NEW YORK—Natalie Brant, a mother of eight, talked about how her family developed headaches, nosebleeds, and a strange virus that caused one daughter to miss 32 consecutive days of school. When her husband saw the hydrofracking documentary film “Gasland,” he wondered if their water, close to a natural gas extraction operation, would light on fire. It did.
Brant’s story about fracking causing extreme stress, financial problems, and danger to her family’s well-being was part of a New York Senate hearing titled “Get the Facts on Fracking,” sponsored by Sen. Greg Ball and attended by fellow Sens. Liz Krueger and Andrea Stewart-Cousins.
The hearing was “designed to build awareness about hydrofracking and solicit testimony from experts to determine public policies needed to protect the health and welfare of the public and our environment,” according to a press release issued by Citizens Campaign for the Environment (CCE).
Hydrofracking, or fracking, is a drilling method that forces millions of gallons of water, combined with sand and a small amount of chemicals, through pipes below ground to fracture shale and release natural gas.
“The pain I experienced firsthand … it will be over my dead body before I allow that to happen here,” said Ball, referring to his recent trip to Pennsylvania to meet with farmers who have had a negative experience with fracking.
Ball was shown around by “Gasland” director Josh Fox.
Fox has traveled far and wide to investigate fracking, including Australia, Europe, Africa, Asia, and across the United States.
“I must report that even though these places boast tough regulations, I have yet to visit any place on earth where the regulations made it safe to live there. … The regulatory approach does not work,” Fox said. “In case after case, the gas industry, once it establishes itself, proves to be more powerful than the state that is regulating it.”
Brant, who traveled 10 hours from her home 30 miles south of Buffalo, N.Y., to testify, said she “never would have imagined that my water would light on fire.”
“We’re constantly worried about our children and if they’re going to come down with cancer or other illnesses because of what they’ve been exposed to. … Who could imagine that letting my children drink water could put their lives in danger.”
Brant described a range of difficulties stemming from the contaminated water, including having to sponge bathe or take a shower at her father’s home an hour away, her washer mysteriously starting to shred and rip holes in their clothes, and being unable to wash dishes because of the high cost of bottled water.
Two natural gas industry groups declined to attend the hearing, saying in a letter to Ball, "This particular forum does not provide the opportunity for a thoughtful and rational dialogue that we would otherwise hope for with you."
Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Joe Martens also visited Pennsylvania with staff in June, to evaluate incidents where problems have occurred during fracking.
There has been controversy in New York over fracking, with groups on both sides passionate about the issue. Proponents often say it brings economic benefits and jobs, and assists in energy self-sufficiency. Critics reference the growing number of reports from institutions like Columbia University analyzing the frequent water contamination, staggering use of fresh water, and the environmental consequences to wildlife.
Former New York Gov. David Paterson issued a moratorium last December on fracking until a sufficient and comprehensive review of aspects like safety and water contamination could took place.
A preliminary report was released by the DEC on July 1, and an updated version will be released on Aug., 31, after which the public will have 60 days to comment on the review.
An earlier version of the report generated over 15,000 public comments.
Organizations against fracking, like Food & Water Watch and Citizens Campaign for the Environment, cite the need for 180 days to properly review the complex report, which is over 1,000 pages long, for environmental, health, and sociological impact."Recently, there have been requests to extend the comment period. We appreciate the feedback provided by these groups and will take it into consideration as we will comments from all interested parties," said Emily DeSantis, assistant director of Public Information for DEC, in an e-mail.
"We look forward to receiving the public’s valuable input when the public comment period begins later this month," said DeSantis.