I sent this letter to New York Governor Cuomo today on the election and shale drilling and equal protection and climate change and science and more. I know it is overly long – although I could have written much, much more – but I am proud that I managed to get this done before the election, despite the disruption that recent family health issues have caused. I decided to write this today, even though I have 385 email messages to view, so apologies to anyone awaiting a personal email.
Dear Governor Cuomo,
The election is eight days from today, but I do not think I will be able to vote for you because you are not doing enough to protect the health and safety of all New Yorkers equally.
I live in Vestal and I and my Southern Tier neighbors are at risk from the health and environmental impacts of shale gas production, processing, transport, and waste disposal, a risk from which you have not protected us.
Some of the impacts that have already occurred are road damage in Vestal from the overweight trucks transporting drilling supplies to sites in Pennsylvania, inability to get mortgages on leased land, crime associated with gas industry workers staying on the NY side of the border, leaking pipelines, increased truck traffic, light and noise pollution, airborne silica sand along rail lines and during trucking transfers, and an explosion at a Windsor compressor station.
Other impacts are probable but not being tested, such as degradation in air quality. Some impacts are obscured by the lack of tracking of the fossil fuel industry. For example, waste products are shipped by truck without the exact composition being known, so that if they are disposed of at a landfill the effects on the leachate are unknowable. Given that some of this leachate is treated in Endicott, this is a local concern as well as a regional one. Meanwhile, it is still legal to spread drilling wastewater on roadways in New York, despite the fact that we know that Marcellus wastewater is often high in radium, which is a radioactive, toxic element known to bio-accumulate and cause serious health problems, including cancer.
Other impacts are, of course, global in scope. The latest readings of atmospheric carbon dioxide are at record highs and we know that humans burning fossil fuels have been the driving force in that. Also, the atmospheric methane level is at a record high. Methane is a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, 86 times more potent in a twenty year timeframe. After a long period of stability, atmospheric methane levels began rising in 2007, coinciding with “shale boom.” Several new scientific studies say that replacing coal or diesel fuel with fossil methane will not help our climate situation. Shale development will not cut the risk of the next record flood here in Vestal or the next superstorm roaring up the Atlantic coast.
I have been trying to follow the DEC’s SGEIS and regulatory process for years now. I say “trying” because the process itself is obscure. Besides the obvious problem of the Minerals division trying to promote fossil fuel production while also trying to regulate it, there is the larger problem that the DEC’s work has been hidden from the public for years now. Because there has been a large number of independent, peer-reviewed scientific research studies published in the last two years, the last publicly available draft of the SGEIS is totally outdated, but we have no idea whether or not the DEC has been continuing to update the SGEIS as these new scientific studies and data from other states who are drilling have become available.
The obscurity of the process has been compounded by the DOH “review” of the the health findings of the DEC’s work. Although this has been referred to as a study, it is not. A real health study would follow the national/international guidelines of a health impact assessment (HIA) and would be conducted as a clearly defined, public process. It would consider health impacts on different groups of people, such as children, the elderly, and pregnant women/infants. It would look at the interplay of exposures to many different substances and the interactions among them. It would look at impacts for those in close proximity to wells and related infrastructure and those further away, including air quality, possible food and water exposures, and climate impacts. It would also consider socioeconomic changes, such as rates of crime and homelessness, property value, cost of living, stresses on community services, and gains and losses in different job categories.
The economic section of the draft SGEIS is particularly outdated and unrealistic, having been built on what we now know are totally impossible expectations, that the industry could get economically viable amounts of gas anywhere in the Marcellus and Utica. The price of methane is so low that it is unlikely anywhere in New York can presently produce shale gas economically, with the danger that small companies would take that risk using borrowed money and leave behind wells that cause pollution that the state would need to clean up when the company goes bankrupt. New York already has thousands of leaking, abandoned wells awaiting proper plugging; we should not compound the problem with even limited amounts of shale drilling.
Governor, you say over and over that the science must decide, but that you are not a scientist. You say that scientists disagree. The actuality is that industry-funded science is presented and used in a way that makes it seem that shale drilling is safe, while independent science presents data and possible explanations for that data which show that there are environmental and health impacts occuring. A recent example of this is the media coverage of a recent federal Department of Energy study of a single PA deep shale well for eighteen months, which showed that fracking chemicals had not reached an aquifer 3,000 feet distant, which is being touted as “proof” that “fracking” doesn’t pollute water. Meanwhile, a PNAS study of the official DEP records of PA wells drilled from 2000-12 which covers tens of thousands of wells and their failure rates (Abstract here: http://psehealthyenergy.org/site/view/1217 with link to full report) shows that leakage rates for new shale wells in Northeastern PA are significantly higher than those for conventional wells and for shale wells drilled in the rest of the state. Leaking wells equals methane migration into groundwater, soils, and/or through faults, wellbores, or cracks equals pollution of the water, land, air, and atmosphere. The fact that NE PA is particularly vulnerable to leaking shale wells is disturbing for those of us in the border area of New York as the Marcellus geology here is similar. Yet this much larger study is not getting the press attention of the DOE study which is much less helpful in assessing the situation in New York.
The situation is sadly reminiscent of the doctors and scientists in the employ of the tobacco industry who swore to Congress that smoking did not cause cancer, while independent doctors and scientists were raising public health alarms not only about smokers’ health but also about those exposed to second-hand smoke or in utero tobacco exposure.
For you or any governor to authorize shale gas drilling in the Southern Tier would be like deciding to lift the smoking ban here while continuing to protect other parts of the state. Our health and well-being here in Vestal is every bit as important as your health in Albany or the health of my sister in NYC or my daughter at ESF in Syracuse. With the current scientific literature, there is no way that the DEC and DOH can say that unconventional shale gas drilling and its attendant processes are safe. We in the Southern Tier are due protection from its risks equal to those in other regions.
Your television ads tout “Next-Gen energy” here in Broome County and we are justifiably proud of that. Do not compromise that pride by also saddling us with the outmoded 19th and 20th century fossil fuel dependence that is worsening global warming. It’s time to back up your rhetoric after Sandy about combating climate change with action. NO to new fossil fuel development and infrastructure! YES to renewable energy, clean energy storage, and energy efficiency initiatives! YES to equal health and environmental protection for everyone!