ALBANY, NY -At the April 20 dinner, speakers from four different organizations addressed a cause that united them: keeping hydrofracking out of New York State.
Roger Downs represented the Sierra Club, a membership grass roots organization. He said that he has never seen a movement attract so many people. For example, at a rally last week, 450 people registered to lobby and saw 180 legislators.
In a first draft environmental impact statement, Mr. Downs said that the DEC had not been looking at the cumulative environmental impact or at the impact of pipelines and compressor stations. He said that we have to “force them to do that.” The Sierra Club also wants a public health impact statement, but the DEC won’t do that until there is a spill”.
There are two bills that the Sierra Club is working on: A3245 is a local control bill. The industry maintains that they are exempt from local rules. Communities should have the right to enforce zoning regarding this. A7013 is a bill to close the hazardous waste loophole wherein frack water is not considered hazardous. He added that we have not updated oil and gas regulations since 1972.
Mr. Downs told us that in Bradford, PA there was a huge blowout and citizens were evacuated. In a school in Wyoming, children are being told not to go outside. He stated: “Hydrofracking is coming to New York unless we stop it.”
Laura Haight talked about her work with NYPIRG, a student run organization with campus chapters. She said that college students were “very involved” in the fracking issue.
The good or not-so-bad news is that funding for the Environment Protection Fund was kept at the same level as last year and that this was a “victory.” In previous years, the funding was badly cut.
Recent events have caused NYPIRG to focus more extensively on issues outside of the state legislature. NYPIRG is working with other groups to oppose the re relicensing of the Indian Point nuclear reactors which are located near two active fault lines. Gov. Cuomo has called this a “catastrophe waiting to happen.” NYPIRG has also raised safety concerns about the reactors in Oswego, which are the same design as the Fukushima Daiichi plants. Ms. Haight said that groups must redouble their work to replace nuclear energy with clean, safe and renewable energy.
NYPIRG is also opposing Mayor Bloomberg’s proposal to pilot thermal “waste-to-energy” technologies in New York City. Ms. Haight said that the newer technologies, like gasification, pyrolysis, and plasma arc pose many of the same problems as mass-burn incinerators and have a very poor track record in other countries, including explosions and malfunctions.
In terms of legislation, Ms. Haight told us that the legislature has decided to “extend their vacation because they have worked so hard.”
Marcy Stengel from Environmental Advocates spoke. Environmental Advocates most important activity at this time is the launching of a media campaign to inform New Yorkers about hydrofracking. Local and statewide groups have formed a coalition to encourage New Yorkers to stand up for their rights, to get information on the complex issues regarding hydrofracking and to connect with legislators. The coalition is pooling resources to say with one voice, “We are concerned about New York State’s water.”
Oil and gas companies are claiming that opponents of hydrofracking are unpatriotic, don’t support job creation don’t care about the State’s economy. None of this is true. The groups in the coalition may have different opinions about hydrofracking but all agree that right now clean water is the most important issue.
Standing-in for Citizens’ Environmental Coalition Executive Director Barbara Warren was Jim Travers. CEC, a statewide environmental health organization whose motto is “bringing the grassroots to the statehouse to advocate for safe and healthy communities,” was founded in 1983 by Tom Ellis and Anne Rabe to assist NY activists combating pollution in their communities.
Mr. Travers outlined CEC’s priority issues and main campaigns as being focused upon Toxic Chemicals; Zero Waste; Radioactive Waste; Nuclear Power; Climate Change & Clean Energy; and the Marcellus Shale Gas Drilling.
Water is NY’s greatest natural resource and we cannot risk its health for a fuel we do not need. CEC is opposed to Hydrofracking. There may be a 20 year national supply of gas contained in the entire Marcellus Shale Deposit, but it may take 60 years or more to extract it all.
The gas industry wants at least one wellhead to be located on every 40 acres of land throughout the entire shale deposit. Each wellhead can have up to 40 individual horizontal wells drilled. Each well demands between 1 and 8 million gallons of water to facilitate the drilling process. At a minimum, each maximized well site will need 40 million gallons of water. At a maximum, such a site would need 320 million gallons.
The industry tells us that only 1% of the fluid contains toxic chemicals, but we’re only able to recover 15% of that pumped underground. If we use the larger water demand figure, nearly 272 million gallons of contaminated water will remain unrecoverable underground. And that’s only from one wellhead. Thousands of wells are planned. “Where will the water come from?” Mr. Travers asked.
Picking up on a point raised earlier by Roger Downs, Mr. Travers spoke about the need to regulate the transport and disposal of the toxic wastewater recovered from gas drilling. Currently, a driver and his rig must be certified to haul the hazardous chemicals used in drilling fluid to a drill site, but no such requirement is in place for vehicles or drivers hauling away the recovered and now possibly radioactive toxic wastewater. Regulation of the transportation of drilling wastes should be instituted.
In closing, Mr. Travers suggested we visit CEC’s website (www.cectoxic.org) and sign on to the Nuclear Information and Resource Service letter to President Obama, Congress and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission calling for the closing of Indian Point and all 23 of our nation’s aged GE Mark I nuclear reactors. He also asked us to also sign NIRS petition for a Post-Fukushima Program for Increased Nuclear Security and Safety, which is also linked to on CEC’s home page.
Mark Schaeffer spoke about the disruptive climate changes that scientists have been warning about are now here. Mr. Schaeffer noted the eastern United States has been swept by a second huge wave of deadly tornadoes in a month. Globally, 2010 was the wettest and warmest year ever measured, with a record number of record high temperatures. The Asian record of 129 F was set in Pakistan, where floods drove 20 million people from their homes last summer; 4 million are still homeless. World food prices were driven up by drought and unprecedented wildfires in Russia. Glaciers on every continent have receded decade by decade; the ice over the Arctic Sea melted through in recent summers. As Bill McKibben says, if this is what we get with one degree global increase, we really need to avoid a five degree rise.
Human civilization needs to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80% by midcentury, especially CO2 and methane. The good news is that we know how to do this without sacrificing comfort or prosperity. Getting much more work out of the energy we use is not only cleaner than business as usual, it is less expensive. Energy input now from unsustainable fossil fuels and inherently dangerous nuclear power can be replaced by renewable supplies. The flows of solar and wind energy Earth receives are orders of magnitude greater than all the energy we use. Wind is already cost effective and is the fastest growing energy source in the world. Renewable energy has no fuel cost, but front end financing of capital costs is needed. Renewable energy can be adapted to specific end uses: solar thermal is excellent for heating and cooling new buildings.
Mr. Schaeffer said cannot afford NOT to make the massive investments in clean energy that we need, but the political and economic power of the giant corporations profiting from dirty energy is enormous. Exxon Mobil is the most profitable corporation ever, they spend millions on propaganda to reap billions in super profits. The Koch brothers spend even more to pollute the intellectual environment, but the worst offender is the US Chamber of Commerce. The USCOC purports to represent small business, but more than half their budget comes from just 16 mega-corporations. McKibben has launched a campaign for small businesses to withdraw, signing a statement “the US Chamber doesn’t speak for me.”
Many actions on every scale can contribute to the global turnaround. We can and should reduce our carbon footprint as individuals, but we will all be boiled frogs unless we change laws and corporations. We can participate in Albany 2030, the City of Albany’s long range planning process. We can support the NY State Earth Day Lobby Day agenda, including the Solar Jobs bill (A.5713 / S.4178) Global Warming Pollution Cap (A.5346), a bill to restrict fracking (A.7013/S.4616) and the Complete Streets bill (A.1863/S.1332) to promote public transit, walking and bicycling. On the federal level, we need to elect a better Congress, with a majority of members like Paul Tonko who support real solutions. We can stay informed and inform our neighbors. Good information sources include current books by Bill McKibben, Lester Brown, Van Jones, Al Gore, and Naomi Klein, and web sites such as McKibben’s 350.org, Amory Lovins’ RMI.org, Brown’s earth-policy.org, and Joe Romm’s hard hitting daily blog ClimateProgress.org.
Published in May/June 2011 Newsletter