Assemblyman Greg Ball (R, C, I – Patterson) assembled an expert panel at the Katonah Village Library on Thursday to discuss the proposed hydraulic fracturing (hydrofracking) project in the Marcellus Shale formation in upstate New York. Opponents to hydrofracking in New York point to disasters in other states that contaminated the drinking water of local communities with chemical waste, and they say New York does not have the proper safety regulations in place to protect the downstate watershed.
“We certainly need jobs short term and immediate economic relief in this state, but not at the cost of placing some of the world’s cleanest drinking water in jeopardy for the next hundred generations,” Ball said. “Some serious questions were raised today and I am glad we had a frank and free flowing discussion from both sides. My fear is that New York not repeat the mistakes of other states who proceeded with Fracking without caution.”
Ball’s expert panel included James Barth, representing the Steering Committee for the grassroots group Damascus Citizens for Sustainability, Susan Leifer of New York Sierra Club’s Gas Task Force, Suzannah Glidden from the Atlantic Chapter of the Sierra Club, and Michael G. Brownell, Director of Regulatory Affairs at Chesapeake Energy. Chesapeake Energy currently holds the lease to drill in New York’s Marcellus Shale. Assemblyman Robert J. Castelli (R, C, I – Goldens Bridge), whose district hosted the hearing, also attended.
Michael Brownell offered a presentation on the process of hydrofracking, which involves drilling thousands of feet into a rock formation, then using a water compound to create horizontal fractures to withdraw natural gas. Brownell demonstrated that hydrofracking seeks natural gas thousands of feet below the drinking water supply, and he reviewed Chesapeake’s precautions for preventing aquifer contamination. The panel cross-examined Brownell for most of the two-hour discussion, focusing on surface spills, natural fractures, and the chemical compound used by Chesapeake. While all drilling companies must disclose the chemicals they use, James Barth pointed out that Chesapeake and other drilling companies were not required to disclose the exact composition of chemicals, which was protected as proprietary corporate information.
The Marcellus Shale formation is projected to contain enough natural gas to supply the entire country’s demands for fifteen years. However, the area also provides downstate New York’s water supply, and contamination could be disastrous.
James Barth’s presentation included a photo essay of the environmental impact from hydrofracking in Northern Pennsylvania, which included thorough examples of the havoc caused by Cabot Oil & Gas in Dimock, PA. Photos included satellite views of a decimated landscape and brown drinking water. Barth, who repeatedly alluded to the new technology and process of hydrofracking, concluded with a photo of the Deepwater Horizon Drilling Rig ablaze in the Gulf of Mexico as a demonstration of the risk in new technologies.
Susan Leifer, who offered geological opinions that challenged Brownell’s “best-case scenario presentation,” stated that though Brownell presented Chesapeake as a responsible and conscientious corporation, regulations need to protect the water supply from companies like Cabot. She worried that, once Chesapeake begins drilling in New York, the opportunity to put safety regulations in place will be lost.
Suzannah Glidden focused her concern with the timing of the Department of Environmental Conservation’s Environmental Impact Study, which is expected near the end of the legislative session. Without proper time to respond to the DEC and petition the state, drilling companies could begin work without the environmental impact being fully studied and considered. Glidden asked for a bi-partisan moratorium and said the issue is too important to be divided along party lines. Ball agreed, after hearing both sides of the discussion, that the New York State legislature needs to move forward with a moratorium on hydrofracking.
“There is nothing more important than clean drinking water,” Ball concluded. “Decisions made today focused solely on taking one dollar and turning that dollar into two may be shortsighted. We must work to create jobs and get this economy on track, but safeguarding the water for future generations is my number one priority.”