In recent letters to New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joseph Martens, Assembly Members Farrell and Steven Engelbright aired concerns about plans to truck millions of gallons of tainted water used in hydrofracking from the western part of the State through New York City to wastewater treatment facilities in the metropolitan area.
Legislative Office Building
Albany, NY 12248
(518) 455-5776 FAX
Black & Puerto Rican Caucus
Commissioner Joseph Martens
NYS Department of Environmental Conservation
Albany, NY 12207
Dear Commissioner Martens,
I am writing to you as a concerned resident of New York State and New York City, as well as in my capacity as the elected representative of the 71st Assembly District in Northern Manhattan.
As you may know, I have closely followed DEC’s ongoing review of proposals to open New York State to the process of high-volume hydraulic fracturing. Of late, I have become increasingly concerned by what many see as DEC’s apparent willingness to proceed with approval of this highly-controversial and much-misunderstood practice. Of particular concern to me are proposed methods of disposal of fracking fluids that are collected but not re-used.
My colleague Steven Engelbright has assembled a report focused on Appendix 21 of DEC’s draft SGEIS proposal on this issue. As you know, this section of the SGEIS makes mention of the potential for the transportation and treatment of discarded fracking fluids to facilities including publicly owned treatment works in New York City and on Long Island, which would require the vehicles transporting these fluids to travel through densely populated areas of the five boroughs.
According to Assemblyman Engelbright’s report, each high-volume well may require a per-frack average of 5.6 million gallons of fracking fluid which is comprised of water, sand, petrochemicals, benzene and other substances known to be harmful to human health. Citing DEC figures, this report says that between 9 and 35 percent of these fluids can be recovered and must be disposed of. If industry estimates of 12,000 potential wells are accurate, New York State would have to figure out what to do with between 6 and 24 billion gallons of tainted water.
This poses two problems. First, at an average tank capacity of 5,460 gallons, between 1 million and 4.3 million truck trips will be required to transport unusable fracking fluid from well sites to treatment plants. That is, of course, a tremendous increase in truck traffic on our roads even if not a single accident involving one of these trucks were to occur. Should a serious accident were to occur involving a tanker truck hauling over 5,000 gallons of untreated fracking fluids, especially in an urban environment, the potential risk to human health and safety is alarming.
Second, should these millions of truck trips end at existing wastewater treatment facilities without incident, we will be left with the question of how to treat millions of gallons of toxic fluids at facilities that were not designed to accommodate water tainted with these compounds.
In addition to the toxic chemicals that are part of the fracking fluids when they are pumped into the ground, it has been documented that it is not uncommon for these fluids to include naturally-occurring radioactive substances and large amounts of salt when they are pumped back up to the surface. As you know, many modern water-treatment facilities rely on bacteria to treat and cleanse wastewater, rather than the chemicals that were used in the past. I am told that both radioactivity and salinity are toxic to these microbes. Dumping radioactive salt water into these treatment facilities would render the plant useless.
While it is true that some publicly owned treatment plants may be retrofitted to give them the capacity to treat water tainted by fracking, as far as I am aware no private concern has stepped up to commit the funds to perform these upgrades. This would leave the taxpayers on the hook to pay for these upgrades, for which industry would reap the rewards. Many would call this unfair.
Speaking further to the subject of funding, many are concerned that due to agency cutbacks, DEC may not have the personnel and resources available to properly oversee this new industry as it does business throughout environmentally-sensitive areas of our State. While I am sure we agree that these cuts should be restored as quickly as possible, to paraphrase a national figure, one does not go into the field with the army one wants, but instead with the army one has. That, of course, was not a success. I shudder to think DEC may be forced to shoulder this new burden without a concomitant increase in staff and resources, allowing you to protect the public health.
In the coming days, you may expect to hear from my colleagues who will ask that no permits be granted until such time as all aspects are resolved, including realistic plans to properly dispose of fracking fluid while avoiding environmental calamity in New York City and elsewhere.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
H. D. Farrell, Jr.
Member of Assembly
My first encounter with the solar energy movement occurred when the tenants' association of Cabrini Terrace approached me to ask if I would carry legislation to restructure state tax credits in a way that would make the solar energy credit relevant to co-ops and condominiums. This tax credit is applied against a building's property taxes, offsetting the cost of installing a solar power system, and is intended to encourage residents to reduce their reliance on our electric power grid.
In August 2008 the Governor signed into law the second piece of solar energy legislation it was my pleasure to sponsor, which itself built on my initial legislation that became law during 2007. Since my initial bill became law, other public officials have introduced numerous pieces of solar energy legislation, including about a dozen bills now being considered in the Assembly.
Previously, the tax credit was set up in a way that only made sense for the owners of single-family homes to participate, allowing these homeowners to get a tax credit for generating only up to 10 kilowatts. The revised law allows larger buildings with solar arrays to generate up to 50 kilowatts, and allows management associations and tenant stockholders to claim a proportionate share of the installation expense based on the number of participating units in their building. At Cabrini Terrace, which is at 190th Street and Cabrini Boulevard, the peak output from the solar panels generates 10 percent of the electricity used in the building, enough to power the elevators, light the hallways, and run the laundry room. Please see the picture on this page, taken in January 2008, in which my four-year-old daughter is flipping the switch which activated Cabrini Terrace's solar power system. Considering that she is the future, I thought that it was appropriate that she usher in the future.
Building on that success, in 2008 I introduced legislation allowing New York City to make multi-family buildings and other structures eligible to apply for city solar tax credits. The city solar tax credit deducts $62,500 from property tax bills each year for up to four years on a sliding scale, depending on when the solar system is installed, in addition to the New York State tax credits and any state grants the project may be eligible for. Currently, the board of the building in which I live, River Arts, at Riverside Drive and 160th Street, is preparing to participate in the solar energy programs. Our shareholders voted in April to move forward with the solar project, which we anticipate will help manage our energy costs while reducing our building's level of carbon emissions.
If you, or your tenants' association, are considering the possibility of supplementing or replacing your building's power supply with a photovoltaic system, there are a number of avenues for you to explore. The New York State tax credit is administered by the Department of Taxation and Finance (www.tax.state.ny.us); call (518) 457-5181. The New York City credit is administered by the Department of Buildings (www.nyc.gov/html/dob); call (212) 442-1239.June 5, 2009
It is said that a resource New York City has in abundance, besides energy and ideas, is rooftops. We have thousands of buildings, some of which are topped by communications equipment or patios while others are put to no good use at all. Why can't we use those rooftops as places to generate clean electricity for our homes or monitor the air that we breathe? As some of you may know, efforts to do just that are already underway, and I am proud to be part of this.
Over a year ago, I was approached by the owners of a cooperative apartment building in Washington Heights who laid out for me a bold and innovative plan: they wanted to harness the power of the sun to supplement the electricity their building draws from our overburdened power grid. I took up their cause and, a few months later, was pleased to announce passage of a bill that would allow co-ops to enroll in a program to receive tax credits for generating solar power.
I thought that was an excellent idea and was glad to help it become a reality. Now, other similar ideas have been proposed and the seed that was planted on that day in January when the co-op's solar system was first turned on could lead to a major change in the way we live our lives in New York City.
Another pro-environment issue I am pleased to be involved with is what some call the "green buildings" trend. A green building is specially designed to minimize its impact on our environment by using solar energy, generating less radiant heat, making use of natural rainwater and other common-sense improvements to construction methods that are already in use.
One example of a green building in northern Manhattan will be the Mother Clara Hale Bus Depot, a 100-year-old building which is currently being renovated by the MTA. My staff and I are working with MTA and the public to be sure this project includes "green" features, and that all are satisfied by the end result of this renovation. This process will include a number of public meetings, or charettes, during which we want to hear your thoughts about the project.
We all know that a picture is worth a thousand words, so on this page are several photos that will tell you quite a lot about my efforts to be a steward of the environment here in Northern Manhattan. Shown here is a photo taken as I met with a group of engineers, activists and MTA staff near the Mother Hale terminal, at a site where air quality is sampled to be sure that the ongoing renovation of this building does not release pollution that could jeopardize our health.