Updates from the Committee on Health

Avoiding Another Love Canal: Support a Moratorium on Hydrofracking
November 30, 2011

My name is Richard N. Gottfried. I represent the 75th Assembly District in Manhattan and I am the Chair of the NYS Assembly Committee on Health. I appreciate the opportunity to testify today before the Department of Environmental Conservation at this public hearing about horizontal hydraulic fracturing operations in New York.

The Assembly Committees on Health and Environmental Conservation held joint hearings on the health dangers of fracking. We heard scientific testimony both from opponents and from the industry. It was clear to me from the scientific testimony that there is real peril to the water supply and to the environment from hydro-fracking. It was also clear that the drilling operations and associated major truck traffic would have serious harmful environmental impacts. Hydrofracking is significantly different from the gas drilling that has gone on in New York State for decades.

If hydro-fracking is not safe for the New York City watershed area – and it is not – then it is also not safe for any area where people drink groundwater.

The environment and health and well-being of New Yorkers go hand in hand. We are seeing detrimental environmental conditions unfold across the world, and many could have been prevented if the knowledge and understanding were presented and respected from the beginning.

While horizontal hydraulic fracturing is taking place in some other states right now, we know little of the long-term affects on the immediate surrounding areas where gas is being extracted. However, we have seen the beginnings of its adverse affects on people, animals, and the water supply in neighboring Pennsylvania. According to the New York Times of November 17, residents of Amwell Township who allowed fracking on their property or who lived near a five-acre pit filled with chemically treated water are suffering from various ailments. Farm animals have died and other animals born dead or without legs or hair. In Wyoming, after nearly two decades of fracking, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has discovered several of the chemicals used by the drilling operations, some of them known carcinogens, in a Wyoming aquifer.i Residents have reported their water turning black and tasting and smelling of gasoline and other chemicals. Some have reported serious neurological damage. The drilling company denies all the claims outright, yet has begun supplying drinking water to the residents in the wells’ area because the water is unfit for drinking or cooking. This area has now become a superfund site.ii According to the Environmental Working Group of Washington, D.C., they receive reports of possible water contamination weekly.

We cannot allow this to happen in New York. If this type of drilling cannot be conducted safely, it should not be done at all. New York does not need another Love Canal .

New York City is home to over 8 million people. Each of them uses between 60-70 gallons of water per day, iii mostly from the unfiltered Catskills and Delaware watersheds. Methane contamination threatens the City’s water. “A 2011 study of 68 water wells in Pennsylvania and New York found evidence of methane contamination in 51 of 60 drinking water wells (85 percent). iv The study found methane contamination in water wells ranging between 1,500 and 3,300 feet from active drill sites. v These findings suggest that the proposed 4,000-foot buffer may be inadequate to protect New York City’s and other water resources, since methane could certainly migrate 700 feet farther than the 3,300 feet reported in this study of just a limited number of wells.” vi

Fracking would increase air pollution in New York City, not just create pollution near shale gas wells. According to Food and Water Watch:

“Shale gas development produces air pollution that could deteriorate New York City’s air quality. According to the NYDEC, each new shale gas well would require between 890 and 1,350 heavy-duty truckloads. vii Volatile organic compounds, including nitrogen oxides, benzene and toluene, are emitted during drilling and fracking. viii These compounds mix with emissions from heavy-duty truck traffic and large generators and compressors at well sites to form ground-level ozone that combines with particulate matter to form smog. ix Chronic exposure to smog has been linked to various cancers, heart disease, diabetes and premature deaths in adults, and to asthma, premature birth and cognitive deficits in children. x

“In Wyoming, drilling and fracking have caused ground-level ozone pollution to exceed amounts recorded in Los Angeles, affecting the quality of life for Wyoming residents. xi Many people living near Wyoming’s shale gas wells have experienced nosebleeds lasting several days, chest pains, burning eyes and shortness of breath. xii In Texas, a hospital system serving six counties with intensive shale gas development reported asthma rates three times higher than the state’s average. xiii Yet ground-level ozone pollution from shale gas development is not just a local problem; it can be transported hundreds of miles by prevailing winds before combining with particulate matter to form smog. xiv

“On days when the winds blow from the northwest, residents of New York City may soon breathe in toxic air pollution from shale gas development in the Southern Tier, in addition to air pollution from local sources. Asthma already is a serious public health problem in New York City, particularly among young children …, and given the regional air pollution that shale gas development would bring, allowing such development in the state could make breathing even more difficult for these children.” xv

Nowhere in the state should an increase in air pollution be tolerated, but especially not in areas known for high rates of asthma.

For these and other reasons that you have heard and will hear again, I urge the Department of Environmental Conservation to live up to its name and not allow hydrofracking anywhere in New York state. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to testify on this important issue.

i "Proceedings of the Technical Workshops for the Hydraulic Fracturing Study: Well Construction & Proceedings of the Technical Workshops for Hydraulic Fracturing Study: Well Construction & Operations.” US EPA, Office of Research and Development. Environmental Protection Agency, May 2011. Web. 28 Nov. 2011. .

ii http://www.epa.gov/region8/superfund/wy/pavillion/

iii Residential Water Use. NYC Department of Environmental Protection. Web. 28 Nov. 2011. .

iv Osborn, Stephen G., et al. “Methane contamination of drinking water accompanying gas-well drilling and hydraulic fracturing.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2011 at 1 to 2.

v Paleontological Research Institution. (August 2011) at 3; Horwitt, Dusty. Senior Counsel for the Environmental Working Group. Testimony Oversight Hearing on the Revised Environmental Impact Statement on Hydraulic Fracturing and New York City’s Upstate Drinking Water Supply Infrastructure. Before the New York City Council Committee on Environmental Protection. (September 22, 2011) at 2

vi New York City Is Not Protected!, Food and Water Watch Factsheet, (Nov. 2011)

vii New York State, Department of Environmental Conservation. (September 7, 2011) at 6-113 and 6-114.

viiiSteingraber, Sandra. Ithaca College. Testimony of Health Impacts of Hydraulic Fracturing Techniques. Assembly Standing Committee on Environmental Conservation and Health. New York State Assembly. Public Hearing. May 26, 2011 at 11; Colborn, Theo et al. (September 2011) at 5.

ix Ibid.

xSteingraber. (May 26, 2011) at 11 and 12.

xi Gruver, Mead. “Wyoming is beset by a big-city problem: Smog.” The Associated Press. March 8, 2011.

xii Ibid.

xiiiUrbina, Ian. “Regulation lax as gas wells’ tainted water hits rivers.” The New York Times. February 26, 2011.

xivCanada-United States Air Quality Committee. “Ground-level ozone: Occurrence and transport in Eastern North America.” Subcommittee 1, Program Monitoring and Reporting. March 1999 at 14.

xv Food and Water Watch, op. cit.