NY State DEC Revised Draft SGEIS Coming; Fractivists Not Happy

On July 8, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) plans to publish its Revised Draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (DSGEIS).  This is the document that, if things go the DEC’s way, will become the basis for regulations permitting high volume hydraulic fracturing for gas.

We have not read it yet – the executive summary alone is 26 pages.  But the parameters described in DEC’s own summary are upsetting:

  • “High-volume fracturing would be prohibited in the New York City and Syracuse watersheds, including a buffer zone;”
    Hmmm, if it is bad for NYC and Syracuse, isn’t it bad for Buffalo, Elmira, Jamestown, etc.? And what about private wells?
  • Drilling would be prohibited within primary aquifers and within 500 feet of their boundaries;
    Wait – horizontal drilling can extend several thousand feet from the wellhead. What is 500 feet supposed to protect against? And are we to believe that toxic effects automagically stop migrating at 500 feet?
  • Surface drilling would be prohibited on state-owned land including parks, forest areas and wildlife management areas;
    Surface drilling, as opposed to what – subsurface drilling? Why the qualifier?
  • High-volume fracturing will be permitted on privately held lands under rigorous and effective controls; and
    Oh, rigorous controls – how will DEC’s tiny staff supervise this? Once the drillers put it into the ground, how do you know it is up to spec? Is there a plan to hire 24×7 well sitters who will inspect the pipe, confirm the concrete, evaluate the engineering, and test the chemicals? Will we even know what the chemicals are? And why is this allowed on privately held lands? Should we think that the bad stuff gets to the property line and stops?
  • DEC will issue regulations to codify these recommendations into state law.
    Lovely. Lock in a bleak future of global warming, deforestation, polluted air, toxic water, ruined roads, and incendiary pipelines.  All so drillers and a few large landowners can get rich from taxpayer subsidies and selling to the highest global bidders.

And what about cumulative impacts? Tens of thousands of wells add up to a lot of water use, air pollution, and ruined landscape.  Will New York State follow the example of Southern Sudan, the Niger delta, Venezuela, and the Middle East?  Do people in those regions seem happy?  This is about destructive environmental and economic exploitation without economic development.  We should be investing in sustainable energy.  Many more jobs would be generated by investments in wind, tide and solar, as well as energy conservation retrofits.

And what about all the jobs that this method of drilling will destroy?  Consider these words by Ken Jaffe, who raises grass fed cattle, reprinted below with permission.  What will happen to his business, and to the value and insurability of his land? (Ken, take heart – informed New York City residents don’t by the deceptive, divide and conquer exclusion of NYC and Syracuse aquifers.)

Hi all,

In its Executive Summary of the revised SGEIS released yesterday, the DEC  states clearly that groundwater is at sufficient risk from gas drilling to restrict gas drilling to protect  those drinking groundwater. But they only afford that protection to those drinking from primary aquifers. The DEC leaves the great majority of drinkers of groundwater in the Marcellus unprotected. They have some explaining to do.

I’m looking forward to hearing the DEC’s logic and science—their risk assessment strategy— used to assess that only some drinkers of contaminated groundwater need protection.

Primary aquifers are used as drinking water for some municipalities.

The list is after page 5

The list includes about 300,000 people in those municipalities drinking water from these primary aquifers in counties in the Marcellus shale.

Page 18 of the new DEC doc describes the exclusion of primary aquifers.

No HVHF Operations on Primary Aquifers

Although not subject to Filtration Avoidance Determinations, 18 other aquifers in the State of New York have been identified by the New York State Department of Health as highly productive aquifers presently utilized as sources of water supply by major municipal water supply systems and are designated as “primary aquifers.” Because these aquifers are the primary source of drinking water for many public drinking water supplies, the Department recommends in this dSGEIS that site disturbance relating to HVHF operations should not be permitted there either or in a protective 500-foot buffer area around them. Horizontal extraction of gas resources underneath Primary Aquifers from well pads located outside this area would not significantly impact this valuable water resource.

As the DEC says, this is in addition to the exclusion of drilling in the watersheds of NYC and Syracuse.

Now, one can make an argument, as the DEC has, that the exclusion of drilling in the NYC and Syracuse water supplies is based on their being unfiltered surface water (as opposed to ground  water), with a risk of “turbidity” from surface drilling activity.  And because there have been rules in place for years restricting industry and development  in unfiltered surface watersheds to avoid having to build  super expensive filtration plants, as  for NYC.  A more clear eyed assessment of carving out the NYC watershed is that the DEC wants to excise the political opposition of NYC, which could easily create a critical mass of opposition in the state.  But they do have the surface water “turbidity” argument  to fall back on to explain this preferential exclusion, even if politics is the underlying reason.

But, when you are dealing with groundwater sources, how can you rationally, and scientifically exclude some aquifers and not others. Again, the actual rationale appears overtly political, rather than based on the science or risk.  The DEC is trying to carve out the opposition of the  municipalities drinking from primary aquifers –including Jamestown, Elmira, Cortland, Binghamton, Corning, Salamanca.  After all,  these municipalities  are really organized entities of people…who would otherwise likely oppose drilling.

Problem is, there are at least 1,140,000 people drinking groundwater in the Marcellus shale.   What’s up DEC? You’ve determined that groundwater is at risk. You’re going to protect 300,000 people from ground water pollution, but not the other 840,000.

Who are those people? Hello, it’s us, the people of rural NY State who will be drinking from polluted wells.  It’s us,  people who will not be receive equal protection against the very threats that the DEC assesses are too risky for the people of upstate municipalities.

I think I’m going to call my lawyer.

Ken Jaffe
Slope Farms
Meredith, NY

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