Much of the nation will be watching as New York State approach a decision to ban or allow the use of horizontal hydraulic fracturing, a controversial gas drilling process, in the state. Who will the governor, lawmakers and state regulators in Albany listen to?
They can adopt the all-is-well view preferred by gas industry lawyers and geology experts. Or, they can take seriously the damning reports from Pennsylvania, Wyoming, Colorado and Texas describing how these drilling rigs harm ordinary people living nearby.
Unlike conventional, vertical natural gas drilling which is currently allowed in New York, horizontal hydrofracking pumps into each miles long well, under high pressure, up to eight million gallons of water, including 160 tons of toxic chemicals. Since drillers want to sink thousands of these wells in the state and about 80% of the toxic drilling fluid is left underground, environmental risks abound.
Louis Meeks in Wyoming, Amber Smith in Texas, Ned Prather in Colorado and Virginia Smitske in Pennsylvania know about hydrofracking, first hand. Their stories are part of a long list of non-experts speaking on the record in Josh Fox's documentary film GASLAND and Abraham Lustgarten's ProPublica research documents. Unlike the experts, their knowledge is based on real life observations.
For them the facts are simple. Their water wells provided good water before the rigs arrived. Thereafter their water became undrinkable. While they may not be able to describe in technical terms how this happened, using commonsense logic they can, and do, directly associate the drilling rigs with their polluted water wells.
Gas industry experts don't concern themselves with specific hydofracking drill rigs, or specific water wells. Their theory applies everywhere, at all times: hydraulic fracturing is 100% safe, adding that no one has ever proven scientifically, or in court, that a horizontal hydraulic fracturing drill rig polluted a single water well - ever.
By simply repeating their 100 percent safe mantra enough times, coupled with their professional status, the experts hope to somehow disprove the commonsense, on-site, knowledge collected by ordinary people living near hydraulic fracturing rigs.
Industry experts also claim that no state regulatory agency has ever found a single case of ground water contamination due to hydraulic fracturing. Maybe state regulators have not tried hard enough to make the connection, or they simply lack the technical means to track the movement of toxic fluids the drillers leave underground.
Gas industry lawyers' simple reply to those claiming their wells have been polluted: "Prove it." But, since property owners and state regulators are unable, technically, to prove in court that a specific polluted well was contaminated by a specific drilling rig, the drillers win.
New York officials have a moral and legal obligation to protect the state's environment and innocent citizens from industrial abuses sanctioned by the state. Until state regulators are able to independently verify whether or not drilling permit holders are damaging public or private property, New York's governor and the legislature should put hydrofracking permits on hold. To do otherwise, is to give the green light to a state-sponsored regulatory sham.
Ronald Fraser, PhD, lives in the Town of Colden, and is a member of the town's environmental planning board.