February 9, 2008, The Daily Star: Local guest column: Too many questions, dangers in drilling

Local guest column: Too many questions, dangers in drilling

By Maureen Dill

February 08, 2009 04:00 am

Where is the voice of the majority concerning gas drilling?

According to reports, leasing firms control 67 square miles of land owned by 300 Otsego County residents.

Will we who represent the majority "" having ownership or oversight of the other 935 square miles "" stand by while our water sources, health and well-being are compromised solely for the short-lived profits of a few?

Or will we take action to protect our aquifers and watersheds "" for ourselves, our livestock and crops? There are important questions that we should be asking.

If a one-mile buffer zone between the New York City watersheds and gas-drilling sites is deemed critical to the protection of those watersheds, why wouldn't the same protection be appropriate to protect our watersheds and ecosystems? The city has warned state officials and the DEC that drilling could have "crippling implications," degrading water quality of Catskill reservoirs that provide 9 million people with drinking water.

Do all property owners know about the "compulsory integration" law? Under this 2005 state law, leasing company "spacing units" may encompass privately owned lands whose owners haven't agreed to sign leases.

Despite the risks hydraulic fracturing poses to human health and safe drinking water, why doesn't the federal Environmental Protection Agency regulate fracturing fluids? Why did Congress exempt hydraulic fracturing from the Safe Drinking Water Act in 2005?

The oil and gas industry is the sole industry allowed by the EPA to inject known hazardous materials, unchecked, into the earth. Halliburton helped pioneer hydraulic fracturing. The chemical mix used in this process is considered proprietary by the industry and kept secret, even from the EPA.

We know the effects on living organisms of chemicals such as benzene, toluene, ethyl benzene, xylene, carbon monoxide and sulfur dioxide. Should we accept the degradation of our environment and related health risks of these extremely dangerous substances?

To date, hydrofracking is suspected of endangering drinking water in more than nine states. Here in Central New York, aquifer infiltration by drilling materials and a gas well explosion have been reported in Brookfield and Smyrna, respectively.

Hydrogen sulfide and nitrogen oxide are also among other toxic byproducts of the drilling process. Many of these chemicals are known to cause respiratory distress, heart conditions and lung damage, and other potential threats.

Should we be prepared for increased levels of radon in our homes, since the Marcellus shale formation is radioactive and identified as a radon source?

Can we be assured that the DEC and leaders of towns and municipalities will carefully monitor every drilling operation? Can they afford to? Will they diligently monitor changes in radioactivity levels resulting from gas drilling? How will local government address erosion and sedimentation at well sites and enforce stormwater management? Since the 2006 floods, have flood plain data for our county been updated?

What will be the effects of withdrawing more than 5 million gallons of water from our rivers, streams and aquatic habitats for each hydrofracking operation? As much as 40 percent of that contaminated water may remain in the ground "" water that could eventually migrate through cracks and fissures into private water wells. How and where will the recovered drilling byproducts be disposed? We should be gravely concerned with the notion that toxic fluids might be stored inside injection wells.

Evidence is mounting of the contamination and depletion of water sources by the gas industry's use of billions of gallons of water. If wellbore integrity at abandoned gas wells is not monitored, the infrastructure can fail over time and become another source of contamination. According to a DEC report, "Once gas escapes from the wellbore, under certain geologic conditions it can travel considerable distances either laterally or vertically and through natural fractures reach the surface or infiltrate a water zone."

The report further states that gas in an aquifer can enter water wells "and can accidentally be ignited at the water tap or it can build up inside the house in explosive quantities."

Where is the voice of the majority concerning the effects natural-gas drilling will have on our community character and our pastoral landscape _ the reason many people relocate or vacation here, and among the reasons folks born here choose to live and be laid to rest in this bucolic countryside?

Every member of the majority should contact their local and state representatives to demand support in protecting our water and the quality of our lives. Elected officials who have leased their land to drilling enterprises should so declare and recuse themselves from any decisions in this matter.

We, the majority, voted these representatives into office, and they have a duty to acknowledge our concerns and respond appropriately. We can live without natural gas, but we, our crops and animals cannot survive without clean water.


Dill, a Morris resident, is a social justice advocate and staff member at the State University College at Oneonta's Center for Social Responsibility & Community.

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