NY Doctors to Perform Health Study of Gas Drilling

On Friday, October 7, 2011 0 comments

ALBANY, N.Y. — More than 250 doctors and other health care professionals have signed a letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo seeking a comprehensive human health study of the state's proposal to permit new deep drilling for natural gas across the Marcellus Shale region of upstate New York.
The Department of Environmental Conservation's draft analysis of hydraulic fracturing for natural gas omits that critical issue, according to the letter dated Wednesday and released to reporters. It also said the state health department has declined to do that requested assessment on grounds it wouldn't provide significant new information that is not already being covered.

The doctors said they disagree and claim growing evidence from industrial gas development in other states shows worsening health among people living near gas wells, compressor stations and waste pits.

The DEC environmental analysis contains "glaring omissions with respect to human health," said Dr. Adam Law, an endocrinologist from Ithaca. A board member of the group Physicians Scientists & Engineers for Healthy Energy, he signed the letter.

Biologist Sandra Steingraber, who also signed it, said estimates of up to 77,000 upstate gas wells involving 1,000 truck trips each would make low-level air pollution a certainty, with estimated health costs that can be calculated.

"This kind of air pollution is lethal," she said.

The letter was also forwarded to the health department and the DEC, which is taking public comments on its draft analysis and regulations and plans to issue final regulations followed by new drilling permits, possibly starting in late fall or early winter. It has proposed rules for permitting gas-drilling companies to pump water, chemicals and sand into deep wells at high pressure to release natural gas from shale, a process known as "hydrofracking."

"Because New York has developed the most rigorous requirements in the nation to protect the public health and the environment, a comparison of health impacts in other states is inappropriate," DEC spokeswoman Emily DeSantis said. She said the draft analysis "thoroughly reviews the causes of potential health impacts in other states and the proposed requirements are designed to prevent them."

The agency analyzed additional truck emissions and found they would have "minimal" effect on air quality, DeSantis said. "Even so, DEC will assess and monitor air quality impacts near drilling operations and regionally," she said.

Health Department spokesman Peter Constantakes said that agency worked with DEC in "a thorough review" of potential health impacts and measures to avoid them. "Another health impact assessment is not necessary," he said.

Drilling advocates say it will bring an economic infusion to New York and that the health concerns are addressed in the DEC analysis and the many state, federal and local laws the industry adheres to daily. The Independent Oil & Gas Association said the regulations and permit limits will be in place "to prevent pathways to humans and the environment."

DEC Commissioner Joe Martens has said that hydraulic fracturing can be done safely with proper precautions. The DEC would prohibit the drilling in the New York City and Syracuse watersheds, on state land and within primary aquifers.

Its proposals include no drilling permits within 500 feet of a private water well or within 2,000 feet of a public drinking water well or reservoir, generally requiring a third casing around each well to prevent gas leaks, requiring watertight tanks to contain flowback water and a DEC-approved plan for disposal of waste water or brine. Applicants would have to fully disclose all chemicals used.

—Copyright 2011 Associated Press

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