Yesterday, Sunday February 27th, the New York Times ran an extremely well researched and documented article by Ian Urbina titled, “Regulation Lax as Gas Wells’ Tainted Water Hits Rivers” that will unquestionably change the dynamics of the fight to prevent unsafe gas drilling in New York State.

Key among the article’s many revelations is that radioactive wastewater resulting from hydrofracking has been dumped into rivers, streams and lakes at levels that are up to thousands of times greater than what the EPA considers safe.  Catskill Mountainkeeper has summarized the key points of this landmark article below to put it into perspective for our e-members and we are asking you to take action now to maximize the positive momentum this story is creating.

Article Summary

The article unequivocally and definitively establishes that the danger to our health and our environment from hydraulic fracturing is much greater than previously understood; that government regulations have not kept pace with the natural gas industry’s expansion and that government on every level lacks the manpower to adequately police the industry.

As part of their multi-month investigation, the Times reviewed thousands of internal documents from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that revealed that wastewater, the byproduct from hydrofracking, contains radioactivity and other toxic materials at levels that are frequently geometrically higher than the level that federal regulators say is safe for wastewater treatment plants to handle. EPA and industry researchers say that the biggest danger of radioactive wastewater is its potential to contaminate drinking water and enter the food chain through fish or farming. Once radium enters a person’s body, by eating, drinking or breathing, it can cause cancer, asthma and a plethora of other health problems, many federal studies show.

The Times also found never-reported studies by the EPA and confidential study by the drilling industry that all concluded that radioactivity in drilling waste cannot be fully diluted in rivers and other waterways.

The Times’ exhaustive study which included review of 30,000 pages of federal, state and company records relating to 200 gas wells in PA, 40 in WV and 20 public and private wastewater treatment plans found the following:

  • More than 1.3 billion gallons of wastewater was produced by Pennsylvania wells over the past three years, far more than has been previously disclosed. Most of this water — enough to cover Manhattan in three inches — was sent to treatment plants not equipped to remove many of the toxic and hazardous materials in drilling waste.
  • Treatment plants in Pennsylvania discharged waste into some of the state’s major river basins including the Monongahela River, which provides drinking water to more than 800,000 people including Pittsburgh and the Susquehanna River, which feeds into Cheasapeake Bay and provides drinking water to more than 6 million people.
  • Drillers in Pennsylvania trucked at least half of their waste to at least 12 sewage treatment plants in three other states including two plants in New York that discharge into Southern Cayuga Lake near Ithaca and Owasco Outlet, near Auburn. 
  • Of more than 179 wells producing wastewater with high levels of radiation, at least 116 reported levels of radium or other radioactive materials 100 times as high as the levels set by federal drinking-water standards. At least 15 wells produced wastewater carrying more than 1,000 times the amount of radioactive elements considered acceptable.
  • Most wastewater facilities cannot remove enough of the radioactive material to meet federal drinking-water standards before discharging the wastewater into rivers, sometimes just miles upstream from drinking–water intake plants.
  • Federal and state regulators have given nearly all drinking-water intake facilities in Pennsylvania permission to only test for radioactivity once every six or nine years and with the blessing of regulators, have not tested for radioactivity since before 2006, even though the drilling boom began in 2008.

In addition, The Times reported that In Texas which now has about 93,000 natural gas wells, a hospital system in six counties with some of the heaviest drilling said in 2010 that it found a 25% asthma rate for young children, more than three times the state rate of about 7%. 

Much of the information in the article was based on what is happening in Pennsylvania and the outlet for that state looks bleak.  Nonetheless, Governor Tom Corbett has said that he would reopen state land to new drilling reversing a decision made by his predecessor Edward G. Rendell.  The change clears the way for as many as 10,000 wells on public land, up from about 25 active wells today.
Take Action

This article incontrovertibly confirms the many devastating risks New York State would face if gas drilling utilizing hydrofracking were green lighted. As concerned and informed citizens we must immediately take the necessary actions to make sure drilling doesn’t commence in New York State unless it can be unequivocally proven to pose no threat to the environment or people in New York State.

  1. Join with Josh Fox, Director of Gasland, in calling on President Obama to impose an immediate moratorium on the practice of hydraulic fracturing across the United States until such time as these practices have been unequivocally proven to pose no threat to the environment or the citizens of the United States of America. Click here to email President Obama.
  2. Call on Governor Cuomo to instruct the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to indefinitely extend the Executive Order that requires the DEC to go back and review the regulations under which gas drilling using fracking can occur. Click here to email Governor Cuomo.
  3. Call on Lisa Jackson, the head of the EPA, to immediately begin monitoring radioactivity levels at all drinking water intakes that are in close proximity to sewage treatment plants that accept natural gas drilling wastewater and to seek from Congress action that will untie the hands of the EPA so that it can assert proper oversight of the full life-cycle of the hydraulic fracturing process by repealing the egregious exemptions that this industry enjoys from our national’s most important environmental safeguards. Click here to email Ms. Jackson.

Please consider supporting Catskill Mountainkeeper today.

About Catskill Mountainkeeper

Catskill Mountainkeeper is a community based environmental advocacy organization, dedicated to creating a flourishing a sustainable economy in the Catskills and preserving and protecting the area’s long term health.  We address issues of water integrity for the Delaware and Susquehanna River Systems, the defense of the vast woodlands that encompass the Catskill Forest Preserve and the New York City Watershed as well as farmland protection. We promote “smart” development that balances the economic needs and concerns of the Catskill regions’ citizens and the protection of our abundant but exceedingly vulnerable natural resources.

Catskill Mountainkeeper is an independent not for profit 501c3 organization. 


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