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Advocates for Safe, Clean Water Call for Local and Federal Bans on Fracking
New Food & Water Watch Report Highlights Public Health Risks Associated With Controversial Practice
ALBANY, N.Y. - June 13 - The movement to protect public health and essential natural resources escalated today when the national consumer advocacy group Food & Water Watch joined with Frack Action and New York State Senator Tony Avella (D-Queens) to call on New York State and the federal government to ban the practice of hydraulic fracturing.
“The U.S. is experiencing a boom in shale gas production, and this has come at the detriment of consumers and the environment,” said Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter. “Contrary to what the natural gas industry wants us to believe, fracking is not a panacea to our energy woes. It is a toxic practice that threatens essential resources, poisons people and livestock and erodes the quality of life in rural America. New York State and the federal government should take a good long look at the dangers of fracking and ban it before it inflicts any more harm on U.S. communities.”
Fracking involves injecting water, sand and potentially toxic chemicals deep underground to break up dense rock formations and release natural gas. The process can pollute water supplies when fracking chemicals leak into underground wells, or when accidents spill the fluids into rivers or streams.
Public opposition to fracking has escalated in recent months. According to Food & Water Watch, at least 55 localities across the U.S. have passed measures against fracking.
Late last year, New York State passed a six-month moratorium on the practice. In late May, New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman sued the federal government for not assessing the environmental impacts of fracking near the Delaware River, which supplies drinking water for 15 million Americans. The New York State Senate is currently considering legislation that would ban fracking, as well as a bill that would require hazardous waste produced from fracking to be subject to the treatment requirements of hazardous waste.
“Since last year’s moratorium battle, we’ve seen a near-constant stream of revelations and devastating news that has expanded our knowledge of the myriad dangers of fracking, and the extent to which this practice has only been allowed to move forward through the suppression of scientific evidence and the collusion of political leaders with oil and gas corporations,” said Claire Sandberg, executive director of Frack Action. “With more damning revelations emerging every day—from the levels of radioactivity in fracking wastewater, to political pressure on the EPA, to the news that gas companies have used over 32 million gallons of diesel fuel as an injection fluid in 19 states—we see now that only a full and permanent ban on hydraulic fracturing will adequately protect New Yorkers.”
This backlash against fracking is reinforced by a report also released today by Food & Water Watch that highlights why natural gas drilling poses unacceptable risks to the American public. The Case for a Ban on Gas Fracking shows how the natural gas industry’s use of water-intensive, toxic, unregulated practices for natural gas extraction are compromising public health and polluting water resources necessary for human health and sanitation, businesses and agriculture.
Natural gas fracked from shale has increased in recent years as new techniques allowed drillers to access natural gas deposits that were previously considered too dense or far underground to economically extract. Shale fracking drills deep curving horizontal wells into rock formations, injecting them with a mixture of water and chemicals to extract gas. The EPA estimates that 70 to 140 billion gallons of water are pumped into 35,000 fracking wells annually.
According to Department of Energy figures, fracked shale and coalbed gas production increased nearly 150 percent between 2000 and 2010. Over the last four years, shale gas production increased an average of 48 percent annually.
The oil and gas industry lobby paved the way for the expansion of fracking. The 10 largest natural gas producers and two trade associations spent more than $370 million lobbying between 2005 and 2010, according to Food & Water Watch analysis of Center for Responsive Politics data. Fracking is exempt from regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act, which allows gas companies to inject almost any chemical into fracked wells, and they are not legally required to disclose these chemicals claiming they are proprietary “trade secrets.”
In 2011, the U.S. House and Energy Commerce Committee found that between 2005 and 2009, 14 oil companies injected 780 million gallons of fracking chemicals and other substances into U.S. wells. This included 10.2 million gallons of fluids containing known or suspected carcinogens. Scientists at the Endocrine Disruption Exchange found that 25 percent of fracking fluids can cause cancer; 37 percent can disrupt the endocrine system; and 40 to 50 percent can affect the nervous, immune and cardiovascular systems.
Opponents of fracking cite the high potential for water and air pollution as a leading reason to ban the practice. Over 1,000 cases of water contamination have been reported near fracking sites. A study released by researchers at Duke University in April found methane levels in shallow drinking water wells near active gas drilling sites at a level 17 times higher than those near inactive ones. Similarly, a 2011 Cornell University study found that the process of fracking releases methane, which according to the EPA, is 21 times more damaging greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.
“Given the numerous accidents in other states, and the DEC’s extremely limited resources, I have yet to be convinced that hydrofracking can be safely executed in New York State,” said New York State Senator Tony Avella, who is the ranking member of the Environmental Conservation Committee. “New York’s abundant clean water is our most precious resource, and it is simply too valuable to risk. If our water is polluted, it is gone forever. The science is simply not fully developed to prevent accidents that will do irreparable harm to our water supply and our farmland, and we are not prepared to handle the contamination should an incident occur. Until we can be one hundred percent assured there is no chance of any harmful contaminants leaking into our drinking water we must ban the practice completely.”
Between 30 and 70 percent of the fluids used in fracking are discharged as wastewater. In 2008, a fracking wastewater pit in Colorado leaked 1.6 million gallons of fluids, which migrated into the Colorado River. Fracking operations in Pennsylvania alone are expected to create 19 million gallons of wastewater, which can contain radioactive elements, and cannot be effectively treated by municipal wastewater plants.
“The more I learn about hydrofracking, the more concerned I grow about its negative effects on our health and our environment,” said New York State Senator Liz Kruger (D-Manhattan). “There is simply too much scientific evidence that this practice poses insurmountable dangers. For the safety of all New Yorkers we cannot allow hydrofracking to take place in the State of New York. There is too much at risk.”
Despite the public health and environmental risks associated with the process, many states have allowed fracking in hopes that it could help boost recession-ravaged economies. Between 2006 and 2011, Pennsylvania attributed $1.1 billion in state revenue to natural gas drilling.
Yet in many places, fracking has eroded the quality of life for local residents. In Wise County, Texas properties with gas wells have lost 75 percent of their value, and residents in communities host to fracking operations have experienced headaches and blackouts from air pollution. One Texas hospital serving counties near drilling sites reported asthma rates three times higher than the state average with one quarter of the children it served suffering from the ailment. In Ohio, a house exploded after a fracked gas well leaked methane into the home’s water supply.
“The public health impacts of fracking are already a reality for many of us in New York” said Natalie Brant from Collins, NY, whose family including her husband and eight children have experienced health problems since vertical fracking began at their residence three years ago. “The health problems of many families are only going to get worse unless the New York State legislature and Governor Cuomo put the well-being of the people before the profits of giant gas companies.”
The Case for a Ban on Gas Fracking is available here:
A map of municipalities that have taken action against fracking is available here:
Frack Action is engaged in a long-term campaign to protect our water, air and public health from the dangerous practice of hydraulic fracturing. By raising awareness and empowering the public to organize in defense of their communities, we seek to expose the false claims of the gas industry and mobilize a citizen movement to protect our health and our future.