A few months ago, we detailed the fracked up process underway in New York State to determine the health impacts from fracking. Since the results of the health study are not ready for release, the state had to open a public commenting period to extend the rule-making process. Until January 11th at 5pm, the general public can submit their comments on the proposed regulations. The DEC insists that it will not take any final decision on fracking until the health review is complete and it can guarantee that fracking can be done safely in New York State.
We’ve written extensively on the negative health and environmental impacts that fracking imposes on communities and the economic promises that never really materialize. It is important to continually state that these are not hypothetical outcomes. Communities that currently have fracking operations suffer from mysterious health problems, water supplies are being poisoned, and the promised jobs and economic booms are not materializing. These are guaranteed outcomes of fracking operations. And, the truth is that stronger regulations will not make fracking safer.
Even if strong regulations were implemented—and given the cozy relationship between the DEC and the fracking industry, it is a huge if—regulations must be enforced in order to protect communities. Unfortunately, not only is the regulatory system continuously under attack, the incentive structure is such that is often cheaper for polluting industries to pay any fines than make meaningful operational changes. BP was hit with a record fine for the Deep Horizon disaster. The record fine was a fraction of their 2011 annual revenue. A tar sand pipeline operated by Enbridge had over 800 spills between 1999 and 2010 and released more oil into the environment than the Exxon Valdez spill. Yet, the company continues to post record profits.
Fracking companies have no incentive to abide by strict regulations if the fines they have to pay are cheaper than the cost of compliance. Until this dynamic changes, fracking can never be made safe, if it could ever be safe in the first place. Fracking may provide cheap gas for a while, but it will be a finite period. Continuing to support extreme forms of energy just delays our inevitable transition to clean energy. In the meantime, the environmental and health impacts imposed on communities will come at a great cost.
The comment period is open for several more weeks. The proposed regulations can be found here, as well as instructions for submitting comments.