If you've ever seen homeowners in Pennsylvania set their tap water aflame as it pours from the faucet, you know the dangers of hydraulic fracturing. These are risks to which -- until recently -- New York has turned a blind eye.
So it's encouraging to see New York municipalities like Buffalo taking it upon themselves to ban the practice within their borders. While this is largely symbolic move, it sends a powerful message to Albany -- that the state must heed the hazards of "hydrofracking" and take aggressive steps to protect the state's most precious resource -- drinking water.
Governor Cuomo must make a bold departure from the tepid regulatory efforts of the previous administration. Recently, outgoing-Governor Paterson imposed a 7-month moratorium on the practice, vetoing a broader bill passed by the state legislature. But this so-called anti-fracking win largely rung hollow.
While Paterson's executive order acknowledges the environmental and health threats posed by "fracking," it fails to truly mitigate them. In fact, the moratorium leaves a major loophole for the powerful oil and gas industry to continue prepping for future fracking. And with a new Governor at the helm, prep they will.
The current moratorium only applies to horizontal wells -- not vertical shale wells -- which means companies can continue drilling deep into the mile-deep rock formations without interference. Come summer, when the ban expires, they will be poised to pump an undisclosed cocktail of chemicals into the ground in pursuit of natural gas below the surface.
And that is truly an alarming prospect.
Under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act of 2005, hydraulic fracturing is exempt from federal regulation that requires drillers to disclose what substances they inject into the ground. But we do know something about what they're made of. A recent study identified at least 65 probable chemicals in the fluids used by shale gas drillers; they include benzene, glycol-ethers, toluene, 2-(2-methoxyethoxy) ethanol, and nonylphenols, all of which are toxic to humans at high exposures.
We've seen first hand what that means for families living along the shale in towns just below New York's southern tier. People living in the vicinity of shale gas drilling have reported foul smells in their tap water. In some instances gas well pipes have broken, resulting in leakage of contaminants into the surrounding ground and allegedly poisoning the water supply.
The small town of Dimock, Pennsylvania was ecologically devastated after Cabot Oil and Gas drilled dozens of wells in the area. Faulty cement casing is suspected of contaminating local water wells, driving down property values and allegedly causing residents to get sick from exposure to methane and other chemicals. State environmental regulators eventually fined the company and ordered the permanent shutdown of three wells, but the damage cannot be undone.
And the problems don't end in Dimock. The Pennsylvania Land and Trust Associations reports 1,435 violations by 43 Marcellus Shale drilling companies over the past two years. Of those, 952 were identified as having a likely impact on the environment.
We must learn from horror stories in Pennsylvania and put every precaution in place to ensure the Empire State does not suffer the same fate.
It is up new leadership in Albany to heed the calls from around the state and do what must be done to truly protect our water supply from harmful hydrofracking practices -- ban it altogether.
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