One More Day to Act: Gas Drilling May Begin in New York Soon

The following is from Sabrina Artel's Trailer Talk: The Frack Talk Marcellus Shale Water Project. You can listen to the entire program here.

Drilling could start as soon as this spring in New York State. Wednesday, January 11 is the deadline for public comments to the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) on the draft of the SGEIS that would provide the guidelines for industrial gas drilling and fracking throughout the state. Drilling opponents have outnumbered pro-drillers during the public hearings and the DEC is required to read each letter before they can move forward with a decision.  

Letters are being accepted by anyone from the United States and Catskills Citizens for Safe Energy, a volunteer citizens organization based in Sullivan County has sample letters that can be used that address the multiplicity of issues such as, radioactivity, proprietary chemicals, no public health analysis, home rule, conflict of interest and many other concerns regarding the dSGEIS. Congressman Maurice Hinchey just submitted his letter to the DEC urging a withdrawal of the SGEIS.  

Environmental groups, such as Catskill Mountainkeeper are keeping the pressure up on Governor Cuomo, along with a coalition of partners and organized a rally, The State of the State Rally in Albany on January 4, in order to send a message to Cuomo to stop fracking and support a statewide ban on shale gas extraction in NY.  

That rally is leading to the Hydro-Fracking Day of Action in Albany on January 23 that is so far being sponsored by 20 groups throughout NY State.  

The movement for either a statewide ban or stringent regulations on fracking and gas drilling in New York is a powerful and unprecedented example of the collaboration between environmental and citizen groups. The gas rich deposits of the Marcellus and Utica shales that stretch across the southern and western parts of upstate New York has become central in the battle to hold off industry and gain control as individual people against the multinational corporations.  

The organized stand by residents for their home and community against the oil and gas corporations who have been trying to push forward with shale gas extraction since 2008 has made fracking the number one environmental issue of the year.

The economic challenges faced throughout the region are also palpable and this is precisely why the infiltration of the oil and gas corporations is so disturbing and immoral. This is not a debate about why an individual would want to pay their bills or get out from under debt, but about why anyone should be faced with these destructive choices in the first place. Decisions that can destroy their community and the quality of life and health of their neighbors, by risking the very resources that we need to survive now and into the future.

This audio piece is from the Binghamton and Loch Sheldrake public hearings for the DEC (Department of Environmental Conservation), SGEIS (Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement).

This piece includes some of the hundreds of people at the hearings, the anti-fracking rally and press conference in Binghamton on November 17 and people providing their 3-minute comments inside the auditorium, including Julia Walsh of FRACK ACTION. This is followed by some of the hundreds of people in Loch Sheldrake on November 29, both for and against drilling, including Tom Shepstone the Northeast Campaign Director for Energy in Depth, an industry backed pro-drilling and fracking advocacy group; a representative from Chesapeake Energy Corporation; Ramsay Adams the director of Catskill Mountainkeeper, an environmental advocacy group fighting fracking and unsafe shale gas extraction in the Catskills of NY; Barbara Arrindell, director of Damascus Citizens for Sustainability (PA and the Delaware River Basin of PA and NY) and others. (More information on how to submit a comment is at the end of the story.)  

Sabrina Artel: Once the public comment period closes at the end of January 11, fracking can begin in New York once the DEC issues a final SGEIS. In both Binghamton and Loch Sheldrake, the days were cold and very windy. People waited for many hours, some throughout the day, to submit their public comment and to listen to what others had to say.

People were even turned away at the four hearings that were held throughout the state.

These are some of the voices from the rally from Binghamton, New York, from the hearing on November 17, 2011, and some of the hundreds of people providing their public statements in the auditorium.

CHANT:"We are the 99% ... we are the 99% ..." "No fracking way! No fracking way!"

Maura Stephens: Hi, everybody. My name is Maura Stephens. I live in Tioga County. Along with people from across the state, I have decided that fracking is a crime. Would you agree? [CROWD ANSWERS "YES"] Fracking is a crime against people. Yes? [CROWD ANSWERS "YES"] Fracking is a crime against nature? [CROWD ANSWERS "YES"] Fracking is a crime against water? [CROWD ANSWERS "YES"] Fracking is a crime against air? [CROWD ANSWERS "YES"] Fracking is a crime against our properties? [CROWD ANSWERS "YES"] Fracking is a crime against our communities. [CROWD ANSWERS "YES"]

And who perpetrates this crime on us? Gangsters. What do we do with gangsters? We prosecute them; we don't regulate them. What do we do with frackers? We regulate them. Why the hell are we regulating them? We should be prosecuting them because fracking is a crime.

A new group of people, the Sovereign People's Action Network, along with Frackbusters NY, has written People's Law #1 in the Criminal Code of New York State, which makes fracking and frackateering and frackstering a crime, punishable with serious fines and jail time -- not for the guys driving the trucks, not for the guys making $12 an hour working on the rigs in the dangerous jobs, but for the CEOs of the corporations. A crime.

Criminalize fracking in New York State. If you like this idea, I have copies of the draft.

Jonathan Comstock: My name is Jonathan Comstock. I'm a New York resident from Tompkins County, and I urge Governor Cuomo and DEC Commissioner Martins to withdraw the draft SGEIS. I've heard tonight that shale gas is a bridge to a renewable future. That's like saying you can go forward by walking backwards.

Current SGEIS fails to address cumulative effects. As such, it cannot adequately protect the communities' ecosystems, long-term economics, or the public health. The DEC also misrepresents historical drilling experience by saying there have been no past incidents. While the DEC may not have taken effective action, complaints have numbered quite large, and there have been many injured citizens. Not a single scientific study has been undertaken to accurately access the long-term health impacts a variety of toxin exposure additives, surface chemical spills, and deliberate volatilization of hazardous chemicals from flowback fluids.

Hundreds, if not thousands, of individual complaints across the country have been obscured, hidden, by nondisclosure agreements demanded for even partial industry compensation. Such nondisclosure clauses should not be allowed in New York.

The seriousness of these incidents is real, and a long list of medical associates within New York State has expressed great concern over the lack of studies and investigation. The failure to address these concerns puts the SGEIS in clear violation of its mandate. The SGEIS treats these unevaluated hazards as if they had been evaluated and proven safe. In this manner, the DEC and the drilling industry would be in effect in collusion, placing an impossible burden of proof on injured private citizens instead of actually demonstrating what practices are safe and holding the industry responsible for its actions.

The proposed SGEIS would undermine our safety by failing to recognize that the hazardous chemicals going into a well are equally hazardous when they come back out. This will result in weak and inadequate guidelines for their disposal.

Proving a case of illness caused by hypothesized and undisclosed chemicals is, of course, virtually impossible. Therefore, complete lists of chemicals with quantitative amounts of each, proprietary or not, must be provided well by well. These lists must be available in advance of use, because without them water testing is a futile, ineffective endeavor. Lack of full chemical disclosure ensures minimal liability for the drilling companies under a deliberate cloak of ignorance placed over knowable risks.

The insincerity of protections in the proposed SGEIS is also obvious in the unequal protections granted for the watershed of New York City compared to the rest of the state.

Finally, Executive Order 24 sets the target of an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in New York by 2050, and methane is an extremely potent greenhouse gas.

The SGEIS must include an absolute requirement for the full capture of fugitive gases associated with flowback waters in completion stages of well drilling. Thank you.

Julia Walsh: My name is Julia Walsh. I'm the Campaign Director of Frack Action. I'm a land owner with five acres in the Catskill Mountains in both the Marcellus and Utica Shale, and I'm a former elected official from the Village Board of New Paltz.

I came into this issue as a land owner when I heard of this industry being exempt from federal laws put into place to protect Americans from toxic corporations. I began to educate myself about the industry and thought that fracking could never happen in this state. I'm still shocked that we are having this conversation. It is clear that this industry will threaten our economy, environment, public health and safety. And for the millions of dollars that the gas industry has, they can't even turn out a large number of people to these hearings right now, and that their shirts say, "Jobs," they don't seem to understand that those jobs are going to be coming from out-of-state drillers who are trained in other states how to drill rigs. We don't have those jobs, and I think I can speak for most of the young people in this room when we don't want those jobs. [APPLAUSE]

I'm calling on the Commissioner of the DEC to withdraw this document, and for the Governor of New York to ban fracking completely, and engage in a real renewable energy economy; that this country desperate needs a leader and a state to follow.

I also want to say that, as an elected official, I was sworn to uphold the state's constitution of equal protection under the law, and it is clear that this document is a political document creating the guise of protection for some in Syracuse and New York City at the threat of others across the state.

New Yorkers realize this. The emperor has no clothes, and we can see that. I'm urging you in the DEC right now to really haul yourselves into finding out what is the reason that you're in this position to begin with, to protect the environment and the public's health. We need whistleblowers now. The time has come to stand up. People are afraid across this state right now. They are terrified that they are going to be poisoned, and that their children are going to get cancer because of this industry.

And I call on you and your ethics and your own morality right now to stand up and join us in the call to stop this insanity and stop this industry from moving forward and destroying this beautiful, vibrant state that we love.

John Parker: Mic check. [CROWD: "Mic check."] Mic check. [CROWD: "Mic check."] We are the 99%. [CROWD REPEATS] We will not sit by [CROWD REPEATS] while gas companies [CROWD REPEATS] exploit our land [CROWD REPEATS] all for the sake [CROWD REPEATS] of monetary gain [CROWD REPEATS]. We do not believe [CROWD REPEATS] that short-term [CROWD REPEATS] economic gain [CROWD REPEATS] is worth long-term [CROWD REPEATS] issues with pollution [CROWD REPEATS]. Gas companies [CROWD REPEATS] have corrupted our leaders [CROWD REPEATS] with the promise [CROWD REPEATS] of monetary gain [CROWD REPEATS]. The DEC report [CROWD REPEATS] does not do enough [CROWD REPEATS] to protect the people [CROWD REPEATS] of New York [CROWD REPEATS] from the negligence [CROWD REPEATS] of gas companies [CROWD REPEATS]. The DEC report [CROWD REPEATS] does not do enough [CROWD REPEATS] to protect [CROWD REPEATS] the Finger Lakes region [CROWD REPEATS].

Environmental regulators [CROWD REPEATS] from all over the country [CROWD REPEATS] have demanded the disclosure [CROWD REPEATS] of all of the chemicals [CROWD REPEATS] used in fracking [CROWD REPEATS]. Gas companies [CROWD REPEATS] have refused to do this [CROWD REPEATS] because they claim [CROWD REPEATS], "They're our trade secrets," [CROWD REPEATS] even though [CROWD REPEATS] many of the chemicals [CROWD REPEATS] that they are using [CROWD REPEATS] are known to have [CROWD REPEATS] adverse effects [CROWD REPEATS] on human health [CROWD REPEATS].

Can anyone here [CROWD REPEATS] give us one solid reason [CROWD REPEATS] that has nothing to do with money [CROWD REPEATS] why we should drill [CROWD REPEATS]. We are the 99%. [CROWD CHANTS: "We are the 99%. We are the 99%."]

Sabrina Artel: These are conversations from some of the hundreds of people at the DEC hearing in Loch Sheldrake, New York, on November 29, 2011.

Barbara Arrindell: I'm the Director of Damascus Citizens for Sustainability, and we are Delaware River Basin-wide, plus involved also in things in the Hudson Valley and country-wide in reference to hydraulic fracturing, drilling, and the whole sustainability movement.

We're here as individuals who are concerned about our environment and our future. For instance, in Dimock, isotopic tests have been done showing that the gas in the aquifer layer is thermogenic, which means it's from the formation layers; and similar tests have been done showing that material has moved from thermogenic layers, from the formation layers, a whole bunch of other places. There's a plume in the Pinedale Aquifer near the Jonah Gas Field that goes 28 miles, certified by Bureau of Land Management 88 water samples.

The EPA has certified that there is hydraulic fracturing chemicals in Pavillion, Wyoming. There's no other industry in the area, so it could only have come from drilling.

There's many, many examples, but when corporations own the major media, their message is getting out. They stick to their message, which is a lie. It's a whole lot of lies. It's a fabric of lies. And that fabric of lies is going to impinge on our ability to live 'cause you cannot live without water -- clean water.

And also, the amount of pollutants in the air from this practice is phenomenal. It's really the suffering caused by this is phenomenal. And when you add up the economic costs and reference to the benefits to the few and the corporate, it doesn't add up.

Name Uknown: I'm from Colesville, New York. I think there are concerns, and rightfully so, but I think that ... I belong to a coalition and we've set pretty stringent rules for the gas company to drill on our land. With our rules, plus the DEC rules, I think that we can do this safely.

I'm from the Southern Tier of New York, which is financially in a bad situation, and I think this would help us out a lot. The "antis" say that, you know, hey, we can go with strictly organic farming, and tourism, and all that does is give you minimum wage jobs. The claim that only a few people make a lot of money. Well, the other way, even with tourism, only a few people make money.

So, it's something that ... Drilling will benefit everyone. I mean, all ships will rise with this, I mean, because the amount of things that would be developed ... I mean, it's just a cascading thing that will just ... just keep going. Everybody's talking about short-term boom, but in reality what it is, it's going to be, I would say, a minimum of 100-year play.

Artel: Tom Shepstone is the Northeast Marcellus Region Campaign Manager for Energy In Depth, a fracking and drilling advocacy group backed by the Independent Petroleum Association of America, the IPAA, that was founded in 2009.

Tom Shepstone: I grew up in Wayne County, Pennsylvania, and I'm also employed as a consultant with Energy in Depth, which is an industry organization, and I've done a lot of planning work in both Sullivan and Wayne, and actually Ulster, Orange Counties, and all that stuff. So, I have a great interest in the development of the area, and I think this is absolutely super-critical to the economy of this area.

We know this can be done safely and responsibly -- there's no question about that -- and we need it and we need it now. This area is dying. It's absolutely dying. Plenty of legitimate people who raise questions, and everybody should in America raise questions -- that's fine. But when I hear the arguments, it always boils down to one simple word: "speculation." There's not a single proven instance of hydraulic fracturing polluting a water supply in 60 years of doing it in this country. There's not one in New York. We've been doing it 60 years in New York. We've been doing hydraulic fracturing 60 years -- not one incident.

And the idea that somehow this is threatening our water is absurd. It's absolutely absurd. There is no evidence to that effect -- no evidence. And the only problems that have occurred have been areas where people have gone in, where they haven't understood the methane migration, and that's been a problem. The few instances has nothing to do with fracturing -- nothing whatsoever -- and those problems have been corrected, and we have here today this casing which demonstrates how you deal with the methane migration, as well as any other problem.

I'm going to introduce you to Chesapeake. So, we know it can be done safely, and we need to do it now.

Artel: Dan Lopata from Chesapeake Energy, the second largest producer of natural gas, was on-site at the DEC hearing in Loch Sheldrake, New York, with pamphlets and a well casing, defending the safety of fracking and drilling.

Dan Lopata: Each stage -- and like I said, there's 12 "stages," as we call them -- each stage takes roughly 500,000 gallons of water, mixed with sand, to fracture the rock, and the sand acts as a ... we call it a "proppant" so that whenever ... The water creates the pressure to crack the rock. The sand follows to go into those cracks so that when the pressure is relieved, sand stays in place, so that crack that's been created cannot close on itself.

There's a small amount of different chemicals that we put down with the water that perform different operations, and the volume of the chemical is less than 1% of the total volume of fluid that's pumped, and it does things such as: protects the pipe from corrosion; it helps to initiate the fracture by using an acid-type material to help eat up debris. The perforation that you create -- is it ... Just like anything else, if you cut a hole in something you have debris from cutting that hole. So, this perforation -- we've actually cut a hole in that pipe and out into that formation, and there's debris that's now stuck in there. So, we have to eat that debris out of those perforations. That helps us to initiate the fracture.

And there's also some bacterial-type chemicals because we don't want to create a bacteria environment by injecting the fresh water down the well bore, which most fresh waters have bacteria naturally occurring in it. So, we have a bacteria chemical to keep that bacteria from being transmitted down into that rock.

There's also different chemicals to assist with the creation of scales. Waters that mix created scales. We don't want scales because they act to plug those cracks or fractures.

So, just a small batch of chemicals -- like I said, about less than 1% of the total volume of all the water that goes down there is a chemical.

Artel: Ramsay Adams is the Director of Catskill Mountainkeeper, an environmental organization protecting the Catskills of New York.

Ramsay Adams: People are really against this. The majority of people are against it. And even with the billions of dollars this industry is putting into this, grassroots are outnumbering them.

If you tell a lie enough times, people start to believe it. It's just total lie. I mean, there are so many documented, proven water contamination episodes from fracking all over the place -- you know, in Texas and Wyoming, in Pennsylvania. It's outrageous and ridiculous. Toxics Targeting's Walter Hang has outlined about 260 environmental water contamination issues caused by fracking in New York State. Granted, it's vertical fracking, but the point is that you can just keep lying, and a certain number of people will believe you. But evidence is science, and it causes it. Will every drill episode cause a contaminated well? Maybe not. But to say that that's never happened? And that sort of should be criminal; I don't know how a representative of a public company can lie over and over again and not be called to account.

DEC is not doing their job. Their job is to protect. It's the Department of Environmental Conservation. Their job is to protect the environment, and to help conserve our natural resources for future generations. All they're doing is developing a road map as fast as possible to industrialize the rural landscape of the Catskills and the Southern Tier. They want to drill in the Catskill Park; they want to drill in the Delaware River Basin; and they want to drill in the Finger Lakes. It's outrageous.

The industry has no regard for people and lives. It's all about money. And so, they pick places that are close to infrastructure, and they'll drill on churches, they'll drill on schools. They'll drill anywhere. I mean, that's what's amazing about this. You know, it's all about money. It's not about people; it's not about health; it's not about the landscape and preserving the rural character of communities. It's all about money. And this is the same industry ... This is ExxonMobil, it's Halliburton. Multinationals and foreign companies like Nornew, Statoil Hydro, all European companies. So, this idea that it's little Mom-and-Pop gas shops -- you know, your friend across the street -- and it's good for national security and it's good for climate -- again, this is perpetuating these lies with a multi-billion-dollar ad campaign.

The New York Times reported last weekend that they spent many millions of dollars in the last eight months in Albany on lobbyists. They didn't even calculate the money they spent on ad campaigns -- probably in the billions in New York -- and they gave over $100,000 to Cuomo directly into his pocket, and that was straight industry-to-Cuomo money. We don't even know how much money ... there are secondary and sort of more crafty ways of funneling gas cash to the governor.

So, you know, the fix is in. But we're going to just fight. You know, we're not going to stop. We're not going to lose. We're going to die with our boots on. You know, we're just not going to go away, and we're going to stand up and be proud, and we're going to talk about people and communities and health and the environment, and they're going to talk about money.

This is an opportunity for public participation in a process that's fixed, and the activists have been there out there every day, year in and year out, fighting this fight.

Jeff Golliher: I'm a priest in Ellenville, Episcopal Church, and I'm representing the Episcopal Diocese of New York. We have 62,000 members including the city and seven northern counties as far north as Ulster and Sullivan. And we're always concerned about the communities that our members are part of, and this issue is one that raises a lot of issues about the health and well-being of communities. So, it becomes a major issue.

Ultimately, the main one is going to be the ground water ... water itself. I mean, jobs are an issue. Property values are an issue, and how deep drilling could affect that. In a certain sense, the decisions that we have to make now -- hopefully that the people make -- are a moral issue, and it's really what kind of risks are we willing to take, and on what basis, and do we have the information that we need to take.

But the position of the church about this is that it's not exactly being for or against natural gas. The issue is how to maintain the integrity and health of people in the communities, and provide a strategy for economic development actually allows us to have a sustainable future.

We would strongly advise against any kind of development that could endanger the possibility of not only an unhealthy place to live, but one where people might not want to invest in this area because there has been so damage done. And it's a question of risk, you know, and how much risk is anyone willing to take when it comes to family and friends, or even people we don't know. That's the question people are really asking, I think.

But we would say that no risk is acceptable when it comes to the health of people and the environment. There is no risk that's acceptable, and especially when you don't really know ... Accidents always happen -- always will. You can count on it. That's the way we see it, really.

We don't see people on different sides of this issue as being enemies, but being afraid for what the future is going to mean. And often, when we're afraid, we don't make good decisions, for the long term or for the present.

We're interested in community here.

Leah Maidenbaum: I am here at the DEC meeting because I'm against fracking. I'm a mother who has written a letter to Governor Cuomo with over 200 signatures of mothers of Sullivan County against fracking, and I don't believe the DEC's regulations are going to protect us at all. I don't believe that fracking should be done at all in New York State, and so I'm here.

Wes Gillingham: My name is Wes Gillingham, from Catskill Mountainkeeper. We've been doing this for three years. It's time to pay attention to the science, not have it be a political process; realize the science is there to say drilling is not safe. Governor Cuomo is pushing this forward way too fast. This is not good for New York; it's not good for us; it's not good for our children.

Artel: From the kitchen table, out on the road, I'm Sabrina Artel.

Written comments will be accepted if received or postmarked by 5pm, January 11, 2012 via two methods only:

Mailed letters or electronic submissions using the comment form on DEC's web site.

Faxed, telephoned or emailed comments will not be accepted into the official record. 

Mail paper comments to:

Attn: dSGEIS Comments

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation

625 Broadway, Albany, NY 12233-6510

 You may also wish to mail a copy to the Governor:

The Honorable Andrew Cuomo

Governor of New York State

NYS State Capitol Building, Albany, NY 12224

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