Queens legislators are sounding the alarm over the state’s proposal to allow companies to use a controversial method of drilling for natural gas known as high-volume hydraulic fracturing, or hydrofracking, citing environmental and health concerns.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation held its final public hearing last week in Manhattan on its proposal to lift a three-year temporary ban on hydrofracking, a process that entails injecting water laced with chemicals into the ground at high pressure to break rock and extract natural gas. About 1,900 people attended the hearing, most of whom spoke out against the technology.
The state is looking to lift the ban, which it had implemented while the DEC studied the impact of the technology. Officials said, however, that it would not allow the drilling to happen within 4,000 feet of the watershed that provides drinking water for millions of city residents, as well as individuals in Westchester and Syracuse.
“Unless the process is addressed in a way where our water supply is, with absolute certainty, not susceptible to contamination, that our land is free from toxic chemicals, and our quality of life is not disrupted from frivolous neglectful actions, I then wholeheartedly urge the state to proceed with caution,” state Sen. Joe Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach) said. “I believe that if any doubt as to the safety of the hydrofracking process exists, we should not proceed to issue any permits.”
While many legislators have come out against hydrofracking, including Councilman Jim Gennaro (D-Fresh Meadows), state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) and Mayor Bloomberg, the opposition is not unanimous among the downstate politicians. U.S. Rep. Bob Turner (R-Queens, Brooklyn), for example, has said that he believes hydrofracking would bring needed jobs to the state, especially in the upstate areas that have been hard hit by the economic downturn.
According to a recently released report, producing natural gas from shale — in other words, hydrofracking —will support 870,000 jobs across the country and contribute $57 billion in federal, state and local taxes by 2035. The report was issued by IHS Global Insight, an organization commissioned by the Washington-based industry group America’s Natural Gas Alliance.
A report prepared by Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer last year stated that seven states in the country have reported “serious incidents” of water contamination and explosions near sites where companies have used hydraulic fracturing
A 2008 report from the U.S. Land Management Bureau said groundwater in Sublette County, Wyo., which has one of the country’s largest natural gas fields and where hydrofracking was commonly employed, was contaminated with benzene, a substance that has been linked to cancer and nervous system disorders.
Gennaro, along with actor Mark Ruffalo and Josh Fox, director of the documentary “Gasland,” recently gathered outside City Hall to announce city officials would deliver “emergency water aid” for families in Dimcock, PA, which has experienced groundwater contamination from fracking.
“The practice of fracking has caused these families in rural Pennsyvlania to need constant deliveries of outside water, and that’s an absolute shame,” Gennaro said. “It would be a terrible shame if fracking left a small community in New York state dependent on a coalition of activist groups for water deliveries. And it would be a tragedy if such a thing happened to New York City, because no group has the resources to intervene and deliver enough outside water to make up for the loss of our pristine watershed.”
Mark Ruffalo, an actor who starred in “The Kids Are All Right” and “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” also slammed hydrofracking, and specifically Pennsylvania for allowing it.
“Water is a universal necessity and a right,” said Ruffalo, who has founded a group called WaterDefense.org. “It’s downright shameful that the state agency that is supposed to protect the health and well-being of citizens would instead protect the corporation that caused this devastation.”
Avella, a state senator, said during last week’s public hearing that the state should not allow the technology.
“We simply cannot create a situation where we put our citizens at great risk from an environmental disaster by rushing to find an expedient solution to the high cost of oil and the economic hardships faced by our state,” said Avella, who is sponsoring a bill that would prohibit hydrofracking in the state. “The risk of catastrophic danger to the environment, the health of New York state residents and adverse economic impacts that result from hydraulic fracturing far outweigh the potential for job creation and promotion of a natural gas alternative to oil.”