The Remarks Of Speaker Sheldon Silver

Press Conference: Hydrofracking Moratorium Legislation

Capitol, Speaker's Conferece Room, Albany, NY
Monday, June 6, 2011

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Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver is joined at a news conference by Environmental Conservation Committee Chair Robert Sweeney, other members of the Assembly Majority, and environmental advocates to announce the Assembly's bill to establish a one year moratorium on hydrofracking in New York State. Silver said the measure would give legislators more time to evaluate the impact hydrofracking may have on human health and the environment.

In the interests of preserving the safety of our drinking water supply and the health of our environment - and absent conclusive scientific evidence that hydrofracking in the Marcellus Shale will pose no threat to public health or safety - the Assembly Majority will, this afternoon, take up and pass legislation to suspend the issuance of new permits for hydraulic fracturing in the State of New York until June 1st of 2012.

The bill - Assembly 7400 -- which I am co-sponsoring with the Chairman of the Committee on Environmental Conservation, Assemblyman Bob Sweeney, establishes this moratorium in order to give the state time to assess the risks revealed by the existing data and to review the Department of Environmental Conservation's findings in its forthcoming hydrofracking study.

Standing in support of this legislation, are a number of my Assembly colleagues. You will be hearing from Chairman Sweeney in a few moments.

Also here to show their support for our legislation are members of Catskill Mountainkeeper, the Sierra Club, the Adirondack Mountain Club, and Frack Action.

Speaking on behalf of the environmental community are:

My colleagues and I have listened to the arguments for and against hydrofracking. Wherever you stand on the issue, two facts are indisputable:

One, the health and well-being of the people must always take precedence over industry profits;

And two, the natural gas locked within the Marcellus Shale isn't going anywhere. We're not going to lose it.

There is time to do the science. There is time to act with caution and with thoughtfulness. There is time to listen to - and to address - the concerns of all of the stakeholders.

We need to listen and we need to learn, because right now there are too many unanswered questions. As some of you know, Duke University's Doctor Robert Jackson and a team of researchers examined 68 private groundwater wells in the states of Pennsylvania and New York.

In these wells located within a kilometer of an active drilling site, they found concentrations of methane seventeen times higher than the average.

If, as the energy industry suggests, that geologic differences from region to region dictate the drilling techniques used, how do we assess the risk of drinking water contamination from one region to the next?

What research exists on the health effects of methane in drinking water?

What about the release of methane - a greenhouse gas - into the atmosphere?

I understand that a study conducted by Cornell University estimates that up to 7.9 percent of the methane from shale-gas production leaks or is vented into the atmosphere over the lifetime of a single well.

What impact will that have on climate change?

What is the risk posed by the radioactive materials, such as barium and strontium, that are brought up in wastewater during the hydraulic fracturing process?

What is the best way to handle the salt-heavy, chemically laced wastewater that is a product of this process?

What caused a natural gas well in Bradford County, Pennsylvania to gush contaminated water for two straight days this past April?

I have great faith in Commissioner Martens and our DEC, and we are eagerly awaiting their findings. Also, we applaud the Governor for directing the agency to examine the accident that occurred in Pennsylvania.

Still, there are too many unanswered questions and too little peer-reviewed research to satisfy our need for knowledge by the first of July or anytime in the near future.

Frankly, there is too much at stake not to err on the side of caution.

Let me be crystal clear. We are profoundly sympathetic to the needs of our struggling upstate economy and we are working every day to spur the creation of upstate jobs.

Likewise, we are sympathetic to our nation's energy crisis and the need to liberate ourselves from our dependence on foreign oil.

Let's not forget what we saw when BP's Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded last year, and we're not even close to fully understanding the disaster at the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan.

What happens when you rely too heavily on the expertise of profit-driven industries should be a lesson that is clear to all of us.

I'm not simply picking on "Big Energy."

Speaking as a resident of Lower Manhattan who took the Environmental Protection Agency's word that the air was safe to breathe in the days and weeks following the 9/11 attacks, I am not going to sign off on any technology - no matter how profitable - that threatens the water supply of the city where I and millions of New Yorkers live and raise our families.

We need to know more and until we have the facts, no new permits should be issued for hydraulic fracturing.

In the interests of public health and safety, I urge the Governor as well as my colleagues in the Senate to join us in enacting this moratorium. It is the right thing to do.