More important news from Catskill Mountainkeeper

Public awareness is increasing, the sentiment against gas drilling is growing, but even in light of new revelations about the potential catastrophic consequences of gas drilling, the New York DEC and the gas industry are still intent on implementing a seriously flawed plan.  Until there is a plan that clearly provides the adequate protection for the people, animals and land of New York State, Catskill Mountainkeeper will use every opportunity to advocate that – Drilling Isn’t Safe! (download an informational PDF here)

On Tuesday night N
ovember 10th the DEC held its second public hearing at Stuyvesant High School in New York City to get public comments on the Draft Supplemental Plan (the Draft) that was issued on September 30, 2009. It was attended by a very large, overwhelmingly anti-gas drilling crowd estimated at over 500. More than 170 speakers signed up and when they shut the doors at around 11:00 PM, more than half had still not had a chance to speak.

To chants of “Kill the Drill” and “Drilling Isn’t Safe” speaker after speaker spoke about the threats of gas drilling to New York.  At this sometimes raucous meeting, the main focus was on the threat to the drinking water of New York City and speakers including Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, Congressman Nadler and former Congresswoman and State Comptroller Liz Holtzman called for a ban on drilling in the New York City Watershed.

Hundreds of people wore Catskill Mountainkeeper “Drilling Isn’t Safe” buttons.  Catskill Mountainkeeper’s Ramsay Adams and Wes Gillingham acknowledged city residents’ appropriate concerndrilling isn't safe buttons about the potential contamination of their drinking water, but said that the lack of a credible plan from the DEC makes this a statewide, not just a city issue and that the health of all people in New York State must not be risked to bridge the state’s budget gap.

They identified numerous problems with the Draft and referred to this week’s headlines that revealed the presence of extremely high amounts of radioactive substances in drilling wastewater and the incidence of over 270 gas drilling accidents in New York State since 1979 – (see more information on these stories below).  Ramsay Adams said, “We only found out this week what the DEC knew in July when they were preparing the Draft Supplemental Report, that sample wastewater from New York State wells contain levels of radiation that are many times higher than that of other states and acceptable levels. This information alone demands that we have a longer comment period to analyze and understand what looks like catastrophic ramifications.”

Speakers from all walks of life repeatedly made points about the lack of provision for cumulative effect, the lack of adequate plans for wastewater, the heavy and unjust burden that will be placed upon local towns and counties, the total lack of a health impact statement and many other weaknesses in the Draft.

On Thursday November 12 the DEC held it’s 3rd public meeting in Chenango County.  Over 1000 people attended and the message was clear that the people from upstate New York are deeply concerned about the impacts of natural gas drilling.  Watch Wes Gillingham featured on Binghamton’s Fox 40 Nightly News story about the Chenango event here:

Wes on Fox 40

Contrary to the DEC’s assertions that existing regulations on gas drilling are fine, Walter Hang, President of Toxic Targeting, identified 270 cases documenting wastewater spills, well contamination, explosions, methane migration and ecological damage related to gas production in the state since 1979.  The list was compiled using the Department of Environmental Conservation’s own hazard substances spills database.

Hang said his company publicly released the list to show that regulation of the state’s gas industry is “fundamentally inadequate.”

“All we wanted to do is test the fundamental assessment the DEC often makes: existing regulations are just fine,” he said. By Hang’s assessment, they are a long way from fine. Only 60 of the 270 cases were actually caught by DEC regulators. Many were called in by residents, public safety officials, affected parties or “people who just stumbled over them,” he said.

The complaints are related to traditional wells drilled through the decades, most of them in the Southern Tier and western New York.

More than three-quarters of oil and gas problems on the spills database were caught by somebody other than a DEC staff member, according to Hang’s assessment. That is clear evidence the Division of Mineral Resources — with about 17 inspectors — lacks the manpower to oversee traditional well development, let alone the tremendous number of wells that are projected for the Marcellus or their complication. Hang argues that the entire regulatory process needs to be rebuilt from scratch.

In an article first published in ProPublica and then in the Albany Times Union on November 9, 2009, Abrahm Lustgarten reported that the New York Department of Environmental Conservation analyzed 13 samples of wastewater brought up thousands of feet to the surface from drilling and found that they contain levels of radium-226, a derivative of uranium, as high as 267 times the limit safe for discharge into the environment and thousands of times the limit safe for people to drink.

While New York’s Health Department raised concerns about these water samples in a confidential letter to the DEC in July, the agency did not  address radioactivity levels in their September 30, 2009 Draft Report.

“Handling and disposal of this wastewater could be a public health concern,” DOH officials said in the letter, which was obtained by ProPublica. The letter warned that the state may have difficulty disposing of the drilling waste, that thorough testing will be needed at water treatment plants, and that workers may need to be monitored for radiation much as they might be at nuclear facilities.

It is not clear if there are any treatment plants in New York that are capable of handling such material. Asked for names of plants capable of removing the radioactive materials, DEC spokesman Yancey Roy said “there are currently no facilities specifically designated for treating them.” The state would review disposal plans submitted by drilling companies, but has not yet received any, he said. “We do not know what treatment options are being considered or how effective NORM removal will be.”

What scientists call naturally occurring radioactive materials — known by the acronym NORM — are common in oil and gas drilling waste, and especially in brine, the dirty water that has been soaking in the shale for many centuries. Radium, a potent carcinogen, is among the most dangerous of these metals because it gives off radon gas and takes 1,600 years to decay. The tests taken so far suggest the amount of radioactive material measured in New York is far higher than in many other places.

The Draft said the DEC could not calculate how much radioactivity people may be exposed to, even though such calculations are routinely completed by scientists studying radiation exposure and should be very easy to do, according to Charley Yu, who runs a national dose modeling program for the U.S. Department of Energy.

Yet the Draft concluded radiation levels were very low and the wastewater does not present a risk to workers. DEC officials declined to explain their reasoning for this conclusion.

The Draft said radioactive waste licensing and special disposal processes may be required, but said more study is needed before the DEC can lay out precise plans to deal with the waste.

It would be a serious health threat and irresponsible in the extreme for the DEC to consider moving forward until they can establish a satisfactory plan to handle wastewater containing the dramatically increased level of NORMS that drilling in the Marcellus will likely produce.

Although our campaign, and the campaigns of others are raising awareness, our efforts will be worthless unless those who become aware take action.  If you believe as we do that the DEC should not approve gas drilling in New York State until it can be proven that it can be done safely, the moment to act is now.

  • Click here to send an email directly to Governor Patterson to tell him what you think. (For suggested text for the letter, click here.)

  • Email and call your elected member of congress, your US Senator, your State senator and assemblyperson.  Click here to find out who your representative are and how to contact them
  • Write a letter to the editor of your local paper
  • Pass this alert on to friends and family so they can take action
    Forward this email

Testify at a Public Meeting – see list below:  Click here for background information – “15 Reasons Why the Draft Needs to be Rewritten”

Wednesday, November 18, Corning East High School Auditorium, 201 Cantigny Street, Corning, NY 14830

Thursday, November 19, State Theater, 107 W. State Street, Ithaca, NY 14850
(the hearings are free and open to the public – to make a comment arrive at 5:30 to register)

Every remaining day of the public comment period is precious time. If you’ve been reading our alerts you know what will happen after it expires on December 31, 2009.  The DEC will go into hiding, they will rubberstamp the final plan, drilling will begin in 2010 and it will not be adequately monitored and controlled.

If you support the efforts of Catskill Mountainkeeper as a leader of this critical fight – tell us you do – by making a donation today.  Donations of any amount will help. Give more if you can. To donate, please click on the link below.

Donate Now
For more information about the gas drilling threat, please go to our website or you can call our office at 845.482.5400

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