Raquel Woodruff’s editorial, “Open hydrofracking laws must pass,” got it wrong. The overblown benefits of hydraulic fracturing — commonly known as “fracking” — do not outweigh public health concerns that are being reported in fracked communities across the country and have yet to be fully understood by our nation’s health experts.
While we agree with Woodruff that Congress needs to close the “Halliburton loophole,” which exempts the oil and gas industry from virtually every major environmental law, fracking’s potential risks would remain uncertain regardless. The dearth of information on health risks compelled Dr. Nirav Shah, New York State Department of Health commissioner, to postpone any decision on fracking pending further studies just last week. Commissioner Shah wrote, “[T]he decision to permit [fracking] in New York is important, and involves complex questions about the impact of the process on public health. The time to ensure the impacts on public health are properly considered is before a state permits drilling.”
Despite the lack of information on fracking, some of the threats posed — from the thousands of truck trips required to fracture each well, to the industry’s inability to safely dispose of billions of gallons of toxic, radioactive wastewater — are well documented. Ozone and particulate matter formed by pollutants emitted during natural gas production are well-known asthma triggers, and long-term exposure to particulate matter can lead to heart disease and premature death. Fracking also has been directly linked to groundwater contamination, causing homeowners to have to pay out of pocket for water deliveries. Perhaps worst of all, the most recent federal studies show that fracking releases so much methane into the atmosphere that it may actually cause more climate disruption than coal or oil.
These known dangers catalyzed the largest grassroots environmental movement this state has seen since the ’70s. The State Department of Environmental Conservation has already received nearly 300,000 comments on its environmental review and proposed fracking regulations, far outpacing the second most controversial decision in the state’s environmental history, which spurred less than 5,000 comments. The most recent Sienna College poll shows New Yorkers split on the issue — 40 percent to 40 percent — with opponents drastically more passionate than supporters. It’s tough for the news media not to “sensationalize” something literally sensational.
Christopher Portier, director of the Federal Center for Environmental Health under President Barack Obama, recently said that fracking has been a “disaster” in some communities and that we lack much of the basic information needed to know whether it can be done safely. We should be thankful that Commissioner Shah has stood up to enormous pressure from the oil and gas industry and taken additional time to obtain the information necessary to protect New Yorkers.
Kate Hudson is an alumna of NYU School of Law and Watershed program director at Riverkeeper, Inc. Michael Dulong is an alumnus of NYU Graduate School of Arts and Science and a staff attorney for Riverkeeper, Inc. Dulong & Hudson are contributing writers. Email them at [email protected]