Exchanges heated during state assembly's public hearing on fracking

January 14, 2013

Public commenting on the state's revised hydrofracking regulations closed on Fridayand final regulations are due to be released at the end of February. The Democratic-controlled state assembly held a public hearing on Thursday that included some heated exchanges.

"Is it your assertion that you do not believe that groundwater anywhere has been contaminated by high volume hydraulic fracturing operations anywhere it's been done?"

"That's what I advocate."

That's Karen Moreau of the New York State Petroleum Council responding to a question from Democratic Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh.

"You believe there's been no groundwater contamination from this practice?"

"I'm talking about, the problem is people mix apples and oranges here, that's part of the issue here- people mix up."

"Well, that's what we're here for is to get clarity, so let's separate the apples from the oranges."

"You have a drilling process, you have a casing process, you have a fracking process, you have a removal of wastewater from a site. There's a lot of things that go along with development."

"Right and what we would be approving is a process that includes all of those elements, if the state were to approve high volume hydraulic fracturing in New York State."

"The state is going to be regulating every aspect of this development."

"I understand that and that development is currently not permitted. And if they approve it, it"ll be permitted. So what I'm asking you is when you said in your testimony, you sort of summarized the history of groundwater contamination, that single sentence, and I'm just trying to understand, do you believe that this process, as it's been practiced elsewhere, has or has not caused groundwater contamination in other places?"

"There are clearly cases."

To opponents of hydrofracking in New York, Moreau's statement that, in fact, fracking has contaminated groundwater may come as a surprise. It is an admission that industry representatives seldom make publicly.

The marathon daylong hearing was dominated by arguments against fracking and against the way the state has handled the environmental review process. Among the witnesses was David Carpenter, director of University at Albany's Institute for Health and the Environment. Carpenter offered his assessment of health protections in the proposed regulations.

"Grossly inadequate."

According to Carpenter, the regulations are incomplete without a clear fracking wastewater disposal plan and would expose communities where drilling occurs to a high level of harmful chemicals. When asked whether fracking could be made safe enough, Carpenter answered that new engineering solutions have to be found.

"...And doing that properly necessitates, first of all, clearly understanding what the health risks are, what must be avoided and then holding the feet of the engineers to the fire until they develop technology that will prevent the release of these things into our air."

The state's environmental review of fracking is in the final stages. The Department of Health has enlisted a three-member panel to review the Department of Environmental Conservation's consideration of health risks. But what exactly they're reviewing has not been released by either the DOH or the DEC.

Carpenter spoke highly of the panel members, but had less optimism about the task they were given when asked by Democratic Assemblyman Richard Gottfried.

"The charge to the panel has been described to me as look at the draft EIS and tell us what you think. If that is their charge, is that, can we get a meaningful response if that is their charge?

Absolutely not. That is much too limited a charge. I suspect that is what their charge was."

Witnesses during the public hearing called for a moratorium on fracking until a full health impact review is completed and there are more guarantees that it can be done safely.