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Making Waves

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Analysis of Canadian water politics by the Council of Canadians' national water campaigner.

Council of Canadians joins the call for a ban on hydraulic fracturing in New York

| January 11, 2012

The New York Department of Environmental Conservation (NY DEC) is poised to decide whether to begin issuing permits for hydraulic fracturing or "fracking" within the state of New York. Fracking is a controversial drilling process used to extract natural gas from shale, coal beds and "tight sands" with vertical and horizontal drilling. Sand, water and chemicals are blasted at high pressure to fracture rock where natural gas is trapped. Communities all over Canada, the U.S. and other countries are fighting against fracking because it pollutes water and harms people's health.

Last September, the NY DEC released a 1500-plus-page document, the Revised Draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement on The Oil, Gas and Solution Mining Regulatory Program: Well Permit Issuance for Horizontal Drilling and High-Volume Hydraulic Fracturing in the Marcellus Shale and other Low-Permeability Gas Reservoirs (RDSGEIS), for public comment. The RDSGEIS outlines how New York will regulate hydraulic fracturing or "fracking." Today is the last day that the public can make comments on the proposed drilling regulations.

While the RDSGEIS notes some risks associated with hydraulic fracturing, it fails to consider these threats seriously by banning hydraulic fracturing. Hydraulic fracturing uses exorbitant amounts of water, estimated at 2 to 9 million gallons per fracking job. Currently, industry is not required to release what chemicals they use in fracking projects. In the report Chemicals Used in Hydraulic Fracturing by the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce, some of the chemicals are categorized as carcinogens and hazardous air pollutants such as methanol, diesel and naphthalene.

There is considerable opposition to fracking in New York, and citizens, environmental groups and other civil society groups have raised concerns about the flaws of the RDSGEIS:
- No plan for disposal of millions of gallons of hazardous wastewater;
- No assessment of potential human health impacts;
- An inadequate evaluation of cumulative impacts of thousands of wells;
- Failure to quantify any negative socioeconomics impacts.

The Niagara Falls Water Board (NFWB) is moving forward with a proposal to treat fracking wastewater in its municipal wastewater treatment plants. The board has conducted an early feasibility study and funded tests for pre-treatment needs. Niagara Falls, which is situated on the Niagara River, connects to Lake Erie and flows north to Lake Ontario. The treatment of fracking fluids in Niagara Falls' wastewater treatment system could threaten the drinking water of Toronto, Canada's largest city, as well as the cities along Lake Ontario. The NY DEC's decision will be critical in the NFWB decision to treat toxic fracking wastewater.

The Council of Canadians submitted comments calling on New York State to ban hydraulic fracturing. To read the submission, click here.

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