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Fracked Memory

by Robert H. Boyle and Bruce Ferguson on August 30, 2012 · 6 comments


Bradley J. Field has amnesia.

Field is the director of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s Division of Mineral Resources, the agency responsible for putting together the high-volume-fracking environmental-impact statement that’s supposed to protect New Yorkers against pollution and prevent the release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

Amnesia hit Field after our previous Metroland piece [“Field of Distortions,” June 28] revealed that he’s a certified signer of the Global Warming Petition, which urges the United States to reject the Kyoto Protocol because “the proposed limits on greenhouse gases would harm the environment, hinder the advance of science and technology, and damage the health and welfare of mankind.”

Official word of Field’s amnesia came from DEC spokeswoman Emily DeSantis. Apparently the director is no longer able to talk to the media, so when fracking blogger Tom Wilber picked up on our story and inquired if Field had in fact signed the petition, DeSantis replied, “He does not recall.”

Really? Signing the Global Warming Petition isn’t a simple deal where a man can just scribble his name and then put it out of mind.

The Global Warming Petition Project, to use its formal name, recruits signatories by mailing a packet to those it considers “scientists,” no matter what their actual area of expertise. A cover letter states, “It is especially important for America to hear from its citizens who have the training necessary to evaluate the relevant data and offer sound advice.” The packet also includes a 12-page “research” report called “Environmental Effects of Carbon Dioxide” that’s designed to look like a paper published by the National Academy of Sciences—a con job so outrageous that the Academy not only denounced it as deliberately deceptive but also reaffirmed the scientific consensus that human activity is causing global warming.

The petition itself has to be signed and mailed back to the so-called Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine in the aptly named town of Cave Junction. In order to verify the signature, the Institute writes back to the signer and posts the name on the petition website only after confirmation has been received. All in all, that’s quite a lot for Field to “not recall.”

In case you can’t swallow the line that Field can’t recall signing the petition, DeSantis offered an alternative explanation: “If Mr. Field did sign such a petition it was in his personal capacity and had no bearing on his professional duties.”

Really? Field is responsible for controlling greenhouse emissions from oil and gas wells, so discovering he has a penchant for gassing the planet is a bit like finding out that the head of the fire department is an avowed arsonist.

Field’s willingness to deny what Al Gore famously called “an inconvenient truth” is matched by his ability to deny other truths he finds inconvenient. In a tense meeting in April 2011, Field was confronted with hard evidence that his division misrepresented the content of fracking fluid to the public, and also with DEC reports stating that Marcellus wells had been fracked with hundreds of thousands of gallons of toxic “slickwater” fluid. These high-volume frack jobs went well beyond what the state permitted under the 1992 Generic Environmental Impact Statement, which only considered relatively benign foam and nitrified fracking operations using a maximum of 80,000 gallons of fluid. One document presented to Field was a DEC “Well Information Summary” for the Webster T1 well showing that it had been fracked with 648,000 gallons of fluid in September 2008, two months after Gov. Paterson had explicitly prohibited the practice by executive order.

Deputy DEC commissioner Eugene Leff, who also attended the meeting, seemed taken aback by the evidence that Field’s division had misled the public and permitted a procedure expressly prohibited by the governor. After examining the documents, Leff pushed them back across the table and promised, “You will get an answer.” Field kept his head down and didn’t say a word.

Field’s “answer” came five weeks later in the form of a letter. It was no answer at all. Field completely ignored the evidence that the DEC had disseminated false information about fracking fluid. He offered no explanation and no apology.

And instead of addressing the DEC reports showing the high-volume slickwater that occurred between 2006 and 2008, Field attempted to shift the ground by denying nonexistent allegations that “high volume hydraulic fracturing (HVHF) is now occurring.” As for the Well Summary Report stating that the Webster well was fracked in September 2008, Field ignored the report, termed the evidence an “allegation,” and baldly stated, “This treatment did not take place.”

Field’s behavior has sparked outrage even within the DEC. One departmental scientist told us, “I am heartbroken at the idea of my department being represented by an individual who stands against what we as scientists know is both scientifically and socially right.”

Fracking New York is a high stakes proposition for everybody: the gas corporations, the public, and for Gov. Andrew Cuomo. By now, the governor must be aware that Field is tainted—a man with opinions at odds with his mission, and someone widely viewed as in the tank for the industry. So why hasn’t he been replaced?

Part of the problem is systemic. The DEC will only hire employees already steeped in the industry culture. There are four levels of mineral resource specialists in the DEC, and to be hired at any level above the most junior grade, a prospective employee must have at least one year’s experience working for an oil or gas company.

The incestuous relationship between Mineral Resources and the industry is also evident in Field’s involvement with the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission and the Ground Water Protection Council, two closely entwined industry fronts based in Oklahoma City.

New York is one of 32 member states of the IOGCC and, as division director, Field is New York’s official voting representative on the commission. The commission calls for taxpayer subsidies for the oil and gas industry and drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and has lobbied Congress in opposition to the FRAC Act, which would close the so-called “Halliburton loophole” that exempts fracking from the Safe Drinking Water Act.

As New York’s representative, did Field advocate these positions? And what does it cost New York in dollars and cents—and common sense—to let Field represent it on the commission? And why should New York even belong to an organization that’s essentially nothing more than a lobbying arm of the industry? Under federal law, a state can withdraw from the commission with 60 days notice; New York should give notice now.