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Another Voice: Fracking should also be banned on federal lands

By Heather Leibowitz

Even though fracking has been banned in New York, it is allowed on federal lands. Fracking is inherently risky, dirty and dangerous. From the very beginning of clearing a site for drilling, through extraction, transport and delivery, fracking poses significant risks to our air, water and human health. People who live and work near fracking sites are at greater risk for respiratory and neurological diseases.

Industry spokespeople routinely maintain that the risks of fracking can be minimized by best practices and appropriate regulation. Not only is this false – fracking is harmful even when drillers follow all the rules – but drillers regularly violate essential environmental and public health protections, undermining their own claims.

A new Environment New York Research & Policy Center report, Fracking Failures: Oil and Gas Industry Environmental Violations in Pennsylvania and What They Mean for the U.S., found that all types of oil and gas companies break the regulations meant to protect the environment and human health on virtually a daily basis.

The top 20 offenders examined in the report ranged from Fortune 500 companies like Cabot Oil, to mom-and-pop operators, to firms like Chevron, which tout their clean records. However, the analysis of Pennsylvania’s oil and gas industry found that the worst violators of air, water and health protections averaged more than an infraction each day over a four-year period.

These violations pose serious risks to workers, the environment and public health. They include allowing toxic chemicals to leach into the air and water, endangering drinking water through improper well construction and dumping waste into waterways.

When it comes to fracking, everyone’s a bad apple. But the data showed some were particularly rotten. Houston-based Cabot Oil, a key Halliburton contractor, committed the greatest amount of total violations with 265. Pittsburgh-based Atlas was guilty of the most breaches for every well drilled, while Dallas-based Mieka was responsible for the most per well operated.

Four firms – EQT, Chevron Appalachia, Consol and Shell – which told the public they would adhere to higher standards when they formed the Center for Sustainable Shale Development, were also among the worst offenders. Together they racked up at least 100 infractions even after they pledged to do better in 2013.

Fracking on federal public lands is still allowed. For this reason, even though fracking in New York has been banned, fracking still remains an issue.

We need to call on New York’s congressional delegation to place a ban on fracking on federal lands, because the data keep piling up: fracking is a failure for the environment and public health.

Heather Leibowitz is the director of Environment New York, a statewide environmental advocacy organization.