Republican State Senator Stewart Greenleaf has recently called for a $2 million health impacts study of fracking-related health symptoms, now that these have become more prevalent. Just when Pennsylvanians most need health care for these and other ills, Governor Tom Corbett has decided to economize by refusing to participate in the Affordable Care Act, despite the supposed fracking sparked economic boom with its promised yields of untold wealth for the state and its citizens.