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.