In 2008, New York banned hydrofracking in order to study its effects on the environment and public health. Current governor Andrew Cuomo has upheld this moratorium since taking office in 2011, allegedly waiting for Health Commissioner Dr. Nirav Shah’s review of the issue, which has no deadline to be completed. Recently, Environmental Conservation Department Commissioner Joe Martens stated that he has no intention of ending the moratorium, despite the economic benefits of doing so.
My proposed compromise is to allow hydrofracking to go forward, while simultaneously assigning a committee to oversee the operations of the natural gas companies in order to ensure that safety protocols are followed and that any damage done is attenuated by standardized response procedures.
The best argument against lifting the ban on hydrofracking is that reckless oil companies will pollute local ground wells and streams. This pollution is thought to cause health problems, though the magnitude of this alleged contamination is unknown.
Most peer-reviewed studies have shown minimal health risks, but studies conducted by environmentalist groups and lawsuits lodged by homeowners against gas companies indicate that some pollution has occurred. Earthworks, an environmental advocacy group, reported that air and water tests, coupled with victims’ testimony, have led them to believe that oil and gas operations are responsible for health problems that have been reported in Pennsylvania. The symptoms commonly cited were throat irritation and severe headaches. Since the long term health effects of fracking are unknown, some groups argue that the moratorium in New York should be kept in place until the risks can be better assessed.
In support of my proposal, I would like to first present a couple statistics that should assuage the fears of those who are worrying about the widespread health problems that fracking allegedly causes. The first statistic is the number zero. This is the number of confirmed cases of well contamination in Ohio since 2010 that were linked to nearby fracking operations; there were six confirmed cases, but none were caused by fracking. It is also the number of confirmed cases of drilling-related well contamination in Texas over the past decade. The second statistic is the number four. This is the number of confirmed drilling-related well contamination in West Virginia since 2010. In all four cases, the driller agreed to cover any expenses associated with correcting the problem.
This is not to say that there are no problems; like all industries, the natural gas industry has encountered isolated problems at numerous drilling sites. Duke University researchers Robert Jackson and Avner Vengosh have underscored these problems in multiple papers published in recent years. In the article “Impacts of Shale Gas Wastewater Disposal on Water Quality in Western Pennsylvania,” Jackson and Vengosh suggest that increased levels of radium in the local water supply were caused by hydrofracking operations. In a different article, “Increased Stray Gas Abundance in a Subset of Drinking Water Wells Near Marcellus Shale Gas Extraction,” they explain their research concerning groundwater wells in Pennsylvania and New York.
According to the article, samples from 60 groundwater wells in northeast Pennsylvania and upstate New York were tested for methane. Of these 60 wells, 51 of them recorded methane concentrations “regardless of gas industry operations.” However, in 21 of the 26 groundwater wells with “one or more gas wells within 1 km,” methane concentrations were on average 19.2 mg CH4 L-1, which is “within the defined action level (10–28 mg L-1) for hazard mitigation recommended by the US Office of the Interior.” However, even if in mitigation is needed in a few specific cases, the solutions to hazardous levels of methane in water wells are fairly inexpensive. The gas company could cheaply vent the well or, in more serious situations, invest $10,000 in an aeration system.
In 2006, the United States Geological Survey reported that one percent of the 2,356 domestic and 364 public-supply wells that were sampled between 1992 and 2001 had pesticide concentrations higher than human health benchmarks. Does this mean that we should impose a moratorium on pesticides? No, because the benefits of using them far outweigh the few harmful effects they may cause. This hydrofracking situation is not any different. My solution of allowing hydrofracking, as long as it is supervised by an agency, would allow for economic benefits to be reaped by the state while also ensuring that any hazards that might arise would be quickly corrected by the companies, as failure to do so would lead to penalties.
Ondo is a member of the
class of 2014

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