EWG To New York: Don't Give Drillers Inside Track


12 P.M. JULY 10, 2012

Good afternoon and thank you for the opportunity to be here today to talk about this important issue for the state of New York.

My name is Thomas Cluderay and I am assistant general counsel for the Environmental Working Group, or EWG. For nearly two decades, EWG has marshaled the power of information to protect public health and the environment.

In 2008, EWG was invited by the New York City Council to testify about shale gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing in New York, and their potential impact.

Joining other witnesses, we raised serious concerns about what allowing this inherently risky practice would mean for public health and drinking water supplies. We also raised questions about regulators’ ability to ensure that drilling can be done safely.

Here we are again at City Hall, four years later. Yet we’re still asking many of the same questions.

Only this time, a decision about drilling may be imminent.

New York cannot afford to be drilling first and asking questions later.

Nevertheless, our recent report, Inside Track, and other evidence, suggests that state regulators may be prepared to do just that.

Based on records we received from the Cuomo administration, we know that regulators gave the drilling industry exclusive access to detailed rule proposals and draft permit language weeks before sharing them with the public.

Not only did drilling industry representatives see these documents, but they were given an opportunity to influence this process behind closed doors, outside of the public’s eye. For example, one drilling industry attorney who represents Chesapeake Energy Corp., among other companies, sought to weaken testing requirements in a stormwater permit for radioactive pollution that might run off of drilling sites during heavy rainfall.

In response to our report, regulators maintain that nothing was changed in the draft permit, or the draft rules, after receiving “pitches” to do so from drillers. However, the draft permit that was released does not propose penalties for companies whose runoff shows radioactivity at a level of concern for public health. In fact, the draft permit does not even specify what level regulators consider unsafe. In other words, the permit lacks any incentives for drillers to reduce levels of radioactive contaminants, raising more questions about what influence drillers may have had behind the scenes.

In addition, EWG and New York-based Physicians, Scientists, and Engineers for Healthy Energy have identified ten major scientific gaps in the state’s draft plan that leave New Yorkers exposed to serious risks and tilt the plan in industry’s favor.

Moreover, a recent article by Jon Campbell, a reporter for Gannett newspapers, notes that the governor’s advisory panel on drilling hasn’t met since January after canceling a meeting where panelists were to receive two reports expressing concern about drilling impacts from public health officials.

Finally, the Albany-based newspaper, Metroland, reported that the head of the state’s Mineral Resources Division, a former drilling industry employee, signed a petition denying that greenhouse gases are causing climate change despite the fact that this phenomenon is well-established by scientists. Among other things, the petition states that it is a gift to be living in such an increasingly lush environment. And I can assure you, having come here today from Washington, D.C., where it was 105 degrees over the weekend, that that is quite some gift.

With so much evidence that regulators are shortchanging the science while giving the drilling industry favored treatment behind closed doors, we must ask tough questions about what hand drilling companies have had in this rulemaking as it makes its way to the governor’s desk.

State regulators owe the people of New York real answers about their review of the science when it comes to allowing shale gas drilling and high-volume hydraulic fracturing.

Gov. Cuomo said this process would be fair, transparent, and science-based. Yet, the experts he is relying on to inform his decision appear to be falling short of that mark. Four years and thousands of pages of analysis will count for little if regulators give special treatment to the drilling industry and fail to consider the best science. The people of New York need greater assurances that this process is living up to the governor’s standard.

Thank you very much.

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