With Gov. Cuomo poised to open the state to gas drilling, Environment New York Distributes Film of Pennsylvania Victims

Media Contacts
John Rumpler

Clean Water Director and Senior Attorney, Environment America

Environment New York

As New York moves closer to allowing dangerous deep well gas drilling, Environment New York released a new video showing the potential looming impacts. The video highlights Pennsylvanians explaining how Marcellus Shale gas drilling has contaminated their drinking water and air, and harmed their quality of life.

“All across Pennsylvania, parents, farmers, hunters, fishermen and vacationers have experienced polluted drinking water supplies, toxic air emissions, and the destruction of public lands caused by Marcellus Shale gas drilling,” said Eric Whalen, Environment New York’s field organizer. “New Yorkers must hear these compelling stories before Governor Cuomo moves ahead with gas drilling.”

The film documents the experiences of those such as Darrell Smitsky, a resident of Hickory, Pennsylvania, who saw the water from his private well turn brown and test positive for toluene and uranium soon after hydraulic fracturing began on his neighbor’s property.

The video also highlights June Chappel, a resident of Washington County, Pennsylvania who endured living near a toxic wastewater impoundment pit on the property of her next door neighbor—so close that it forced her family to stay inside with the windows closed because of the overwhelming fumes.

Deep-well hydraulic fracturing, the process used to extract gas from the Marcellus Shale, has be shown to pose significant risks to public health and the environment at every stage of the process, from surface and groundwater contamination to air pollution and wellhead explosions. Since 2005, companies have drilled more than 4,100 hydraulic fracturing wells in Pennsylvania and the state has issued permits for nearly 5,000 thousand more. Incidents and accidents that damage the environment and put public health at risk have regularly been scrutinized in Pennsylvania’s media markets and nationwide. This includes:

  • In September 2009, Cabot Oil and Gas caused three spills in Dimock Township, Pennsylvania, in less than a week, dumping 8,000 gallons of fracturing fluid components into Stevens Creek and a nearby wetland.[1]
  • Wastewater from Marcellus Shale gas wells contributed to the contamination of the Monongahela River, a drinking water supply for more than 300,000 residents in the Pittsburgh area, when undertreated wastewater was discharged into the river.[2]
  • A 2010 EOG well blowout in Clearfield County spilled 35,000 gallons of wastewater, some of which reached the Little Laurel Run, a stream that feeds the Susquehanna River.[3]
  • In May 2010 when a fracturing wastewater pit owned by East Resources leaked onto a farm field, the state Department of Agriculture was forced to quarantine 28 cattle exposed to the fluid to prevent any contaminated meat from reaching the market.[4]
  • The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection recorded more than 2,700 violations of regulations intended to protect water quality at gas drilling sites between 2008 and August 2011.

These accidents have occurred in Pennsylvania during what many are referring to as the gas drilling industry’s “infancy phase” since just over 4,100 gas wells have been drilled—out of an industry estimate of nearly 50,000 wells in the state over the next two decades. Incredibly, New York State is predicting approximately 60,000 gas wells to come on-line.

“If this track record of pollution and destruction is taking place during the industry’s ‘infancy’ period, I don’t know if I want to know what they’re like at maturity,” stated Whalen.

Other states, including Colorado, New Mexico, Wyoming, and Texas have faced similar incidents due to gas extraction. Now the oil and gas industry is showing keen interest in expanding hydraulic fracturing in several other states, like New York, California, Maryland and North Carolina. Yet the industry has won exemptions for gas drilling from several environmental statutes.

“Absent strong national or state safeguards for our air, water, and land, the pattern of pollution and horror stories from Pennsylvania are likely coming to the Empire State in the near future,” warned Whalen.

Environment New York is urging several steps to protect drinking water and the environment from the dangers of gas drilling, including:

  • Keeping sensitive areas – including all drinking water supplies, and all public lands like state parks and forests – permanently off-limits to dangerous gas drilling operations.
  • Banning wastewater storage and disposal methods which threaten drinking water outright, including any use of open-air pits and the discharge of wastewater to sewage treatment plants.
  • Banning the use of toxic chemicals in hydraulic fracturing.
  • Applying the nation’s core public health and environmental laws to gas drilling, closing the existing loopholes to gas and oil drilling that have eroded the laws’ ability to regulate this dangerous activity.

Unfortunately, Governor Andrew Cuomo and the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) are poised to allow the gas drilling industry access to huge swaths of the state—without sufficient environment and public health protections, and with an under-staffed agency unable to do proper oversight.

“This industry has trampled environmental regulations and risked citizen’s water and air in neighboring states, and will soon to be allowed to make irreparable impacts on some of our most precious landscapes and natural resources in New York. The practice of deep-well hydraulic fracturing should be banned until the gas drilling industry proves that they are both willing and able to drill without threatening our environment or public health,” stated Whalen. “Under the Cuomo plan, drilling permits could be issued in New York as early as next year, establishing an open season for the gas drilling industry which hasn’t shown that it can be a good corporate citizen.”

“It’s time for Governor Cuomo to reconsider gas drilling in New York. The gas industry has shown that it can’t be trusted to comply with the law, let alone safeguard New Yorker’s drinking water and clean air from the pollution associated with their practices,” Whalen said. “Environment New York urges the Governor to heed the warnings from victims of gas drilling in Pennsylvania and stop this foolish rush to drill before irreversible damage is done to our clean drinking water and beautiful landscapes.”

[1] Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, DEP Fines Cabot Oil and Gas Corp. $56,650 for Susquehanna County Spills (news release), 22 October 2009.
[2] Joaquin Sapien, “With Natural Gas Drilling Boom, Pennsylvania Faces an Onslaught of Wastewater,” Pro Publica, 3 October 2009.
[3] Tom Barnes, “2 Drillers Fined for Pennsylvania Gas Well Blowout,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 14 July 2010.
[4] Nicholas Kusnetz, “A Fracking First in Pennsylvania: Cattle Quarantine,” Pro Publica, 2 July 2010.