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April 2012

Domestic Energy: Getting It Right This Time

You’ve probably heard the horror stories from Pennsylvania, Wyoming, and Texas about poisoned wells, sickened communities, and flammable tap water caused by horizontal hydraulic fracturing. This type of natural gas extraction, commonly known as fracking, involves pumping millions of gallons of water mixed with chemicals underground at high pressure to fracture shale formations.

Other Hydrofracking Grants

These grants are made possible by the Henry Phillip Kraft Family Memorial Fund, set up in The Trust to protect and conserve the environment.

  • Earthworks, $150,000 (two years) to advocate the passage of the federal Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act (FRAC Act), which would require drilling companies to fully disclose the chemicals used in fracking. The group is also working to end fracking’s exemptions from the Safe Drinking Water and Clean Water acts.
  • Health and Environmental Funders Network, $5,000 to create a funders’ working group to study and respond to fracking nationally.
  • New York State Gas Drilling Protection Project, $400,000 (three years) for an effort of the Natural Resources Defense Council, Earthjustice, Riverkeeper, and Catskill Mountainkeeper to monitor the State’s environmental impact process, collect public comments, and organize public support for stronger regulation of the industry.

It’s a controversial issue. We are, after all, watching the price of oil rise as turmoil in the Middle East underscores the dangers of relying on foreign oil. Natural gas is a potentially enormous source of domestic energy. And one of the largest reserves in the country is the Marcellus shale formation that underlies half of New York State.

Energy companies and their lobbyists are working hard to fast-track approval of fracking permits that would allow them to tap the Marcellus. But are we ready?

Tireless advocates and concerned citizens have organized a formidable opposition that has convinced Governor Cuomo, legislators, and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to slow the rush to drill and consider the science and risks before allowing any widespread hydrofracking in New York soil. Since 2007, The Trust has stood behind these efforts (see sidebar) and recently made two grants addressing the issue from inside and outside the corporate boardroom.

Stronger safeguards for New York

Three grants of $190,000 have helped Environmental Advocates of New York slow the rush to drill in New York State through advocacy, organizing, and education of policymakers, the media, and the public.

New York Water Rangers, a campaign of Environmental Advocates and 11 other groups, collected thousands of the 73,000 public comments submitted to DEC on preliminary drafts of its environmental impact statement. Many of the comments pointed out the inadequacies of current laws and regulatory infrastructure to safeguard public health and the environment; the review of these comments alone will take DEC several months.

A recent $75,000 grant to Environmental Advocates is supporting its campaign, which includes educating State legislators about the need for two bills it helped develop. The first bill would include fracking waste in the State’s hazardous waste laws and the second, the Home Rule Bill, would clarify the role of local government in regulating fracking. Because of this leadership, the group’s executive director Robert Moore was appointed to the State’s hydrofracking advisory panel.

Environmental Advocates of New York and other groups have mobilized thousands of
concerned New Yorkers. You can get involved with the New York Water Rangers Campaign at

Closing the loopholes

The millions of gallons of water needed by each frack job are hauled to the well pad with hundreds of air-polluting and road-damaging tanker trucks. The water is then mixed with chemicals and other materials and pumped deep underground. Chemicals such as benzene, toluene, and formaldehyde have contaminated aquifers. In other states, unknowing families drank and showered in this water and suffered a range of ailments, including permanent brain damage. Under current law, the oil and gas industry enjoys a blanket loophole that allows drillers to avoid hazardous waste laws, even when their wastes are hazardous. In practice, this means these wastes could be disposed of at municipal sewage plants ill-prepared to remove drilling-related toxins, be spread on roadways as de-icer, and even dumped in local landfills.

“Requiring drillers to test, track, treat, and properly dispose of hazardous waste would finally bring the gas industry in line with every other industry in New York,” says Erica Ringewald, communications director for Environmental Advocates.

“Whether you’re an upstate resident concerned about truck traffic and the loss of community character, or a Manhattanite worried about the safety of the City’s drinking water, now is the time to act,” says Robert Moore. “At this moment, Governor Cuomo and other leaders are deciding how, where, when—and most importantly if—fracking will be permitted.”

Reducing risk—and liability

When you’re dealing with flammables, toxic chemicals, and drinking water for millions, the potential for disaster is great. The Trust recently made a grant of $50,000 to the Investor Environmental Health Network to educate investors about risks associated with fracking and mobilize them to push energy companies to use safer and less toxic methods of drilling.

“We are sending the message to energy companies that they must rein in risk to continue to attract investment. We have issued guidelines for more responsible fracking that prescribe steps to increase water recycling, improve wastewater disposal, and reduce the use of toxic chemicals,” says Richard Liroff, executive director of the Network. “Companies can also save money recycling the massive amounts of water it takes to frack a well, while using less fresh water and diesel fuel to truck it in. Fewer and less toxic chemicals can be used, but companies need to demand these changes from their subcontractors and chemical suppliers.” These improvements reduce risk of liability for clean-up, personal injury, and damage to the company’s reputation, while making them more attractive to investors.

“There are many risks associated with fracking and any one of them could put the drinking water for millions, local food supply, and the health of families in jeopardy,” says Pat Jenny, program director at The Trust. “The Trust will continue to push for stronger regulation, adequate oversight, and adoption of cleaner, safer drilling practices that greatly reduce or eliminate these risks before more fracking permits are granted in our state.”

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