Gov. Andrew Cuomo has repeatedly stated that “science” will determine the fate of high-volume hydraulic fracturing in the state.
Science? How about voodoo science?
Scientists know that methane, the main constituent of natural gas, is a potent greenhouse gas, up to 105 times more powerful than carbon dioxide, and the EPA has determined that emissions from natural gas production and transmission are the biggest source of methane pollution in the country.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation’s Division of Mineral Resources is the lead agency preparing yet another environmental impact statement on high-volume fracking. And the director of that agency is Bradley J. Field, who doesn’t believe that global warming, much less methane, is a threat—and he’s on record declaring this.
Field is a signer of the Global Warming Petition (petitionproject.org), which calls for the United States government to reject any proposed limits on greenhouse gases because “there is no convincing scientific evidence that human release of carbon dioxide, methane or other greenhouse gases is causing or will, in the foreseeable future, cause catastrophic heating of the Earth’s atmosphere and disruption of the Earth’s climate.” On the contrary, petition advocates believe, “We are living in an increasingly lush environment of plants and animals . . . an unexpected and wonderful gift of the Industrial Revolution.”
Science? How about political science?
A petroleum engineer with a degree from Penn State, Field worked for Getty Oil and Marathon Oil before joining the DEC, and as the division director, serves as New York’s representative to the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission and the Ground Water Protection Council. Based in Oklahoma City, both organizations are industry fronts that push the party line that fracking is benign, and Field follows it to the full. Time and again he has misrepresented facts and withheld crucial information from the state Legislature and the public in order to advance high-volume fracking, and he’s been assisted by very clever lobbyists who have been allowed to write rules and regulations that will govern their industry in New York.
In 2005, only five weeks after Congress passed the Energy Policy Act, which contained the notorious “Halliburton loophole” that exempted hydraulic fracking from the Safe Drinking Water Act, the New York State Legislature passed a so-called “Compulsory Integration” bill allowing the industry to extract gas or oil from underneath the land of “uncontrolled” owners who refused to lease their land for drilling. Quickly and unanimously voted out of the Senate and Assembly, this pickpocket ploy escaped scrutiny because it was a “departmental bill” sent to the Legislature with the support of Field’s division.
In truth, the bill was written by industry lobbyists. Referring to the industry’s lobbying arm, the Independent Oil and Gas Association of New York, gas-lease attorney Christopher Denton in Elmira explained, “This is IOGA’s statute. They drafted it, introduced it, got a sponsor for it and pushed it through with no legislative hearings whatsoever.”
By 2008 the gas industry was after another piece of legislation that would quickly allow it to create outsized high-volume fracking production units, and Field began smoothing the way with a PowerPoint presentation designed to obscure the fact that high-volume fracking would be unlike anything the state had ever seen. It stressed that gas wells were “not new” in the state, but failed to mention that the process would be two orders of magnitude greater than anything New York had ever experienced.
The PowerPoint highlighted the phony industry line that in “all oil and gas states surveyed . . . not one instance of drinking water contamination in over one million frac [sic] jobs.” Field repeatedly said that New York’s 75,000 existing oil and gas wells had been drilled without incident. At a public meeting in Liberty, he casually dismissed a drilling accident in Brookfield, Madison County, as where “a bit got stuck and muddied up a bunch of water wells.”
In fact, the drilling accident completely destroyed some water wells and left others unusable for months. Walter Hang of Toxics Targeting, an Ithaca firm that offers information on contaminated sites in the state, used the Freedom of Information Act to check the DEC’s own records, and he found “more than 270 incidents involving drill rig fires, explosions, homes evacuated due to gas drilling hazards, polluted water supply wells, gas drilling wastewater spills and various other oil/gas releases that had not been cleaned up.”
Field’s division also misled the public about the chemical contents of fracking fluid. It responded to an inquiry from one resident with the patently false statement that “Marcellus Shale fracing [sic] operations in NYS used only fresh water, sand, nitrogen and a diluted soapy solution. These frac fluids do not contain benzene, toluene or xylene.” In fact, when this e-mail was written, Marcellus op-erations in New York were already utilizing dozens of products containing dozens of poisonous chemicals including benzene, toluene and xylene.
In spite of some hastily organized opposition from upstate residents, the 2008 well-spacing bill sped through the Legislature, late at night on the last day of the session. Gov. Paterson signed the bill, but realizing by then that high-volume, horizontal fracking was not business-as-usual, he simultaneously issued an executive order expressly prohibiting it until the DEC completed an environmental review of the process.
In fall 2009, the DEC released a draft of the review “prepared” by the Bureau of Oil and Gas in Field’s division. It was lambasted by scientists, health-care professionals, environmental organizations and the general public, who submitted almost 14,000 comments, mostly negative. New York City asserted that it “fails to analyze and address a range of potential risks to the environment,” a charge echoed by the U.S. EPA, which said the DEC did not “not sufficiently mitigate the potential environ-mental impact” of water withdrawals. Paterson ordered the DEC to back to the drawing board.
In September 2011, the DEC released the revised draft, this one “Edited and Coordinated by the Division of Mineral Resources.” Once again it was so riddled with distortions and omissions that the DEC found itself on the receiving end of more than 66,000 comments, the vast majority complaining that it ignored a growing body of scientific evidence that high-volume fracking would impact human health, contaminate the air and water supplies, and contribute to climate change. The United States Geological Survey determined that the revised draft failed to address key issues such as groundwater monitoring near well sites and the mapping of principal aquifers. The American Lung Association pointed to “serious deficiencies” in its treatment of air pollution associated with fracking.
The revised draft even omitted any reference to the groundbreaking findings by Cornell University’s Robert W. Howarth, Renee Santoro, and Anthony Ingraffea. Their peer-reviewed paper (acsf.cornell.edu/2011Howarth-Methane) reported that fugitive emissions of methane during the extraction and transmission process of shale gas cause an even greater greenhouse gas impact than so-called “dirty coal. The Cornell scientists didn’t even get a phone call from the DEC.
It’s bad enough for Field to deny the global warming threat, but it’s another thing to thumb his nose at the state’s own Climate Action Plan. Overseen by DEC Commissioner Joe Martens, Field’s boss, and 14 other state officials, it calls for an 80-percent reduction in 1990 greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, based on scientific studies and data interpretations “that analyze the local consequences of ever-rising greenhouse gas concentrations and our changing climate.” The plan already is going to cost New Yorkers hundreds of millions of dollars; by ignoring the spirit of the plan and going forward with fracking, Field will cost taxpayers far more than that in the attempt to offset the methane emissions. Isn’t anyone watching the store?
End this fracking farce. Investigate the DEC and its Division of Mineral Resources now.
A member of Sustainable Otsego, Robert H. Boyle is the founder of Riverkeeper and the Hudson River Foundation for Science and Environmental Research. His work as a journalist has appeared in The New York Times, Life, Smithsonian, Sports Illustrated and others. Bruce Ferguson works with Catskill Citizens for Safe Energy.