Proposal to Allow 'Limited' Fracking Draws Opposition From All Around New York State
More than 100 Groups, Southern Tier Residents, Members of DEC Fracking Panel, Environmental Organizations, Grassroots Groups, NY Celebrities Call on Gov Cuomo to Reject Plan
Last week, according to the New York Times, Governor Cuomo’s Administration was reportedly considering demonstration programs for high-volume hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” in parts of Broome, Chemung, Chenango, Steuben and Tioga counties. On June 20, a diverse coalition of Southern Tier organizations and residents, members of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Hydraulic Fracturing Advisory Panel, environmental organizations, grassroots groups, and medical and health organizations and prominent New Yorkers joined together to issue a statement and call on Governor Cuomo to reject the plan for “limited” fracking that his Administration is reportedly considering.
Among other scientific literature, a recent study by Physicians, Scientists and Engineers for Safe Energy shows that even drilling in deep shale (such as the areas that the Cuomo Administration is reportedly considering) can contaminate the water supply. The study also outlines significant issues with the revised draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement, including a lack of scientific data on the risks of fracking.
More than 100 organizations signed the statement including Riverkeeper, Natural Resources Defense Council, New York Breast Cancer Network, Citizen Action of New York, Environmental Advocates of New York, Vestal Residents for Safe Energy, American Academy of Pediatrics (District II, NYS), Working FamiliesParty, Broome County Medical Society, Frack Action, NYPIRG, Food & Water Watch, Damascus Citizens for Sustainability, New York Residents Against Drilling, Josh Fox (Director of Gasland), and many prominent New Yorkers including Michelle Williams, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlet Johansson, Alec Baldwin, Debra Winger, Natalie Merchant, Timothy Hutton, William Buffet, Patti Smith, Patti LaPone, Gloria Steinem, Yoko Ono and others.
Organizers of the effort noted that while the groups have different opinions on how the state should deal with fracking, they are unified in their opposition to this plan. They all agree that this plan is unacceptable and lacks a health impact assessment, socioeconomic impact assessment and that there are significant unanswered scientific inadequacies in the current study and science of fracking.
The groups released a statement noting that:
“The state’s Department of Environmental Conservation remains in the midst of an on-going environmental review process, and any decision as to whether or not to frack anywhere in New York State should not be made before the impacts to our health, environment and economy have been comprehensively and properly assessed.
“The current version of the revised Draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement lacks a complete evaluation of the negative socioeconomic impacts that would affect the quality of life and resources of any community in which fracking might occur. Numerous serious scientific concerns that have been raised in thousands of comments submitted by our groups and others remain unanswered as yet by the DEC. Nor has thestate committed, to date, to commissioning an independent health impact assessment that will evaluate the full range of potential health impacts and identify particularly vulnerable populations (although we know your staff is now considering such a request). Until we have a complete and independent study of the impacts to public health and the environment and the costs to our communities, the state will simply not be in a position to make a decision as to whether fracking should be permitted in New York.
"As residents of the Southern Tier, we are proud to stand with organizations from across the state to reject this plan. We don't want to become New York's sacrifice zone." - Sue Rapp, Vestal Residents for Safe Energy
“If true, the Governor’s proposal to only drill in economically disadvantaged areas of New York is a cynical departure from Cuomo’s original promise to base his fracking decisions on science—not emotion. The State of New York has failed to make the case that fracking can be conducted safely anywhere in NY. It is especially galling that the Governor is already carving into the communities with the least resources to protect themselves—long before there are even scientific evaluations of safety.” - Roger Downs, Conservation Director for the Sierra Club-Atlantic Chapter.
“A wide-range of groups have joined together to send a clear message to the Governor that limiting the geographic scope of fracking does not make it safe. If the Governor is still committed to basing the decision on fracking on the state’s environmental review, as the leaked report from last week seems to indicate, a decision on whether to allow fracking anywhere on any basis should not be made as long as that review is incomplete. DEC's current draft of that review still has serious deficiencies, including the state’s complete failure to consider health impacts, develop a wastewater plan, and assess potentially significant negative economic impacts associated with fracking.” - Kate Hudson, Watershed Program Director, Riverkeeper
"New York State is simply not prepared to oversee fracking. Nothing has been presented to change Environmental Advocates of New York's minds about that, certainly not the Governor's reported proposal to restrict drilling to a portion of the state," said Katherine Nadeau, Water & Natural Resources Program Director, Environmental Advocates of New York.
"We firmly believe New York is not ready to move forward with fracking—whether it's 50 wells or 50,000.
"The science is clear: fracking is a carcinogen-dependent industry that offers temporary employment with high risks for injury and death. The young people of Broome, Chenango, Chemung, Tioga, and Steuben counties deserve jobs that do not kill, maim, or poison them. Governor Cuomo, you need a better plan." - Sandra Steingraber, Ph.D., a biologist and Distinguished Scholar in Residence at Ithaca College
"The residents of the Southern Tier are not the natural gas industry's guinea pigs. If hydrofracking is unacceptable in the Catskills because of the environmental risks, it makes no sense for it to be acceptable elsewhere. It's time for us to ban hydrofracking in every corner of New York - it's harmful to the environment and does not provide the economic dividends the natural gas industry executives are leading us to believe." - Eileen Hamlin, a Kirkwood resident and member of Citizen Action of New York.
"I used to think home rule—essentially the "plan" that was leaked—was good enough. But every week we learn about new risks: seismic activity, high radon levels, and ground level ozone, for example. Not only do these dangers not respect county lines, much of the damage this industry causes is irreversible. It's not even possible to put a wall around the communities that think they have no other economic prospects. We are all in this together." - Martha Robertson, Chair of Tompkins County Legislature and Representative of Elected Officials to Protect NY
"From Long Island to the Southern Tier to Niagara Falls, New Yorkers have soundly rejected the plan to turn certain counties into sacrifice zones for fracking. No part of the state should be subject to a process which the best science decisively shows cannot be done without jeopardizing New Yorkers' health, environment, and quality of life." - Alex Beauchamp, Northeast Region Director, Food & Water Watch
"It is not acceptable to allow the gas industry to prey on the poorest New Yorkers. This is an issue of environmental injustice to turn the Southern Tier into one giant Love Canal." - Julia Walsh, Founder and Campaign Director of Frack Action
"Governor Cuomo's proposal will create two New Yorks: one where hundreds-of-thousands of us will have to live with the dangers of hydrofracking, and the other New York, that is protected. As a Broome County resident, I firmly denounce the Governor's plan." - Brendan Woodruff, NYPIRG Hydrofracking Campaign Organizer.
<div id="7aab6" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="4bff71c40172c15736f73fe73ed18078"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1330967606585593857" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Today, I’m announcing the first members of my national security and foreign policy team. They will rally the world… https://t.co/bAisIQk5P6</div> — Joe Biden (@Joe Biden)<a href="https://twitter.com/JoeBiden/statuses/1330967606585593857">1606162380.0</a></blockquote></div>
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By Melissa Gaskill
Two decades ago scientists and volunteers along the Virginia coast started tossing seagrass seeds into barren seaside lagoons. Disease and an intense hurricane had wiped out the plants in the 1930s, and no nearby meadows could serve as a naturally dispersing source of seeds to bring them back.
Restored seagrass beds in Virginia now provide habitat for hundreds of thousands of scallops. Bob Orth, Virginia Institute of Marine Science / CC BY 2.0<p>The paper is part of a growing trend of evidence suggesting seagrass meadows can be easier to restore than other coastal habitats.</p><p>Successful seagrass-restoration methods include <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0304377099000078?via%3Dihub" target="_blank">transplanting shoots</a>, <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1061-2971.2004.00314.x" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">mechanized planting</a> and, more recently, <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-020-17438-4" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">biodegradable mats</a>. Removing threats, proximity to donor seagrass beds, planting techniques, project size and site selection all play roles in a restoration effort's success.</p><p>Human assistance isn't always necessary, though. In areas where some beds remain, seagrass can even recover on its own when stressors are reduced or removed. For example, seagrass began to recover when Tampa Bay improved its water quality by reducing nitrogen loads from runoff by roughly 90%.</p><p>But more and more, seagrass meadows struggle to hang on.</p><p>The marine flowering plants have declined globally since the 1930s and currently disappear at a rate equivalent to a football field every 30 minutes, according to the <a href="https://www.unep.org/resources/report/out-blue-value-seagrasses-environment-and-people" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">United Nations Environment Programme</a>. And research published in 2018 found the rate of decline is <a href="https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1029/2018GB005941" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">accelerating</a> in many regions.</p><p>The causes of decline vary and overlap, depending on the region. They include thermal stress from climate change; human activities such as dredging, anchoring and coastal infrastructure; and intentional removal in tourist areas. In addition, increased runoff from land carries sediment that clouds the water, blocking sunlight the plants need for photosynthesis. Runoff can also carry contaminants and nutrients from fertilizer that disrupt habitats and cause algal blooms.</p><p>All that damage comes with a cost.</p>
The Value of Seagrass<p>As with ecosystems like rainforests and <a href="https://therevelator.org/mangroves-climate-change/" target="_blank">mangroves</a>, loss of seagrass increases carbon dioxide emissions. And that spells trouble not just for certain habitats but for the whole planet.</p><p>Although seagrass covers at most 0.2% of the seabed, it <a href="https://www.unenvironment.org/news-and-stories/story/seagrass-secret-weapon-fight-against-global-heating" target="_blank">accounts for 10%</a> of the ocean's capacity to store carbon and soils, and these meadows store carbon dioxide an estimated 30 times faster than most terrestrial forests. Slow decomposition rates in seagrass sediments contribute to their <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/publication/238506081_Assessing_the_capacity_of_seagrass_meadows_for_carbon_burial_Current_limitations_and_future_strategies" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">high carbon burial rates</a>. In Australia, according to <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/gcb.15204" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">research</a> by scientists at Edith Cowan University, loss of seagrass meadows since the 1950s has increased carbon dioxide emissions by an amount equivalent to 5 million cars a year. The United Nations Environment Programme reports that a 29% decline in seagrass in Chesapeake Bay between 1991 and 2006 resulted in an estimated loss of up to 1.8 million tons of carbon.</p>
Eelgrass in the river delta at Prince William Sound, Alaska. Alaska ShoreZone Program NOAA / NMFS / AKFSC; Courtesy of Mandy Lindeberg / NOAA / NMFS / AKFSC<p>Seagrasses also protect costal habitats. A healthy meadow slows wave energy, reduces erosion and lowers the risk of flooding. In Morro Bay, California, a 90% decline in the seagrass species known as eelgrass caused extensive erosion, according to a <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0272771420303528?via%3Dihub" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">paper</a> from researchers at California Polytechnic State University.</p><p>"Right away, we noticed big patterns in sediment loss or erosion," said lead author Ryan Walter. "Many studies have shown this on individual eelgrass beds, but very few studies looked at it on a systemwide scale."</p><p>In the tropics, seagrass's natural protection can reduce the need for expensive and often-environmentally unfriendly <a href="https://www.nioz.nl/en/news/zeegras-spaart-stranden-en-geld" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">beach nourishments</a> regularly conducted in tourism areas.</p><p>Seagrass ecosystems improve water quality and clarity, filtering particles out of the water column and preventing resuspension of sediment. This role could be even more important in the future. By producing oxygen through photosynthesis, meadows could help offset decreased oxygen levels caused by warmer water temperatures (oxygen is less soluble in warm than in cold water).</p><p>The meadows also provide vital habitat for a wide variety of marine life, including fish, sea turtles, birds, marine mammals such as manatees, invertebrates and algae. They provide nursery habitat for <a href="https://wedocs.unep.org/bitstream/handle/20.500.11822/32636/seagrass.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">roughly 20%</a> of the world's largest fisheries — an <a href="https://www.floridamuseum.ufl.edu/science/seagrass-meadows-harbor-wildlife-for-centuries/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">estimated 70%</a> of fish habitats in Florida alone.</p><p>Conversely, their disappearance can contribute to die-offs of marine life. The loss of more than 20 square miles of seagrass in Florida's Biscayne Bay may have helped set the stage for a widespread <a href="https://www.wlrn.org/2020-08-14/the-seagrass-died-that-may-have-triggered-a-widespread-fish-kill-in-biscayne-bay" target="_blank">fish kill</a> in summer 2020. Lack of grasses to produce oxygen left the basin more vulnerable when temperatures rose and oxygen levels dropped as a result, says Florida International University professor Piero Gardinali.</p>
Damaged Systems, a Changing Climate<p>Governments and conservationists around the world have already put a lot of effort into coastal restoration efforts. And that's helped some seagrass populations.</p><p>Where stressors remain, though, restoration grows more complicated. <a href="https://www.rug.nl/research/portal/en/publications/the-future-of-seagrass-ecosystem-services-in-a-changing-world(3a8c56db-7bed-4c9e-ac7f-c72453e2a102).html" target="_blank">Research</a> published this September found that only 37% of seagrass restorations have survived. Newly restored meadows remain vulnerable to the original stressors that depleted them, as well as to storms — and <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/climate-crisis">climate change</a>.</p>
Seagrass in Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida. Alicia Wellman / Florida Fish and Wildlife / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0<p>In Chesapeake Bay a cold-water species of seagrass is currently hitting its heat limit, especially in summer, according to Alexander Challen Hyman of University of Florida's School of Natural Resources and Environment. As waters continue to warm due to climate change, the species likely will disappear there.</p><p>Climate-driven sea-level rise complicates the problem as well. Seagrasses thrive at specific depths — too shallow and they dry out or are eaten, too deep and there isn't enough light for photosynthesis.</p>
But There’s Good News, Too<p>Luckily, left to its own devices, a seagrass meadow can flourish for hundreds of years, according to a <a href="https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/10.1098/rspb.2019.1861" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">paper</a> published last year by Hyman and other researchers from the University of Florida. The researchers arrived at their conclusion by looking at shells of living mollusks and fossil shells to estimate the ages of meadows in Florida's Big Bend region on the Gulf Coast.</p><p>That area has extensive, relatively pristine seagrass meadows. "Our motivation was to understand the past history of these systems, and shells store a lot of history," said co-author Michal Kowalewski.</p><p>A high degree of similarity between living and dead shells indicates a stable area, while a mismatch suggests an area shifted from seagrass to barren sand. The researchers found that long-term accumulations of shells resembled living ones, suggesting that the seagrass habitats have been stable over time.</p><p>That stability allows biodiversity to thrive, creating conditions where specialist species can survive and flourish, according to Hyman.</p><p>Discovering the long-term stability of seagrass meadows has implications for choosing restoration sites, Kowalewski notes.</p><p>"There must be reasons they thrive in one place, while a mile away they don't and fossil data says they probably never did," he said. "If we remove a seagrass patch, we cannot hope to plant it somewhere else. It's not just the seagrass that is special. The location at which it's found is special, too."</p><p>A better approach is conserving these habitats in the first place, but we're not doing enough of that right now. The UN reports that marine protected areas safeguard just 26% of recorded seagrass meadows, compared with 40% of coral reefs and 43% of mangroves.</p>
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