Last week, the Democratic candidate for County Executive, Dan French, announced his opposition to the use of fracking to recover natural gas from shale deposits in New York State. He said, “The time for moratoriums and half measures is past.” He went on to call for an outright ban on fracking because of its unsafe practice of mixing numerous cancer-causing chemicals with sand and millions of gallons of water in underground explosions to recover natural gas from the Marcellus shale area that reaches from the Delaware River to the Hudson and includes a portion of northern Dutchess. Dan French is right to urge a ban on fracking.

A significant report recently published by scientists at Duke University in “The Proceedings of the National Academy of Scientist” concludes that drinking water wells within one mile of active fracking sites in Pennsylvania are 20 to 60 times more likely to be contaminated by methane gas. According to those scientists, there is a direct correlation between levels of methane in well water and their proximity to fracking operations. The correlation is, in the opinion of one scientist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, “similar to the evidence that lung cancer risk increases with tobacco use.” Not all smokers get lung cancer, but the risk surely increases; similarly, not every drinking water well near fracking will be contaminated, but the risk increases substantially – 20 to 60 times!!

Last year, Governor Patterson vetoed a resolution from the State Legislature to place a moratorium on granting permits to natural gas companies to use fracking techniques. Instead, Patterson issued an executive order banning permits for seven months while more scientific information could be gathered. That ban is about to run out, and the time has come for the Legislature and Governor Cuomo to permanently ban fracking in New York State.

Major gas drillers have been spending millions of dollars lobbying NY State officials and buying drilling rights from private land owners. These companies are anxious to move their equipment into New York from Pennsylvania at a moment’s notice as soon as the Patterson executive order expires, and they can apply for drilling permits from New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation.

In Pennsylvania, where that state’s governor and Legislature have welcomed fracking companies, evidence continues to mount about the negative environmental and health consequences, not only from the drilling process and underground blasting, but also from the disposal of the sludge that comes out of those gas wells. Water, earth, and air are being contaminated from the sludge wherever fracking is used. Some sludge is buried deep underground, some sits in open pits to evaporate into the air and seep into the land, some drains into streams, and some is dumped into municipal waste processing plants that were not designed to treat the volume of toxic wastes generated by fracking. The threats to health and the environment are real, they are catastrophic, and they have to be averted.

In March, the EPA ordered an investigation into increased rates of radioactivity detected at water treatment plants that receive waste from fracking companies and at public drinking intake sites located downstream from those plants. Dangerously high levels of benzene have also been detected in fracking sludge, and the EPA has been formally requested by three Congressmen to look into the use of diesel fuel as one of the chemicals used in fracking, an apparently direct violation of the federal Safe Drinking Water Act of 2005.

Advertisements paid for by natural gas companies have been touting natural gas as “clean energy.” While the gas itself may burn cleaner than other hydrocarbons, according to scientists at Cornell University the process of fracking to obtain the gas makes it 20% dirtier than coal. Furthermore, the long-term health and environmental risks make fracking riskier than offshore drilling for oil.

We must ban fracking as soon as possible. Now science is strongly supporting the experiences of real people who have been seriously harmed by fracking. To those who say that fracking for natural gas is patriotic, avoiding the need for foreign oil, we ask, “What worse can the enemies of the US do than poison the ground water of Main Street?” Instead of fracking for methane gas, we should develop sustainable, renewable wind, solar, hydro, and geothermal alternatives to oil.

On June 10th at 7pm, Robert Jackson, one of the Duke University scientists who wrote the paper demonstrating the correlation between fracking and high levels of methane gas in drinking water wells, will be speaking at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies on Sharon Turnpike in Millbrook. Go hear what he has to say.

Candidate for County Executive Dan French is correct when he says, ”New York State has the opportunity to act now and prevent immediate and long term damage to our ecosystems and our people’s health.” Call your representatives in the State Legislature and request their active support for bills to prohibit fracking in New York: in the Assembly the bill is A.7218, and in the Senate the bill is S.4220. Ban fracking now!