by Jessica Hendricks, Program Coordinator

The latest in the fight against the contamination of our air and water from hydraulic fracturing, a controversial method of drilling for natural gas, came out of the State of New York.  On December 12, 2010, New York’s Governor issued an Executive Order banning new permits for high volume, horizontal hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

A step in the right direction, right? Or is there something so fundamentally wrong with the law that you would laugh if the lives of community members were not at stake?

The purpose of this order is to allow for an EPA study to “continue the review and analysis of the effects of hydraulic fracturing on water and air quality, environmental safety and public health.”  The catch?

The order is scheduled to expire in June 2011, far before the EPA study will be complete.

The state of NY will have no data from the EPA study when the drilling is scheduled to begin again.

In addition, this ban is includes new permits for high volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing.  All gas wells that are currently fracking in NY will continue to do so, spewing a mix of nearly 600 chemicals into our air and water! Current polluters get the benefit of less competition without having to address their pollution.

And the pollution from fracking is nothing to take lightly.

According to As You Sow, an environmental health and corporate responsibility organization, “Independent tests in Colorado found at least 65 of the chemicals used in fracturing fluids were defined as hazardous under six major federal laws and if these same chemicals were released from an industrial facility, reporting to the EPA would be mandatory.”  In Aztec, NM, simple air tests that GCM helped the community take proved chemicals are being released in elevated levels throughout out communities.  Associated health effects are a serious possibility!

Even with such alarming scientific evidence, energy companies continue to claim that there has never been a proven case of contamination. However, it is not like the energy companies have been entirely forthcoming in talking about the chemicals they use.

In fact, published reports on the chemicals used in fracking are alarmingly vague and unclear.  Even the company who developed the industrial process of hydraulic fracturing, the notorious Halliburton, refused to disclose the chemicals used in the process.  The US EPA had to take them to court and subpoena the ingredients in the toxic soup of chemicals used in fracking.  Our environmental & public health is being compromised under the defense of ‘trade secrets’.

Energy companies are threatening legislatures, claiming they’ll take their business elsewhere.  Take the jobs and move to other states where the regulations aren’t so strict.  When will legislatures & voters realize we can have jobs and a healthy environment to prosper in?

This is the same old divide and conquer technique we’ve seen since the beginning of time.  Is there a solution? Of course, we need to unite our efforts for a clean environment.  Ban all types of fracking in multiple states! NY took a small progressive step in the right direction and should serve as an example, but we need to remember this is only a step.  A temporary ban is only that, we can’t stop fighting for permanent solutions yet!

As far as that EPA study, the EPA is holding public meetings, seeking input on designing ways to access effects of fracking on drinking water, not air or soil. I could think of a few EJ groups they could contact…