Why I Support a Ban on Gas Drilling

(view more articles in SOS Tompkins Weekly)

Tompkins Weekly 9-16-13

By Dominic Frongillo

Frongillo on Fracking:
Statement on Vote to Ban Gas Drilling

I grew up here in Caroline. In summer, I caught grasshoppers in the fields near my house, and in winter I laid in quiet snowy fields. I’ve hiked our state forests and along our streams, and I’ve looked up at the brilliant stars at night. I gave up joining the Peace Corps to serve my community, which has been the most meaningful work in my life. Over the years, I’ve watched our town change. My dirt road is now being paved. Fields have grown houses. Rain now comes in downpours. In winter, our snowpack is disappearing, and in summer, our streams are running dry.
We are facing hard times and for many families, gas drilling seemed like a good opportunity. When the salespeople knocked on the door, many signed leases. Families that didn’t sign found their neighbors did, and because the gas would be taken anyway, said, “I might as well sign too.”  Soon, 55 percent of our town was leased.
But we didn’t know what we were getting into.  We heard stories from other communities about water contamination, illnesses, death of farm animals, and water that could be set on fire.
Over the last year and a half, I’ve watched this public process unfold. We’ve witnessed the largest citizen petition in the town’s history — signed by half of all voters — and an unprecedented election, many public meetings, emails and letters, and testimony at our many meetings and hearings. I’ve heard from citizens on this issue more than any other.
On one side, are families who see gas drilling as a way to keep land in the family. No one wants to tell their kids that to make ends meet they had to sell land which has been in the family for generations. On the other side are families who see gas drilling as a threat to everything they hold dear and love.

Some say banning fracking erodes landowner rights. I respond, we all have the right to freely work our land and operate our businesses. Yet, when impacts of our actions cross property boundaries and burden taxpayers or threaten public health, it becomes the Town’s responsibility to get involved.
Some say that prohibiting this industry is extreme. I respond, extreme is introducing a new industry that is chemically intensive with unproven technology; thousands of heavy truck trips that rut up our roads and damage our bridges, raising taxes for seniors and families on fixed income; radioactive contamination from radon and air pollution from venting methane; transportation of hazardous radioactive waste through our town, putting our firefighters and paramedics at risk from dangerous chemicals; highly toxic chemicals which do not have to be disclosed under law by an industry which has been exempted from the Clean Water, Clean Air, and Safe Drinking Water acts; earthquakes rattling our windows; surface spills, blowouts, and well casing failures – which the industry’s own data reveals is a minimum of 6 percent of wells drilled – risking permanent contamination of our drinking water; influx of out-of-state workers, increasing crime rates and rental prices, and forcing out our vulnerable working families; industry which destabilizes our housing prices and threatens the ability for homeowners to secure a mortgage; a boom bust economy that drives out our local businesses, puts our farms under, destroys our tourism base, and drives up costs for residents; fragmentation of our town with pipelines, access roads, staging sites, and compressor stations; and introduction of a 24-hour industry that destroys our town’s rural character. All this is what I call extreme.
Many fracking impacts are irreversible. A ban on this industry until it is proven safe is both reasonable and conservative.

Some say we risk legal challenge. I respond, 140 communities across New York State have passed bans or moratoria, and only two have faced legal challenge. Courts have ruled in favor of our right to protect our communities. Moreover, failing to pass this ban would open us to liability from downstream impacts.
Some say this is a state issue and that we should trust the D.E.C. regulators.  I respond, I wish we could trust our state government to protect us. However, despite a record-breaking 70,000 public comments, the D.E.C. has not done due diligence.
There has been no comprehensive health impacts study looking at how gas drilling will directly or indirectly impact the health of our children and elderly.
There has been no comprehensive study of how gas drilling would impact our first responders, property values, home mortgages, existing businesses and economies, local community character; and our roads and bridges.
There has been no comprehensive study of how allowing gas drilling on a town- or state-wide scale would impact our landscape, water, air, and greenhouse gas emissions, nor where the toxic wastewater will be disposed.

Dominic Frongillo is a council member and Deputy Town Supervisor in the Town of Caroline. This is part one of a two part essay.


If you liked this article, you may want to check out our complete archives of SOS Tompkins Weekly articles