In a 48-9 vote in the wee hours of Wednesday morning, the New York State Senate voted in Senate Bill S8129B, which will ban the issuance of gas permits until May 2011. The concern most recently cited by Senators speaking in Albany late last night were dangers of contamination by chemicals used in fracking to New York City’s unfiltered water supply. This win for environmental safety, public health and clean drinking water, followed months of grass roots organizing efforts, along with mounting media coverage of gas drilling dangers, sparked by numerous incidents of spills, accidents, explosions, water contamination and recent deaths in neighboring states, similar to those captured in the film Gasland.

Although not stated in the bill’s language, a number of Senators expressed hope that under the next Gubernatorial administration, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation will work to craft improved regulatory guidelines aimed at addressing a host of serious problems that typically are reported followed drilling. Apart from the routine seepage, air pollution, water contamination, and health risks cited, nearly two thousand accidents have been reported. Additional areas of concern noted by legislators include:

  • Contamination of water supplies,
  • The need for disclosure of so-called proprietary chemicals used in fracking so that health risks can be assessed
  • The disposal of hazardous radioactive materials,
  • The use of and compensation for public resources, including water and roads,
  • The compensation for damages and destruction of property, tap water, and health
  • The costs and health risks to first responders of clean-up efforts following accidents,
  • Setting appropriate taxation for an enterprise that entails much community disruption and risk; and other complaints

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Several Senators, including Senator Kevin Parker, of the the 21st district in Brooklyn, noted that the staffing of the DEC, which has sustained major personnel cuts in recent years, is not currently adequate to the task of either defining appropriate policies, or monitoring them. In hard economic times, Parker asked whether gas companies, profiting from New York’s natural resources, would be the ones to bear the additional costs of ramping up staff to address a host of issues arising from prospective gas drilling–or whether New York taxpayers would foot the bill.

“Is natural gas really worth it? “Will we be penny wise and pound foolish to allow fracking to endanger New York City?” Parker asked his colleagues, pointing out that NYC is not only a major economic center of New York State, but also of the U.S.

“Is it worth it to endanger watersheds without proper study? Let’s slow down and prepare for economic opportunities not rush in headlong. Currently, with its disseminated staffing, the DEC is not prepared to do the studies that will tell us whether fracking will endanger New York’s watersheds. Let’s learn from past mistakes. Let’s not forget that the state of Georgia went through water shortage. Are New Yorkers prepared to turn on the tap and not have clean water that to drink?”

Please check out my blog on becoming an environmental health activist here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/alison-rose-levy/act-now-become-an-environ_b_668656.html

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