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Will Fracking Sicken and Kill More New Yorkers Than it Employs?

Here is why we need a comprehensive Health Impact Assessment to determine what high-volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing would mean for the health of New Yorkers.

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• Fracking destroys the climate. Fracking operations  leak unburned methane—a potent heat trapping greenhouse gas that is 100 times more powerful than carbon dioxide over a 20-year time frame—at rates from one-third to two times greater than conventional drilling. Those leakage rates mean that natural gas obtained via fracking is either marginally worse than coal for the climate or marginally better.  Either way, if fracking is used to span the transition to renewables, the world will be on a pathway that leads to an uptick in warming that significantly exceeds the two-degree increase that is considered the upper limit of safety. New Yorkers Against Fracking agrees with  climatologist Ken Caldeira, who says that we cannot solve the climate crisis by “further entrenching a fossil fuel industry that depends on using the atmosphere as a waste dump… The goal is not to do something that is fractionally less bad than what we are doing now; the goal is to deploy energy systems that can actually solve the problem.”

• Fracking destroys water. Only one percent of all the water on Earth is available to us as fresh, liquid, drinkable water.  When a single well is fracked, several million gallons of this precious water are removed from lakes, streams, or groundwater aquifers, deliberately poisoned with toxic chemicals, and entombed in deep geological strata, up to a mile or more below the water table. Once there, it is permanently removed from the hydrologic cycle—unless it comes back up as poisonous flowback or leaks into our groundwater aquifers.

• Unenforced regulations are meaningless. New research from  Toxics Targeting and the Associated Press clearly shows that the DEC has been unable to remediate—or even locate—derelict, abandoned vertical gas wells and their associated waste pits in western New York. Regulatory neglect extends to ongoing contamination of drinking water supplies. In short, the DEC has failed to regulate this process for decades, and we can expect nothing but more of the same in the future. Some insist that the budget-slashed, short-staffed DEC can grow to meet the need, but we agree with the  editorial board of the  Albany Times Union: “Our taxpayers will not pay for the privilege of letting someone else make money.”

The Case for a Comprehensive Health Impact Assessment

A thorough investigation of fracking’s impact on human health is desperately needed—and we applaud the Cuomo administration for acknowledging this need. Four years of study and four thousand sGEIS pages have still not answered the three most fundamental questions about hydraulic fracturing in New York State: Will fracking sicken and kill more New Yorkers than it employs? Will the sick and dying have any recourse—other than fleeing their homes and jobs—to protect themselves?  And what is the economic cost of that morbidity and mortality?

Case studies and individual reports from other states provide credible evidence of public health risks in communities located near drilling and fracking operations. Although these risks have been acknowledged, no comprehensive assessment has yet been conducted. How many illnesses and deaths are we willing to ignore? Many of the areas currently being drilled are not as densely settled as New York, which is the nation’s third most populous state. Small increases in mortality and disease rates in a state with 19.5 million inhabitants would have much more wide-spread consequences and carry much bigger costs than equivalent effects in, for example, western Wyoming or eastern Utah. Must we see these consequences played out before we take action?

New Yorkers Against Fracking is convinced that a thorough, well-designed health study, conducted in good faith and inclusive of long-term, cumulative impacts, will reveal many problems. They will be expensive problems, and not all of them will be capable of mitigation through technological fixes. This is an easy prediction to make. Shale gas extraction via horizontal hydraulic fracking is an inherently dangerous activity. Fracking turns solid bedrock into broken shards whose cracks become potential pathways for contamination, some of it radioactive. Broken shale is not reparable by any known technology. Fracking relies upon and releases from the earth large amounts of greenhouse gases and inherently toxic chemicals, including known carcinogens, while also industrializing the natural and built environments of human communities.

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