By Hugh MacMillan
Today, January 11, is the final day that the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) is accepting comments for their proposed plan that would open up large parts of New York to fracking. The agency reports receiving more than 20,000 comments, more than any issue in recent memory. As we prepare to submit our long technical comments, we realize that an important point has been missing from this debate: the DEC itself had the opportunity to choose the “no action alternative,” essentially banning fracking in New York state.
When citizens, communities, nonprofit organizations and environmental groups asked the DEC to protect the health and environment of the state by banning fracking, we were actually asking them to take an action well within their authority—accepting, rather than rejecting, the so-called “no action alternative.” But politics fast-tracked the science needed to create an accurate environmental impact statement. Given time, a sound scientific assessment would likely determine that an outright ban—the no action alternative—is the only prudent recommendation.
Instead, the DEC’s “political” study makes the unsupported claim that the oil and gas industry would provide the state with “substantial economic and environmental benefits.” Effectively, the DEC argues that the benefits of shale gas development in New York would outweigh the risks or costs.
In our comments, we explain why the DEC’s rejection of this “no action alternative” is based on a flawed assessment of the potential benefits, costs and risks of intensive shale gas development.
The socioeconomic impact analysis, which lays out the DEC’s claims of substantial economic benefits—including job projections—contains a number of flaws that lead to a gross overestimation of the job-producing potential of this industry. The job projections were made by an outside consulting firm and adopted by the DEC.
But this analysis fails to account for the significant public costs, including the impacts on roads, public health and social services. It also fails to consider potential economic losses that would be suffered by New York’s tourism and agriculture, as well as its value-added industries.
The report also dismisses the inherent risks that shale gas development poses to vital freshwater resources, as recently acknowledged by one of DEC’s own employees.
The DEC’s environmental impact study inaccurately claims potential benefits, inadequately accounts for potential public costs, and imprudently dismisses inherent risks. Food & Water Watch maintains that the DEC should go with the no-action alternative and that shale gas development should be banned in the State of New York. Click here to read our full comments.