By Raanan Geberer
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Environmentalists in Brooklyn are continuing their anti-fracking push, sounding the alarm that chemicals used in “hydrofracking,” or natural gas drilling, might contaminate the groundwater that feeds the city's water supply.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo moved to break the political deadlock over fracking by announcing in June that he would allow the process in economically distressed Southern Tier counties near the Pennsylvania border — but only in those communities that expressed support for the technology.
Williamsburg resident Josh Fox added fuel to the alarmists' arsenel when he released the movie "Gasland" in 2010, and followed up this summer with "The Sky Is Pink," a short film about the “urgent crisis of drilling and fracking in New York state.”
“Gasland” trails Fox when, after he received an offer from a natural gas company to drill on his family’s Pennsylvania farm, he decides to tour areas of the country where natural gas drilling is already taking place.
One of the highlights of "Gasland" takes place in Dimock, Pennsylvania, where members of a family he interviews show him that their tap water is so polluted, they’re actually able to set it on fire.
Traveling through Colorado, Texas and other states, he interviews people who describe various health problems that developed after gas companies started to drill in their area. Fox’s claims — especially that breast cancer has risen only in those areas of Texas where intensive drilling is taken place — have been contested by several researchers.
For example, Simon Craddock Lee of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas said that many factors can influence breast cancer, such as diet, lifestyle, and access to health care. In addition, David Risser, an epidemiologist with the Texas Cancer Registry, told the Associated Press that researchers checked health data and found no evidence of an increase in cancer in the areas where the spike supposedly occurred.
Fox, founder and director of the International WOW film and theater company, replied that the claim of unusually high breast cancer rates was “widely reported” and that there is “more than enough evidence to warrant much deeper study.”
Whatever the arguments on either side, Brooklyn’s environmentalists and officials have gotten into high gear with their anti-fracking campaign. One of the most active groups is the DUMBO-based Food and Water Watch group, led by Eric Weltman.
Weltman’s group has published a booklet, “The Case for a Ban on Gas Fracking,” which says, in part, “Even if the laws on the books were strengthened, fracking poses too severe a risk to public health and the environment to entrust effective and rigorous regulatory oversight to these officials. Both state and federal regulators have a poor track record of protecting the public from the impacts of fracking.”
Many of Brooklyn’s Democratic legislators have proven sympathetic to the anti-fracking cause. For example, Assemblyman Bill Colton (Bensonhurst/Gravesend) last year sponsored a bill calling for a total ban on drilling.
At the same time, he and Queens state Senator Tony Avella wrote to Gov. Cuomo requesting a total state ban on hydrofracking. The letter was endorsed by state Senators Eric Adams, Martin Dilan, Daniel Squadron John Sampson and Velmanette Montgomery as well as Assemblyman Jim Brennan.
Brennan said in September 2011 that the state’s proposed permitting of high-volume hydrofracking “poses significant dangers to the New York City watershed and the overall environment across the state.”
In December, Squadron wrote, in an op-ed published in the Brooklyn Eagle, “Some of the chemicals that are used are toxic, long-lasting and largely untested, and are difficult or impossible to remove once they enter the natural environment. We simply do not know who the many chemicals used in hydrofracking will impact our long-term health and our environment.”
Brooklyn Republicans, on the other hand, tend to support hydrofracking on the grounds that it creates jobs and helps the economy.
In June 2011, members of Food and Water Watch demonstrated outside the office of state Sen. Marty Golden (R-Bay Ridge), calling on him to reverse his support of natural gas drilling. They were joined by members of Brooklyn Democrats for Change and other groups.
Golden wasn’t convinced, and in November said that "it actually doesn't affect the city of New York" because of measures put in place to protect the New York City watershed.
Legislation aside, Brooklyn Federal Court Judge Nicholas Garaufis yesterday heard arguments in a lawsuit against the Army Corps of Envineers and the Delaware River Basin Commission for their alleged failure to comply with federal law by proposing gas drlling regulations without first conducting a full environmental review.
New York City has 20 reservoirs along the Delaware River and its tributaries.
The lawsuit was filed last August by Hudson Riverkeeper, the National Parks Conservation Association and the Delaware Riverkeeper Network. The case is being tried in the Eastern District because the regional headquarters for the Army Corps of Engineers, the lead defendant, is in Brooklyn, according to a spokeswoman for Riverkeeper.