February 4, 2010

Assemblywoman Lifton Rebukes Hydrofracking Supporters

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The practice of hydraulic fracturing, or hydrofracking, has caused an intense debate in the Ithaca community, pitting drilling companies against environmentalists. Last night Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton exchanged her thoughts on the issue with the local Ithaca and Cornell communities. Although not yet permitted in New York State, hydrofracking is legal in several states including Texas and Pennsylvania.

Advocates of hydrofracking, including New York State Governor James Patterson, believe the drilling process will benefit the local economy by adding jobs and increasing revenue.

Assemblywoman Lifton, however, disagrees.

“With hydrofracking comes a number of environmental risks. Ground water contamination and general wear and tear on our roads are an added strain on the surrounding community. From where I stand, the positives do not outweigh the negatives. We must first think of the safety of our environment and constituents,” Lifton said.

According to Lifton, about 15,000 trucks drive on roads in the Ithaca area every day. If hydrofracking were to be implemented here and a well bore put in, 25,000 additional trucks would go on the road, potentially damaging it.

Toxic chemicals provide another cause for concern. Each well bore consists of 6 to 8 wells on 5 acres and each well uses about 3 to 5 million gallons of water to pump the solution through its pipes. The solution consists of water, sand and potentially toxic chemicals in order to push the natural gas to the surface.

While the local community expresses concern over the environmental issues presented by hydrofracking, many are attracted to the monetary compensation that comes with the drilling. According to Lifton, 39 percent of the land-owning community has signed drilling leases with companies. This number, however, only represent 8 percent of the population, as some landowners are larger than others.

Cornell students have expressed worries that people are not taking the environmental risks seriously enough.

“We do not want to make this an economy versus environment issue. We do, however, need to pinpoint the economic gain and calculate what the environmental risks are for these gains,” said Clay Munnings ’10.

Lifton said she believes that the environmental risks far outweigh the economic gains. She has proposed a bill that would impose strict liability for all damages shown to be caused by activities associated with hydrofracking. According to Lifton, this bill would help send the message to the government that it needs to do more to regulate natural gas hydrofracking if it is to be considered for New York State.

“Right now it is extremely difficult to get anything through the House or the Senate. We are extremely divided and for these reasons I am not sure if my bill and others will be passed. However, we need to keep taking steps to ensure that we do not further damage the environment for future generations. By deterring the companies to drill in our area we are protecting the future,” Lifton said.

In late 2009, the Department of Environmental Concervation put out a draft of regulations regarding hydrofracking. Critics of the document call it vague and say that it does not do enough to protect constituents from water contamination. DEC is now taking into account the thousands of public comments made on the document before deciding whether or not to amend it.

Lifton concluded Thursday night’s discussion with a plea to her audience.

“Walk up to the top floor of the Johnson Museum,” Lifton said, “and see through the long window that allows you to overlook part of our beautiful countryside. Can you imagine that untouched land covered in well bores? I cannot.”

Correction appended Feb. 6, 2010: The article originally referenced governor David Paterson of New York as James Patterson. The mistake has been corrected in the article and the Sun regrets this error.

Original Author: Erika Hooker