Thank you all for taking time out of your busy schedules to come here today.
As you are likely aware, the New York State Senate finally passed the S.8129B Thompson Bill at 12:17 AM early yesterday morning, which will, if also passed by the Assembly and signed by the Governonor, impose creating a moratorium until May 15, 2011 on the controversial technique of high volume hydraulic fracturing -- often referred to as "Fracking" -- in the natural gas rich Marcellus Shale formation that runs through much of our region. First I would like to commend the State Senate for taking the first step toward our collective responsible energy future. Equally important, I would like to personally thank the organizations represented here today who have, through their credible and tenacious advocacy, raised public awareness about this issue -- an issue that we must all face head on, making tough, information based decisions as we go, that will effect generations to come. To those standing with me today I say, without your lobbying and considerable efforts we wouldn't even be here today. It has been my privilege to work with you.
Many of you know that I have been one of the most outspoken elected officials in the region on this subject since it first came to light in 2008. I have attended numerous conferences and forums on the subject and have been highly critical of DEC Mineral Resources Director, Brad Field, at several of those forums. While the passing of this moratorium is an important first step in dealing with the massive industrialization of our landscape, watersheds and water table, as it stands now, the Thompson Bill is an important, but modest and largely a symbolic gesture that may have delayed the actual issuance of permits by only a few months. It actually does little to provide anything other than a temporary halt of drilling not likely to start until May 15, 2011 anyway. I stand before you today to say loudly and clearly that this is simply not close to being enough.
Hydraulic fracturing utilizing vast amounts of water and numerous toxic chemicals would not even be possible in the United States were it not for the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which allowed for specific exemptions to the Clean Water and Air Act.
Though the industry likes to say that fracking has been around and safe for decades, the reality is that horizontal hydraulic fracturing has only been in use for a few years and there are no objective, comprehensive, and credible studies to say that it is safe. However, there have been thousands of fracking related incidents reported from numerous states where fracking is taking place. (Colorado and Pennsylvania to name two) There is a significant amount of anecdotal data from several states that suggests there are tremendous threats to both surface and subsurface water, and considerable public health risks.
The DEC Division of Mineral Resources has consistently proven that it lacks the initiative to objectively make honest scientific inquiry on this issue and it is simply shocking that the most recent GEIS does not address the substantial cumulative impacts posed by a dangerous, under-regulated activity that can never and will never, ever, be confused with anything having to do with agriculture. As I said before, and make no mistake about this, fracking is industrial mining and the examples of the way this activity decimates the landscape, infrastructure and water is staggering.
The NY State DEC does not have the resources necessary to properly regulate and oversee this industry in New York State. A true sign of alarm is that the employee union representing some 2,000 DEC employees (many of whom have earth science and biology backgrounds) have stated publicly that they have serious reservations about the prospect of fracking as currently permitted, proposed and evaluated by the current New York State Generic Environmental Impact Study. They have called for more careful study and caution. In addition, I find it alarming, like many others, that funding and staffing levels have been reduced substantially over the past several budget cycles.
The fact is, that after personally watching the State Senate vote, it is clear that there are many factors that are still unknown and which have not been researched by our elected officials and the regulatory agency charged with overseeing gas drilling. It appears, based on numerous statements appearing in the press, that many of our elected leaders have more faith in the DEC Division of Mineral Resources than many of us here today and in the public, who have been living with this issue for several years now.
The moratorium bill, if signed into law, provides no assurances to the residents of New York State. It does not call for any comprehensive studies or independent scientific research. It does not require the disclosure of fracking fluid chemicals, provide clarity on municipal authority or provide any number of other possible protections. What it will do, however, is provide four and a half months, come the commencement of the next Legislative session, for the Legislature to do then what it failed to do now. As an elected official I have done my very best in Sullivan County to protect the greater good and demand honest, fact driven scientific answers to difficult questions. When elected to the State Senate in the 42nd district I pledge to be completely and intensely engaged in this issue. I call on the New York State Legislature to institute several laws and policies immediately as the current moratorium begins so that the residents of my region and throughout New York State have the protections they deserve.
As a citizen, as a County Legislator, and as a Candidate for State Senate I, along with all people clamoring for honest, independent research and transparency, demand that this ban on high volume hydraulic fracturing be in place indefinitely until the following actions are taken:
- The Frac Act is passed by Congress which restores all aspects of the Clean Water and Air Act and makes big gas companies expressly disclose all chemicals used and in what quantities.
- The current EPA Study underway is completed and analyzed.
- An objective, scientific and industry independent cumulative impact study be performed and analyzed which specifically addresses all environmental, public health, social, municipal planning concerns and economic concerns.
- Appropriate treatment plants for fracking fluids are in place to permit for the environmentally safe disposal of all toxic fluids associated with the process. We must be concerned about where the vast amounts of water are going to come from to engage in this industry, but we must be just as vigilant with the toxic cocktail that is the end by-product and how it is disposed.
- There is adequate manpower and funding in place so that there is strict regulation and oversight of an industry that seeks to bring more than 80,000 well heads to our region.
- There are appropriate windfall taxes in place so that our infrastructure demands do to industrial drilling are funded appropriately by big industry and those profiting. This should not become yet another unfunded state mandate that will cost us all even more in property taxes.
- Local Towns must be given a say in their own destinies. Home Rule must apply here and towns must be allowed to plan and zone as they see fit. Towns should be allowed to require site plan reviews and be allowed to use the many planning tools that State Law affords their planning boards during review of subdivision and commercial projects.
- The concept of compulsory integration must be completely analyzed and re-evaluated. The notion that a person who does not want drilling done on or under his land can have no say in the matter if he happens to live near a group of other land owners who favor drilling is preposterous. Plain and simple -- no property owner should be told his mineral rights will be harvested whether he likes it or not. Since when does our society make public decisions that affect us all based upon acreage and land ownership?
Lastly, I support and value farming. As State Senator I will do everything in my power to ensure that New York's farmers have a sustainable, safe, honorable and profitable way to earn a living that not only benefits them, but all of us as well. No one should have to sell their land off for hydraulic fracking because it is the only way out of hardship.
All of us here today are truly concerned about the potential risks to our most sacred and life-sustaining commodity…water. We want to see economic development in New York State, but we are not willing to sacrifice everything else we know in the name of what are yet to be proven economic gains. We are concerned about the destruction of agriculture, tourism and home values in our region. We are as concerned about the private wells of our friends and neighbors as we are about the reservoirs of the NYC Watershed and the Delaware River Basin which provide water supplies to millions of people in New York City, New Jersey and Philadelphia. We are concerned about the potential effects of known neurotoxins, endocrine disruptors and carcinogens on the short and long term public health of our children, families and friends. We are concerned about the quality of life here in our region once the mass industrialization of our bucolic rural setting begins.
To say that we are going to pause until May 15th of next year is a nice breath to take. However, it is more important to enact meaningful legislation that addresses the many concerns relating to this untested and badly poorly regulated technology. If those Senators who passed the moratorium Thompson bill are truly equally concerned with these issues, there is no logical reason for them to not also publicly demand the regulations I have suggested.
Neither I nor anyone else I know wants to be part of a massive industrial experiment, a guinea pig. I am not about to sacrifice the health and well-being of my wife and two sons or your family's either. I ask you to join me in demanding that our elected officials in Albany show the same concern and sense of urgency.Thank you.
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