The most damning indictment of fracking yet


There has been a wave of scientific research lately on fracking and its environmental risks. Some of that work has emerged from the governmental agencies that regulate unconventional drilling for oil and gas, including the recent, highly publicized report by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on the effects of fracking on drinking-water safety.

The problem, of course, with government regulatory agencies is that they’re prone to political pressure — from elected officials and from the Big Oil and Gas companies that hire high-priced lobbyists (often former agency officials) and that give large campaign contributions to the politicians. The EPA report was a classic example — an effort to protect drinking water that was ultimately watered down. The energy lobbyists succeeded, in that case, in greatly narrowing the scope and the extent of the federal research. Despite those efforts, the EPA concluded that fracking poses a potential threat to the water supply — but the findings were presented in such a confusing way that many news outlets played the story all wrong.

New York State is a completely different story. There, citizen activists stepped up early and often to turn public opinion against fracking, and the politicians were forced to take notice. Late last year. Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that the Empire State would be banning fracking — the first time that’s happened in a state with significant gas deposits. This week, the New York State Department of Environmental Protection came out with its scientific justification for the ban, and it’s a real doozy. Indeed, New York has produced the most damning indictment yet of fracking:

In a much anticipated environmental impact statement, the DEC said that fracking could threaten water levels, lead to erosion, and contaminate surrounding soil and water with toxic chemicals. The department also said that it was concerned about the impact a potential chemical spill could have and that it was unconvinced that wastewater would be disposed of properly.

“In the end, there are no feasible or prudent alternatives that would adequately avoid or minimize adverse environmental impacts and that address the scientific uncertainties and risks to public health from this activity,” the department said in the statement.

The study was seven years in the making, with the DEC beginning its environmental review process a year after a gubernatorial moratorium was put in place in 2008. In the interim, scores of New York municipalities enacted fracking bans, and the state’s highest court upheld their authority to do so last June.

In addition, New York’s forward-looking report addressed some of the other major flaws in the fracking boom:

That’s not all. Fracking has been associated with spikes in the seismic activity in several states. The New York report cited a series of earthquakes in Poland, Ohio between March 4 and March 12, 2014, ranging between 1.0 and 3.0 in magnitude, which were attributed to fracking operations nearby. Oklahoma officials blame fracking for an increase in earthquake activity. Indeed the state is now the most seismically active in the nation.

Finally, environmentalists argue that by making it easy to recover vast quantities of natural gas, fracking de-incentivizes a robust transformation to renewable energy sources.

“In the end, there are no feasible or prudent alternatives that would adequately avoid or minimize adverse environmental impacts and that address the scientific uncertainties and risks to public health from [fracking,]” the report says. “The Department’s chosen alternative to prohibit high-volume hydraulic fracturing is the best alternative based on the balance between protection of the environment and public health and economic and social considerations.”

This document marks a critical turning point in the fracking debate. For years now, Big Oil and Gas has sought to portray advocates for a moratorium or an outright ban on fracking as faded hippies and fringe environmentalists, disconnected from reality. This outstanding research from experts at the New York DEP, some seven solid years in the making, is impossible for industry to knock down (not that they won’t try.) For nearly a decade now, the energy lobby has sought to portray fracking in America as inevitable. New York State has shown us that it doesn’t have to be that way.

Read a summary of the New York State fracking report from Law 360 (registration required):

More background available here:

Learn more about the case against fracking in my new book, Crude Justice: How I Fought Big Oil and Won, and What You Should Know About the New Environmental Attack on America:

© Stuart H. Smith, LLC 2015 – All Rights Reserved

1 comment

  • Mr. Smith

    As we struggle to maintain a foothold against Helis Oil and the land owner, Edward Poitevent, your name repeatedly arises as a potential ally. We recognize that you have been busy with the book and with BP, but are hoping you may now have a break in which to share your expertise and knowledge with our fight. St Tammany is, as you at know, currently in 2 appeals, one in the 19th and another in the 22nd. Both Tulane and Loyola Environmental Law are helping with our cases, but we could use some help. St. Tammany, and my town of Abita, specifically, are idyllic, Pre-Fracked, historically pristine communities which could shed a beautiful glow on the issue in a national media spotlight. We are asking for any help we can get to bring our fight to the national media. I am organizing a symposium for September and would like to send you an invitation. Please send a viable email for this task. Abita would love to welcome you to our quaint and quirky little town! Thanks! LeAnn Pinniger-Magee

Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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