Assemblymember Linda B. Rosenthal Releases an Open Letter To Governor Cuomo, Commissioner Martens and Dr. Shah Regarding Grave Concerns About Fracking Health Review and Lack of Public Input

New York, NY – Assemblymember Linda B. Rosenthal (D/WF-Manhattan) today sent a letter to Governor Cuomo, Commissioner of New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Joseph Martens and Commissioner of New York State Department of Health and Human Services Dr. Nirav Shah expressing serious concerns about the integrity of the process by which the State will decide whether to allow fracking to take place. In the letter, Assemblymember Rosenthal urges (1) that the state disclose the parameters of the health review, (2) that a comprehensive study of the potential impacts that fracking may have on public health be performed and (3) that the dSGEIS and proposed regulations be reopened to formal public comment after the comprehensive health study is completed, regardless of any delay that would cause in the process. The letter is reprinted in its entirety below. December 19, 2012 Honorable Andrew M. Cuomo
Governor of New York
State Capital
Albany, NY 12233 Joseph Martens
New York State Department of Environmental Conservation
Albany, NY 12224 Dr. Nirav Shah, MD
New York State Department of Health
Albany, NY 12202 Dear Governor Cuomo, Commissioner Martens, and Commissioner Shah: As the 30-day public comment period on the revised proposed regulations on high-volume hydraulic fracturing began on December 12, 2012, I am writing to express my deep concern with the process by which the State will decide whether to allow fracking in New York State. Recently, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) agreed to allow the New York State Department of Health (DOH) to conduct a review of its data on the health impacts of fracking on public health. This was a welcome development, as health and environmental experts, advocates, and concerned elected officials, such as myself, had expressed serious concern that the draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (dSGEIS) did not include a comprehensive review of critical health issues. However, I believe that the public’s trust will still not be gained while the scope of the review remains concealed and no opportunity exists for public comment after the review is completed. In the last several weeks, DOH contracted for a maximum expenditure of $25,000 with three university-affiliated public health experts, Lynn Goldman, John Adgate and Richard Jackson, to review the DEC’s analysis of health impacts on fracking. Shortly thereafter, the DEC requested and was granted a 90-day extension on the November 29, 2012 deadline. A 30-day public comment period on the revised proposed regulations on high-volume hydraulic fracturing will conclude on January 11, 2012. It is my understanding that the DOH’s review will not be released until after the close of the 90-day public comment period, leaving the people of this State with no opportunity to have meaningful input before the final rules and regulations on fracking will be issued. Given that myriad public health risks associated with fracking are possible, it is critical that lawmakers, who are entrusted with protecting the safety of the public, be able to ensure that no irreparable harm done to the health and safety of the citizens of New York. Additionally, it is critical that the public trust our decision making on their behalf. That trust is earned through a transparent and open process that not only allows, but welcomes, public comment and even critique. With respect to the transparency of the process, my concern is two-fold. As of now, the public will not be granted an opportunity to comment on the final regulations, which might be adjusted to reflect the findings of the DOH’s review. On an issue of this significance, the public has a right to be heard and the government has a responsibility to listen and respond accordingly. Second, and I echo the issues raised by the Concerned Health Professionals of NY (CHPNY), led by Dr. David O. Carpenter, Director, Institute for Health and the Environment at the University at Albany, who are experts in the area of human health and the environment. They have apprehensions regarding the safety of fracking and the potential insufficiencies of the review. The public has not been informed of the parameters of the review or what the experts, supervised by DOH, specifically will be studying. I agree with the CHPNY that any comprehensive review must encompass, among other things, the following criteria:

  • The review must be participatory. The public, especially members of targeted or at-risk communities, must be engaged at every stage of the review, including the scoping process. These same individuals, and every New Yorker, should have an opportunity to read, digest and meaningfully respond to the findings of the review through a formal comment period, regardless of whether one is required by law.
  • The review must consider health risks from cumulative impacts and across the entire life cycle of shale gas extraction and transport. This includes radon exposure from pipelines and in homes and apartments at the point of combustion. This also includes air emissions and noise pollution from condensers and compressor stations.
  • The review must focus closely on infants, children, and pregnant women as vulnerable subpopulations. Fracking chemicals and fracking-related air pollutants include numerous reproductive and developmental toxins. These substances, which have no known safe thresholds of exposure, can, when exposure occurs during prenatal or early life, abort pregnancies or sabotage pathways of child development.
  • The review must examine occupational health risks to workers. These include, but are not limited to, head injuries, traffic accidents, blunt trauma, silica dust exposure, and chemical exposures. Oil and gas industry workers have an on-the-job fatality rate seven times that of other industries; silica dust exposure is definitively linked to silicosis and lung cancer.
  • The review must examine failure rates of well casings over time. Important questions have been raised within and without the shale gas extraction industry about the ability of cement to withstand the repeated explosions and intense pressures of fracking. Other important questions have been raised about the lifespan of well casings. Cement and steel are not immortal. At what point does their degradation result in gas leaks? If well casings do not provide a permanent, unbreachable seal between drinking water aquifers and the volatile hydrocarbons trapped in shale bedrock and mobilized during fracking operations, then irreparable problems may be created now or in the near and distant future.
  • The review must assess reports of groundwater contamination in other states where fracking is ongoing. These reports continue to grow in number, and, in some cases, chemical has linked this contamination to gas fracking.
  • The review must assess the total health-related economic costs of fracking. It is possible and necessary to put a price tag on the medical costs of increased disease rates and injuries from fracking.
  • Where uncertainties and gaps in data exist, the review must apply the Precautionary Principle. As expressed by the 1998 Wingspread Consensus Statement on the Precautionary Principle: “When an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically. In this context the proponent of an activity, rather than the public, should bear the burden of proof.
With an unprecedented response of 80,000 comments to the dSGEIS, it is clear that the issue has captured the attention of New Yorkers in a way rarely seen in recent history. To facilitate greater transparency, which will help instill trust in a public that is clearly concerned about fracking and its implications, I request that DOH publicly release an outline of the parameters of the health review, including but not limited to the methodology used, the specified issue areas being studied and whether recommendations for best practices will be included. In addition, I request that regulations be promulgated pursuant to the findings of the review, and that those regulations and the dSGEIS be reopened, in their entirety, to public comments. During the 2012 legislative session, the Assembly, reflecting the clear will of the people, passed legislation that would require a comprehensive health impacts assessment on fracking. A comprehensive health impacts assessment must include the aforementioned factors and more importantly, must be open for public comment and review. Though an additional public process will prolong the process, rushing to open the state to fracking in the absence of a comprehensive analysis of the potential health impacts and a robust public discourse is dangerous. A delay of weeks, months or even years in the name of the safety of every person living in this state is not too long to wait. It is clear that we need new sources of energy here in New York State to meet rising energy demands. That new energy supply, however, should not come at the expense of the safety and health of the people of New York. I look forward to your response. Sincerely,
Linda B. Rosenthal
Member of Assembly – 67 AD