Former DOH official speaks out on hydrofracking

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A former official in the state Department of Health says the health impacts of large-scale hydrofracking are difficult to prove, but steps can be taken to make the process more safe.

Howard Freed, a doctor who headed DOH’s Center for Environmental Health from 2008 through March of last year, offered his analysis in an op-ed in Gannett’s Central New York newspapers, outlining three ways he says the state and federal government could help prevent accidents and negative health impacts from shale-gas drilling.

From Press & Sun-Bulletin:

“First, just as the Federal Aviation Administration carefully analyzes every commercial plane crash and re-engineers our system so that type of accident is less likely to occur again, so could our officials carefully analyze every hydrofracking accident that may have caused ground water contamination and engineer New York’s regulations so at least that type of accident is less likely to occur. If that type of analysis has been done by New York, it has been kept secret.

“Second, the process of hydrofracking could be regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act, like so many other industrial activities, and the drillers could be required to disclose which specific chemicals they are using. A law that would do just that has been introduced in the U.S. Senate, and both of New York’s Senators support it. New York State could require similar protections without federal action.

“Third, if any highly regulated hydrofracking were to occur in New York, without undue marginal cost, the Department of Environmental Conservation could require that all horizontally hydrofracked wells have a series of smaller monitoring wells that would provide both reassurance to those living near by and an early warning system if any part of the system should fail.”

Freed worked in the Department of Health during both the Paterson and Cuomo administrations and assisted in the state’s review of fracking and shale-gas drilling, which was first launched in 2008.

He offered an overarching assessment of the current state of the debate:

“Since human error is likely to occur at some point, it follows that there will be some spill or leakage of fracking chemicals. The New York State Department of Health looked at that possibility and concluded that hydrofracking could be done without significant risk to human health, a conclusion hotly disputed by environmentalists. The two sides are mostly talking past each other and using two fundamentally different standards. Environmentalists are concerned with maintaining the purity of drinking water, while DOH judgments are not based on purity, but on whether the level of the contaminant violates current drinking water standards. No one really knows how much of a very dilute solution of fracking fluid is safe to drink.”

You can read the full op-ed here.

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7 Comments

  1. This shows the limited thinking of the DEC and DOH on health issues. Somehow, they equate health issues with drinking water contamination with fracking fluid, ignoring air emissions, silica dust, radiation exposures, traffic accidents, waste disposal problems, ozone levels, noise impacts, climate change impacts, etc.

    One of the lessons that Dr. Shah will learn from speaking to researchers and doctors working on the Geisinger study is that the effects that they are studying are wide ranging. One of their first tasks is going to be studying asthma rates; childhood asthma rates have already been shown to be high in heavily drilled areas in TX. This has nothing to do with water contamination or “accidents” but is a consequence of air pollution in normal operations as unconventional gas extraction/production/transport is currently practiced. Some of the other health consequences that Geisinger plans to study include cancer risks and cardiovascular problems. These studies will take longer as those diseases take longer to develop after exposure to a toxin or pollutant.

    It’s disturbing that after over four years we have yet another example of DEC/DOH thinking that the public health will be protected just by keeping fracking fluid from getting into drinking water and learning from “accidents” to prevent them from happening again. Such limited scope highlights the need for a comprehensive Health Impact Assessment, completed with transparency to national/international standards.

  2. Strange i the US it´s ok to wear a gun i public places. And you are protecting it. But it seems that you all think fracking is worse….

    I sure guns kills more people than fracking gas…..

    regards

  3. The act of driving your car carries inherent risks to your health and safety, but you’re empowered to take steps that greatly minimize though don’t eliminate those risks. This is the metahor Dr. Freed unknowingly or otherwise compares the state of horizontal fracking in NY with. But it’s a deeply flawed comparison.

    That’s because when, how, and where you drive are choices you make, yet analagous choice options don’t exist when your neighbor decides to frack. And because there’s a market for auto insurance to protect yourself against catastrophic economic costs that aren’t available if your neighbor fracks. And because, as Dr. Freed points out: “Given that it is a process whose effects on human health are not well understood …” and “Unfortunately, it is almost impossible for individuals who think they have been made ill to prove that the nearby fracking is responsible …” and becase, well, you get the picture.

  4. Please let me know when NYS and fracking are actually covered by the Clean Water Act without the current exemptions and when the proposed regulations and SGEIS do not have the fatal flaws that existed in the last versions of both. Then let me know when NYSDEC has enough trained people in the Minerals and Gas Division to not only issue permits but to supervise the drilling of multiple gas wells in various stages.

  5. ” Environmentalists are concerned with maintaining the purity of drinking water, while DOH judgments are not based on purity, but on whether the level of the contaminant violates current drinking water standards. No one really knows how much of a very dilute solution of fracking fluid is safe to drink.” I’m very concerned and angry at this statement because it sounds like the DOH is okay with introducing industrial activity with the “right ” amounts of fracking fluids that can by drunk by people. Why introduce it at all then? And what of the doestic and wild animals that may feed on this? And what if hunters and people eat these animals? And then there’s the amount of toxic contamination from the “pools” of flowback plus, in the Marcellus shale case, the radioactive parts in the pools too what will happen to that? Not to mention the wonderful Federal Law on the books called “Compulsory Integration”( http://innovationtrail.org/post/compulsory-integration-takes-heat-forcing-drilling-landowners ) that virtually takes away your property rights.Then there’s the trucks that have “unintended spills” oh yeah that’s the one where the spill will get into rivers and streams and that’s ok??? NO, BAN FRACKING IN N.Y. BECAUSE IT’S A HUMAN RIGHTS ISSUE. A CONSTITUTIONAL ISSUE, THAT IS RUINING OUR FREEDOM TO LIFE, LIBERTY AND THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS. Where does it say that one landowner’s rights supersede all others? Compulsory integration.

  6. ” Environmentalists are concerned with maintaining the purity of drinking water, while DOH judgments are not based on purity, but on whether the level of the contaminant violates current drinking water standards. No one really knows how much of a very dilute solution of fracking fluid is safe to drink.” I’m very concerned and angry at this statement because it sounds like the DOH is okay with introducing industrial activity with the “right ” amounts of fracking fluids that can by drunk by people. Why introduce it at all then? And what of the domestic and wild animals that may feed on this? And what if hunters and people eat these animals? And then there’s the amount of toxic contamination from the “pools” of flowback plus, in the Marcellus shale case, the radioactive parts in the pools too what will happen to that? Not to mention the wonderful Federal Law on the books called “Compulsory Integration”( http://innovationtrail.org/post/compulsory-integration-takes-heat-forcing-drilling-landowners ) that virtually takes away your property rights.Then there’s the trucks that have “unintended spills” oh yeah that’s the one where the spill will get into rivers and streams and that’s ok??? NO, BAN FRACKING IN N.Y. BECAUSE IT’S A HUMAN RIGHTS ISSUE. A CONSTITUTIONAL ISSUE, THAT IS RUINING OUR FREEDOM TO LIFE, LIBERTY AND THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS. Where does it say that one landowner’s rights supersede all others? Compulsory integration.

  7. This man worked for the dOH and is this apathetic about the dangers of hydrofracking!!?? Glad he doesn’t work for them anymore- we don’t need any more ignorant naysayers in that epartment! The Geisinger study that is currently being done in Pennsylvani, I’m quite sure, will ascertain the many, varied, and horrific health impacts from hydrofracking, and we will then know for sure that fracking CANNOT BE DONE SAFELY!!