Environment New York study: fracking poses risk to vulnerable populations

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Heather Leibowitz

Thousands of New York’s schools, hospitals and daycare centers could be in danger.

Environment New York Research and Policy Center

[New York, NY] – A study released today by the Environment New York Research & Policy Center demonstrates that if fracking were allowed in New York, drilling for gas could have detrimental effects on children and the infirm. The report, entitled The Spreading Shadow of the Shale Gas Boom: Fracking’s Growing Proximity to Day Cares, Schools and Hospitals, shows New York has more than 5,300 day care facilities, more than 2,500 schools, and 450 hospitals that overlie gas-bearing shale formations in the state.

Although New York is currently under a de facto drilling moratorium, as of May 2013, oil and gas drilling companies had applied for permits to drill more than 270 wells that target the Marcellus or Utica shales. Most of these sites have not been permitted or drilled yet, but could be if New York lifts its moratorium on fracking.

 “We have seen how dangerous gas drilling can be in other states – from harmful air and water pollution to fires, blowouts and explosions,” said Heather Leibowitz, the director of Environment New York. “This report shows that if fracking is allowed into New York, our vulnerable populations could be exposed to unacceptable risks.”

The Environment New York Research & Policy Center report describes how fracking increases health and safety risks from truck accidents, fires, spills, blowouts, air pollution and well failures that contaminate groundwater supplies. Residents living near fracking sites have long suffered a range of health problems, including headaches, eye irritation, respiratory problems, and nausea.

For decades, study after study has shown that children and the sick are more vulnerable to many types of pollution. Children are still developing, and those suffering from sickness have fewer defenses against pollution.

“Fracking is a messy, dirty, open-air heavy industry and has no place next to schools, hospitals and day-care centers,” said Helen Slottje, Managing Attorney at Community Environmental Defense Council, Inc. and winner of the esteemed Goldman Environmental Prize. “This report clearly demonstrates that fracking in New York would put a staggering number of children and sick people at risk. I can only hope that Governor Cuomo’s health impact study concludes that our children are at least deserving of the same protection as the water supply for New York City which he has already declared off limits to fracking.”

Other findings from the report include:

  • The industry could deploy up to 56,000 horizontal wells in New York State.
  • Across the entire Marcellus and Utica Shale region, permitted fracking well sites exist within one mile of 190 day cares, 223 schools, and 5 hospitals.
  • According to estimates by the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, the process of establishing a well and running it for the first year produces emissions in the nearby vicinity, which include: 70,000 pounds of smog-forming emissions; 90,400 pounds of carbon monoxide; 4,800 pounds of sulfur dioxide and combustion soot; and, 440 pounds of toxic air pollutants such as benzene.
  • Several communities in southern and western New York already fail to meet air quality standards. Increased emissions from shale gas extraction could worsen air quality across the entire region.
  • Between 2008 and May 2013, the Pennsylvania Dept. of Environmental Protection (DEP) recorded more than 250 violations of regulations intended to protect public safety within one mile of a day care facility, school or hospital.

According to studies referenced in the report, living within a half mile of fracking infrastructure has led to health symptoms such as throat irritation and nosebleeds, and increased the likelihood of water well contamination with methane and ethane gas. Living one or two miles away from fracking infrastructure increases the risk of exposure to harmful air pollutants from diesel exhaust of trucks and equipment, gases vented from wells, condensers and waste ponds.

The report calls for state and local government agencies in New York to ban fracking altogether. It also calls for the federal government to apply the nation’s core public health and environmental laws to gas extraction and move swiftly to close all loopholes and exemptions that currently exist for the industry in key elements of the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act.

 “That hydrofracking could occur in close proximity to our schools, hospitals and daycare centers across New York State is horrendous,” said New York State Senator Tony Avella. “These sites house our most vulnerable populations and this report clearly illustrates the risk at which we would be putting those most deserving of our protection if we were to allow hydrofracking in New York.”

 “Governor Cuomo has announced that the state’s fracking health review, on which he has said his decision hinges, will be completed before the end of the year,” said Leibowitz.  “However, we already have strong evidence that fracking threatens the health and safety of our children, elderly, and infirm. We’re calling on our state officials to finally ban fracking, for the health and safety of our most vulnerable populations, and all New Yorkers.”