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Letter to Friends and Neighbors

“With hydrofracking, a well can produce over a million gallons of wastewater that is often laced with highly corrosive salts, carcinogens like benzene, and radioactive elements like radium, all of which can occur naturally thousands of feet underground, Other carcinogenic materials can be added to the wastewater by the chemicals used in the hydrofracking itself. “While the existence of the toxic wastes has been reported, thousands of internal documents obtained by The New York Times from the Environmental Protection Agency, state regulators and drillers show that the dangers to the environment and health are greater than previously understood.”

Part of the Series

“With hydrofracking, a well can produce over a million gallons of wastewater that is often laced with highly corrosive salts, carcinogens like benzene, and radioactive elements like radium, all of which can occur naturally thousands of feet underground, Other carcinogenic materials can be added to the wastewater by the chemicals used in the hydrofracking itself.

“While the existence of the toxic wastes has been reported, thousands of internal documents obtained by The New York Times from the Environmental Protection Agency, state regulators and drillers show that the dangers to the environment and health are greater than previously understood.”

– Regulation Lax as Gas Wells’ Tainted Water Hits Rivers; The New York Times; 2-27-11; page 1.

Dear Friends & Neighbors:

In November, local residents learned of a proposed hydrofracking well on the hill between Routes 8 and 35, north of East Guilford. We have since learned that the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation is acting in the role of “lead agent” for this, the proposed “Hanehan Well.” While our area tends to take a “live, and let live” approach, and residents are not prone to interfering with whatever their neighbors choose to do on their own property, this is a situation that deserves our attention.

The numerous issues that have made hydrofracking controversial across the United States apply to Guilford. These include environmental safety, as well as the gas industries’ concept of “forced integration,” in which property owners opposed to hydrofracking could not keep the gas industry from hydrofracking beneath their land. And, as noted in the newspaper article quoted above, members of the state and federal government – including those who are supposed to protect the public’s well-being – frequently have hidden the very real risks to the environment and public health.

I do not think that I run much risk of insulting anyone by saying that there are liars in the world of politics. Nor is it likely to shock anyone when I say that politicians and bureaucrats from both major political parties have been known to tell whoopers. Indeed, in my own experiences in over thirty years as a grass roots environmental advocate, I have encountered both Democrats and Republicans who have been entirely comfortable in lying. I want to be clear: they weren’t making honest mistakes, nor simply forgetting to mention some minor detail. And it has been both insulting and indeed shocking to find how common a practice that this is.

While speaking to a variety of different community groups in 2011, about the value of clean water, I’ve used an example from my work on the Richardson Hill/ Sidney Landfill “Super Fund Site” in Sidney Center. What was supposed to be the complete public record of local, state, and federal documents were available to read in the Sidney Library. I spent many hours, reading through them. I found that page 100,556 was “missing.” Call me paranoid, but I found myself wondering, “Why is page 100,556 missing? Might it be important?”

I contacted both the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), and the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and requested a copy of it. Neither agency provided me with a copy. So I attempted to access it through the Freedom of Information (FOI) federal law. Again, no response. And so I asked a friend, environmental attorney Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., for assistance. He got a copy of page 100,556 for me.

When I read the June 30, 1993 document, I realized why they didn’t want the general public to see it. It had to do with a few days of rain in April of that year, which had caused “releases of hazardous wastes (that caused large-scale) wildlife mortalities” in and around the North and South Ponds on Richardson Hill. Indeed, the evidence documented in this report proved that government officials were engaged in a purposeful campaign of misinformation and disinformation – to protect the responsible parties, at the public’s expense.

It was perhaps the most dishonest and outrageous lie I encountered, over the years. However, at this time, I believe that a significant number of elected politicians and unelected bureaucrats are engaged in a much larger and even more deceitful campaign – to benefit “energy corporations” at the expense of the environment and the public health. It involves hydrofracking. In saying this, I want to be clear in that I do not blame, or have hostility towards, the individual land-owners who have leased their lands for gas-drilling. Many are feeling the extreme economic stresses that are common today; others believe it is an option that could wean our country off its dependence on oil from the Middle East; and still others have been tricked by the false patriotism of the “drill a gas well, bring home a soldier” message from energy corporations. My concerns are focused entirely upon
the corporate “leaders” that, from the comfort of their cushy offices in distant cities, view this land and its people as resources to be exploited, and those politicians who answer only to corporate masters.

This may sound extreme. But we are in extremely dangerous circumstances. Consider this: in 2005, Vice President Dick Cheney tasked his “former” partners at Halliburton to go to Albany, NY, to lobby for the gas industry. As a result of the Halliburton lawyers meetings with NYS officials – including elected and unelected bureaucrats – the state government ruled that the gas industry would not have to comply with either state or federal environmental regulations while drilling in New York. For example, the gas industry is not mandated to inform the public as to exactly what chemicals are used in the process of hydrofracking. Who benefits from this policy? The corporations or the public?

Upon the suggestion of the Halliburton representatives, the state also created a policy in 2005 known as “compulsory integration.” Thus, if 60% of the land in an identified target area is owned by pro-drilling people, the gas companies will have full access to the other 40%. Thus, one landowner with sixty acres of land could determine the fate of 40 families that each own one acre of land. This is modern feudalism.

Each gas well requires an average of 1,000,000 gallons of water for the process of hydrofracking. While those 40 families are not allowed by law to find out all of the chemicals that are used in that well, there are a number of ones that have been identified as seeping into the water supplies of families living within two miles of such a well: Radium 226; strontium; radon; hydrochloric acid; and methanol. These are not the things that we want in our water.

I recognize these chemicals and heavy metals, as they are among the poisons that are found at the Richardson Hill/ Sidney Landfill; the BAGS (Bainbridge, Afton, Guilford, & Sidney) Landfill; and six other known toxic industrial waste dump sites in the Tri-Town area. I know from more than thirty years of experience that people lack the technical ability to actually “clean” these sites; rather, they try to “contain” them. And I know from that June 30, 1993 document that three days of rain creates a situation that makes “containment” a farce ….. and considering the harsh realities of the 2006 and 2011 floods, I do not think that any one family has the right to roll the dice on the health, safety, and welfare of everyone else.

In the 1990’s, I worked with several other people to conduct health studies of the families living in the neighborhoods around several of the toxic industrial waste dump sites in our area. The NYS Department of Health has legal guidelines for health studies that reduce the likelihood of identifying problems; by 1993, the DOH had “studied” 350+ suspected cancer-clusters, and determined none existed. (Some policies have reportedly been changed, in regard to a neighborhood in the Triple Cities, in more recent years.) But at that time, I used a model that I was provided with by some honest and decent workers at the EPA; this focuses at the site of the dump itself, and then works outward, rather than focusing exclusively on a single township as a whole.

Cancer is a brutal disease. Statistics suggest than one in three Americans will die of cancer. Residents of the Tri-Town area have an even higher risk. But exposure to the toxic wastes associated with hydrofracking are not limited to cancer. They also include nervous system disorders; respiratory disease; and organ damage. This is among the reasons that in February, 2011, the Bassett Medical Center’s Board of Trustees, and the Medical Staff, issued resolutions against hydrofracking. The medical community recognizes that it poses a dangerous threat to public health.

The proposed NYS standards for hydrofracking would do less to protect the public health than does the Pennsylvania standards. CBS News reported on 3-14-11 that, despite assurances from gas companies, the University of Pittsburgh was finding water contamination at “dozens of times more than the acceptable levels.” (“Pitt Researchers Test Waste Water From Marcellus Shale Drilling”) One month later, CBS reported that the president of the Marcellus Shale Coalition was “forced to admit the industry is responsible for water pollution documented by Carnagie Mellon University.” (“Gas Drilling Industry Makes Stunning Admission”)

In our own state, on 11-2-11, The Ithaca Journal reported that the County Health Department and Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton had provided documentation that the NYS DEC had betrayed the public trust in a case where gas drilling had destroyed a rural neighborhood’s water supply. And the Watertown Daily News carried a 12-13-11 op-ed by a DEC Region 5 environmental engineering technician, that detailed exactly why hydrofracking is always not only high-risk, but certain to pollute ground- and surface water.

Yet, like medieval theologians who hold an economic philiosophy which reaches a conclusion before examining any evidence other than profit margins, the gas industry and their political puppets continue to claim that hydrofracking is safe as mother’s milk, and that there is no evidence to the contrary. They mountain of scientific evidence that contradicts their claim is simply ignored. The DEC is proposing that hydrofracking is so safe, that it should be done everywhere in New York State ….. except near the New York City and Syracuse water supplies. If it’s not safe for NYC and Syracuse’s water supply, then how the heck can it be okay near your and my water?

Your and my water is at risk today. Earlier in 2011, the towns of Coventry, Bainbridge, and Sidney were approached by “Leatherstocking,” a combination of Mirabito and Corning energy corporations. Leatherstocking was proposing a gas line to run from Coventry, through Bainbridge, to Sidney. The Town Supervisors, Town Boards, and the Sidney Mayor insisted the pipeline had “nothing to do with hydrofracking.” However, at the first Coventry meeting, a Corning spokesman told pro-hydrofracking people that, “Of course this is about fracking; we just can’t say so, because of the public’s unnatural fears.” More, the heads of the other partner, two cousins that I went to high school with, both told me that it absolutely has to do with hydrofracking. (While we disagree on the dangers posed, at least they were honest with me, and open to discussing the issues involved.)

NYS Senator Thomas Libous and Governor Andrew Cuomo have made plans to make the Southern Tier the “showcase” in our state for hydrofracking. The Hanehan Well is merely the first proposed well for a planned line going up Rt. 8, in a series of wells to feed a branch of the Leatherstocking pipelines. If this plan is allowed to go forward, it will benefit those individuals invested in energy corporations, including a couple of families in the Southern Tier. But the larger interests are not local.

The 12-2 & 3-11 Press & Sun-Bulletins carried front-page articles, “Spill near drill site probed,” and “Georgia man admits dumping sludge,” which betray the claims that hydrofracking will bring local jobs. (The Georgia man dumped 800 gallons of “dangerous sludge” in a field in Bradford County, PA.)

This year, the Town of Guilford took a “Comprehensive Plan Survey” of its residents. Over 90% of the respondents expressed concerns about preserving the quality of water in Guilford. As one of the residents who has concerns about the water quality, I have both called and written to Senator Libous and Governor Cuomo. I asked both to agree to a meeting with a small group of the local grass roots groups that are opposed to hydrofracking. While I recognize that we might disagree, I am convinced that there are benefits to having citizens meet with elected representatives, to “talk shop.”

Not surprisingly, I have had no response from Governor Cuomo’s office. On 12-15, Senator Libous wrote a rather snide response, making clear that he is not interested in my opinion, and has no desire to meet with citizens who are opposed to hydrofracking.

From casual conversations with some of the people living near the proposed Hanehan Well, I believe that there are a number of others who are concerned about what this would mean in terms of their water quality; their family’s health; and their property’s values. If you are interested in these issues, and would like more information, please contact me. I think that we should have a “neighborhood meeting” to discuss these things in greater detail.

Thank you for your interest.

Patrick R. McElligott