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Fracking Jobs? N.Y. Residents Need not Apply

Thursday, September 22, 2011

By Elaine Shannon, EWG Editor-in-chief

Think fracking for natural gas means jobs?


Think again.

In a new assessment of fracking's potential and risks, the New York state Department of Environmental Conservation projects that if the natural gas industry is permitted to conduct hydraulic fracturing to exploit the state's gas-rich shale deposits, less than a quarter of the jobs would go to people who live in the state.

"A handful of jobs in the drilling industry could cost New Yorkers billions of dollars they don't have," Dusty Horwitt, senior counsel for the Environmental Working Group, testified before the New York City Council environmental protection committee today (Sept. 22, 2011). "That's why it is especially important for New York to proceed carefully."

After analyzing a 1,500-page environmental impact statement on fracking published earlier this month by the state environmental conservation agency, Horwitt said the state plan projects that New Yorkers would not fill 90 percent of local gas industry jobs until the 30 years after drilling begins.

In the meantime, he said, the risks of pollution are daunting. He said the state's plan for regulating fracking doesn't require a large enough buffer zone between drilling operations and water sources. Consequently, he said, the state cannot assure New Yorkers that drinking water supplies will be safe from pollution by fracking chemicals nor from methane released from gas pockets deep in the shale. As Josh Fox's Oscar-nominated film Gasland demonstrates, flammable methane freed from underground fissures can bubble into well water and turn a homeowner's faucet into a torch.

"If upstate drilling causes contamination, the state estimates that building a filtration plant to clean up New York City's drinking water is $8 billion AT MINIMUM," Horwitt testified. "The state does not guarantee that the city's water can, in fact, be cleaned at any cost. The state's revised environmental impact statement acknowledges as much, saying 'once polluted, it [is] very difficult and very expensive to return these water supplies back to their original condition'."

Horwitt pointed out that, according to published reports, the state's 14 inspectors now oversee about 1,000 active oil and gas wells. If high-volume hydraulic fracking is permitted, their workload will escalate by an anticipated 1,600 applications annually, or about 100 applications per inspector.

"These 14 overworked inspectors stand between New York City and a multi-billion-dollar disaster," Horwitt said.

He added that the industry's history of flouting the law calls for heightened vigilance. Earlier this year, he said, investigators for the U.S. House of Representatives' Energy and Commerce Committee reported that from 2005 to 2009, oil and gas drilling companies injected underground more than 32 million gallons of diesel fuel, or fluids containing diesel fuel, in hydraulic fracturing operations in 19 states. The investigators said those actions appeared to violate the federal Safe Drinking Water Act, which requires permits for fracking with diesel because it contains carcinogenic benzene. Industry officials confirmed that they had done so but explained that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had failed to set up a permitting process.

"This record of willfully ignoring a federal law on a technicality shows that regulators will need to keep a close watch on the industry," Horwitt said. "We doubt that a handful of overworked state inspectors can scrutinize thousands of new drilling and fracturing operations as closely as they - and the public - would like."

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