Hydrofracking debate rages on as state review continues

NORWICH – It’s two months until the state’s environmental conservation agency is due to release updated regulations for permitting high water, deep shale drilling for natural gas, and groups on both sides of the hydraulic fracturing debate are turning up the heat.

After all, New Yorkers who have already leased their land, the multi-national energy companies that are poised to drill, and those who oppose fracturing’s risk to the water, ground and air have already waited three years for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to act.

The DEC has taken that long to study the impacts of the technologically-enhanced method for releasing gas from tight shale formations located nearly a mile or more underground. What’s concerning is the 5 million gallons of water needed per well, the chemicals mixed in companies’ drilling solutions, and worries about safe handling of subsurface liquids, mud and rock particles that come up with the gas afterwards – some of which contain toxic and radioactive elements.

Earlier this month, a New York Times series of articles zeroed in on water contamination claims and suspected hydraulic fracturing accidents that have occurred in states that already permit horizontal shale drilling. The paper found that wastewater from 42 wells in Pennsylvania exceeded the federal drinking-water limit for radium; four exceeded the limit for uranium, 128 wells exceeded the limit for gross alpha – a type of radiation; and 41 exceeded the limit for benzene.

The pro-drilling community – including the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection – immediately refuted numerous aspects of the Time’s data. In an Albany Times Union article, New York’s principal geologist Taury Smith referred to the Marcellus Shale (one of three shale formations beneath the surface in Chenango County) as a “huge gift” in the fight against climate change, and referred to claims in other states that groundwater has been contaminated by hydrofracturing as “exaggerated problems.”

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