Honorable Andrew M. Cuomo
Governor of New York
The State Capitol
Albany, NY 12224
Dear Governor Cuomo:
As you know, Marcellus Shale gas fracturing is not permitted in New York pending adoption of a Final Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (SGEIS). That proceeding is based on your Department of Environmental Conservation's (DEC) fundamental assertion that existing gas and oil extraction safeguards are fully adequate to protect public health and our environment.
Your Division of Mineral Resources emphatically stated: "As a result of New York's rigorous regulatory process, the types of problems reported to have occurred in states without such strong environmental laws and rigorous regulations haven't happened here."
That statement is demonstrably false. I recently spoke with someone with extensive DEC service. I was told that your Division of Mineral Resource's enforcement problems were well known within DEC and extensively documented in its own Annual Reports.
When I reviewed the Division of Mineral Resources' last 25 years of Annual Reports, I found that they reveal a shocking array of long-standing problems that threaten New York's environment and public health.
I write to summarize New York's self-documented inadequate regulation of natural gas and oil extraction activities involving more than 15,000 gas and oil production wells.
Drinking Water Pollution
Over the years, there has been documented drinking water contamination caused by massive uncontrolled gas and oil pollution hazards that were never fully investigated by DEC or local health authorities and still do not meet clean up standards. Among dozens of recently reported incidents, two drinking water problems are especially troubling. See Attachment A.
The Perkins Family
I recently visited the Perkins Family in Bolivar, NY, an area inundated with hundreds of natural gas and oil production wells. Between 9/11 and 10/11, their water well was reportedly polluted by 12,971,000 parts per billion of petroleum that had shot out of a showerhead while a son was bathing. DEC traced the petroleum contamination to a local production well and confirmed the source with analytical testing.
The Perkins were never told that a wide array of toxic contaminants were identified in their drinking water and have continued to bath in it. Those contaminants reportedly include: 4-ISOPROPYLTOLUENE (1,300 PPB), 1,3,5-TRIMETHYLBENZENE (3,300 PPB), N-BUTYLBENZENE (1,600 PPB).
To this day, the Perkins family has not been provided with an alternate source of clean water or a Granular Activated Carbon (GAC) Filter that is capable of removing toxic petroleum constituents on a comprehensive basis.
This family complained to DEC as recently as January that their water was black and smells bad. The incident involving their contaminated water reportedly still does not meet clean up standards.
The Harms Family
Mr. Randy Harms and his family in Scio, NY similiarly reportedly massive amounts of crude oil in their water well on 12/13/10. I recently visited their home and video recorded petroleum remains on the ground around their well head. They report that their drinking water remains discolored and exhibits a strong "kerosene" odor. They never received an alternate water supply or a GAC filter. The incident associated with their contaminated water reportedly still not meet clean up standards.
Untreated Brine Discharges to Lagoons
According to DEC Division of Mineral Resources data, hundreds of millions of gallons of toxic and radioactive natural gas and oil drilling "produced water" or "brine" have been generated annually for decades. Improper disposal of brines has caused extensive contamination in New York.
For example, 8.6 million barrels of brine was reportedly generated in 1987. Of that more than 360,000,000 gallons of brine, approximately 80% was discharged into waterways under SPDES (State Pollutant Discharge Elimination System) permits or dumped into "holding ponds," "about 4% was spread on public roads" and 16% was "recycled" for waterflooding (this involves pumping water into oil-bearing formations).
Large brine releases have been documented to have polluted local streams, wetlands or other environmentally sensitive areas and threatened wildlife. I visited multiple examples of this problem in Allentown, NY and Whitesfield, NY. In one case, the contamination problem has reportedly persisted since at least 2008.
Leaking Brine Tanks
Thousands of corroded brine storage tanks have reportedly polluted New York's environment. A 1996 Division of Mineral Resources survey "found approximately 40% of the total number of brine tanks to be leaking or have holes in the sides."
Abandoned and Unplugged Gas and Oil Production Wells
Division of Mineral Resources has documented more than 4,700 abandoned gas, oil and other wells that have not been plugged due to inadequate funding. Unplugged wells are extensively documented to cause serious contamination hazards.
According to the head of the Division in 1995: "One of the biggest challenges facing the oil and gas regulatory program is the growing liability of idle and abandoned wells. In most cases financial security, even for operators in compliance with current regulations, does not provide sufficient funding to plug the covered wells."
According to the 2008 Annual Report: "Abandoned wells can leak oil, gas and/or brine; underground leaks may go undiscovered for years. These fluids can contaminate ground and surface water, kill vegetation, and cause public safety and health problems. Historically, abandoned wells have been discovered in the woods, along roadsides, and in residential yards, playgrounds, and parking lots. They've even been discovered inside building, and underwater in wetlands, streams and ponds."
According to the New York State Groundwater Assessment, "Drilling for oil & gas in NYS has occurred since the early periods of exploration in the U.S. During much of that time, proper well abandonment was not performed once wells were no longer in use. This has resulted in the improper abandonment of potentially tens of thousands of oil & gas wells..."
DEC and NYS Energy Research and Development Authority report that plugging a single well can cost between $3,000.00 and $50,000.00. As a result, the bill for dealing New York's unplugged wells could cost between $14,000,000.00 and $235,000,000.00.
That vastly exceeds the roughly $200,000.00 recently reported in the State well plugging fund.
I am providing for your review a video that documents the concerns described herein. See Attachment C.
Governor Cuomo, your DEC deliberately and egregiously misled the public about New York's gas and oil regulatory problems. That inescapable conclusion renders your Marcellus Shale Revised Draft SGEIS invalid.
I believe you have a clear obligation to first do no harm with regard to gas and oil extraction. It would be irresponsible of you to continue to ignore DEC's self-documented inability to regulate gas and oil extraction hazards. Until all the problems reported by the Division of Mineral Resources are fully resolved, permitting shale gas fracturing, even in a limited area, must be completely out of the question.
The thousands of abandoned gas, oil and other wells that require plugging are an environmental and public health crisis of potentially immense proportions. DEC's admitted failure to resolve this threat is comparable to New York's discovery of thousands of previously unreported leaking hazardous waste dumps. Those wells must be plugged without delay.
In conclusion, the extensive information I am providing today supplements the government data I earlier documented in the coalition letter which requests that you withdraw the Marcellus Shale Revised Draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (SGEIS). Please heed the requests of more than 22,000 signatories without further delay in order to fulfill Executive Order No. 41.
Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions that I might be able to answer or if I can be of assistance in any way.
Thank you for your consideration.
Very truly yours,
cc: 22,590 Signatories to the Withdraw the Revised Draft SGEIS coalition letter
3,047 Signatories to the Oppose a Possible Southern Tier Fracking Demonstration Project coalition letter
Honorable Matthew T. Ryan, Mayor of Binghamton
Honorable Barbara S. Lifton, Representative, 125th Assembly District
Honorable Donna A. Lupardo, Representative, 126th Assembly District
Honorable Thomas W. Libous 52nd State Senate District
Honorable Maurice D. Hinchey, U.S. Representative, New York 22nd District
Honorable Robert K. Sweeney, Assembly Environmental Conservation Committee Chair
Honorable Mark J. Grisanti, State Senate Environmental Conservation Committee Chair
Members of the Hydraulic Fracturing Advisory Panel