September 10, 2008: Wake-up call over gas drilling issue
To The Editor:
I recently attended an informational meeting about gas drilling in New York State, particularly in the watershed areas in and around Delaware County. The information presented should give everyone, especially those who have signed leases or are seriously considering signing, a major wake-up call.
The specific dangers are to our environment, including air, water and soil and consequently to our health and quality of life. The clean air, clean water and wonderful peace and quiet of the Catskills are at stake.
It is important to note that federal regulations specifically exempt gas drilling from the laws that have guarded the quality of our environment for several decades. These are The Clean Air Act, The Clean Water Act and The Safe Drinking Water Act. Why are the energy corporations exempt? Would they have to be exempt if they could operate within the law and still protect our air and water? Further, local governments, such as town and county, have almost no jurisdiction over drilling operations within their borders.
That leaves the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to protect us. Yet, the DEC assured state legislators and the governor that there were no known instances of drilling or fracking fluids contaminating drinking water supplies (surface or aquifers). This is simply untrue. There are hundreds of documented instances in western states where natural gas drilling is already underway on a large scale (e.g., New Mexico, Colorado). The composition of the drilling fluids are kept secret from the public but are known to contain a number of toxic and polluting substances. A DEC official, Bradley Field, is reported to have said that the drilling fluids are merely “sand and water.” Is this just a lack of up-to-date information or is it a sign that the DEC is charged with promoting the extraction of gas and mineral resources in New York State? Are they losing sight of their mission to protect our health and well-being in favor of their mission to promote gas drilling and the resulting tax bonanza for the state? Can this dual mission possibly be free of any conflict of interest?
Given the impact of all this, the greatest danger is to our communities and our quality of life. An area impacted by gas drilling will be forever changed. Even if just a few large landowners allow drilling, the cumulative effect on their neighbors will be devastating. Will those who sign leases remain on their land and cope with the toxic side effects during the many years a well can be active? Or will they take their windfall and move to a safer, protected environment? Will their neighbors who do not sign be able to cope with these same side effects? With no financial gain? The negative impacts of drilling will not be confined to the property lines of the leased land.
Newspaper articles and community meetings have urged landowners to get professional legal advice in order to shift the terms of their lease to their favor instead of the unlimited benefit of the gas companies. This is a step in the right directions but ignores the facts that point to the overwhelmingly negative impact of drilling on our community. I believe that the losses will far outweigh the immediate financial gains.