By Lois Marie Gibbs
On June 29, New York took the final step in the process to ban fracking, following the announcement of the ban last December based on significant public health risks. In many ways, the ban stems from the large movement of activists and scientists who raised their voices and showed clearly that fracking has unacceptable dangers. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo deserves tremendous praise for standing up to the oil and gas industry and protecting the public health and safety of all New Yorkers.
Unfortunately, the federal government’s plans for fracking contrast poorly with the Cuomo administration’s responsible approach. It reminds me of the way the government dealt with the Love Canal disaster. Despite overwhelming evidence that buried toxic chemicals were leaking into the groundwater and sickening residents, it took many years for the federal government to act.
Now it may be making the same mistake again. The Obama administration is moving forward with weak new regulations that allow fracking on federal lands. As New York’s review has shown, injecting a secret concoction of water, sand and toxic chemicals underground at high pressures to blow apart rock containing tiny pockets of gas and oil has already been shown to threaten people’s health, cause water contamination, air pollution, earthquakes, environmental ruin and a range of other hazards.
Luckily, with the help of New York’s elected leaders, we do not have to repeat the past. New York’s members of Congress should stand with the Departments of Health and Environmental Conservation and more than 500 peer-reviewed papers by academic experts in recognition of the dangers of fracking. They should call on the Obama administration to ban fracking on federal land and around our national parks.
Much like climate change, there is the appearance of a debate, with industry “experts” seemingly armed with their own evidence that it can be done safely. But when the state Department of Health did an independent review of the science, it found an increasing number of studies that found significant public health risks and serious unknowns.
Fracking has major issues beyond the health impacts. Much of the federal land is in the West, which is experiencing its worst drought in a thousand years. Fracking requires massive amounts of water, which is then contaminated and released into the ground, further depleting clean water resources for people and agriculture, and also causing earthquakes.
New York’s congressional delegation needs to stand up and work to permanently ban fracking on our nation’s federal lands, to protect people’s health and ensure those lands are protected for our children.
Lois Marie Gibbs, a former Love Canal resident, is executive director of the Center for Health, Environment and Justice in Falls Church, Va.