Ken Jaffe’s testimony at the SRBC hearing, 9/15/11

Public Comments

Kenneth Jaffe, MD

Meredith, NY


Thank you for the opportunity to address the Commission. I want voice my objection to permits to withdraw water, and to address the responsibilities of this commission in the light of new scientific information concerning hydrofracking and drinking water quality. I’ll start by referring to the SUSQUEHANNA RIVER BASIN COMPACT.

The Compacts Policy and Standard states that the Commission should act “in accordance with the best interests of the people of the basin and the states”  and “the commission may assume jurisdiction whenever it determines…. that the effectuation of the comprehensive plan so requires………  the commission may adopt such rules, regulations,  and water quality standards as may be required to preserve, protect, improve, and develop the quality of the waters of the basin.

What is missing from the agenda today is a discussion of the best interests of the people of the basin in “preserving and protecting water quality standard”  in the light of scientific information that has come to light in the past year concerning the risk of fracking to drinking water.

In August 2010, Dr. Philip Landrigan, nation’s leading authority on environmental health impacts on children, testified before the EPA. Dr. Landrigan is Professor and Chair of Preventive Medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, and heads their Center for Children’s Environmental Health.  He told the EPA

“As pediatricians specializing in environmental medicine, we at The Center for Children’s Environmental Health are opposed to the current use of hydraulic fracturing not only due to the multiple known risks to children’s health, but also due to the substantial lack of research into the health effects of this practice. While this particular void in research is prominent and must be addressed, multiple health concerns have already been brought up by a wide range of individuals and groups, from rural communities to political bodies and environmental organizations to public health experts.”

That was a year ago.

The research void pointed out by Dr. Landrigan in August 2010 has been partially filled, making two things clear. First the information shows that fracking pollutes drinking water. Secondly that the void in our knowledge is even more dangerous and deep, that it appeared a year ago.

Days after Dr. Landrigan spoke, the EPA called a meeting in Wyoming where EPA Superfund Investigators, after studying drinking water contamination from gas drilling, spoke to residents of the town of Pavillion. They told the residents to not drink their water. They were told to leave their windows open when they shower or do laundry to avoid explosion. That might seem almost comical in the northeast in the winter, if it was not so meaningful, and disturbing.

In December 2010, the EPA in Texas filed suit against Range Resources under the Emergency Powers Section of the Safe Drinking Water Act. The EPA scientific staff detailed how Range’s gas drilling activities had contaminated drinking water wells with methane, and powerful carcinogens, including benzene.  US Justice Department is enforcing the Emergency Order in federal court.

In May 2011 in PA, after poisoning the drinking water of 16 families in Bradford County, Chesapeake Company was fined almost a million dollars by the PA DEP. Still there has been no systematic government study of ground water contamination in PA.  And numerous reported cases of livestock illness and death associated with surface spills in PA that have gone uninvestigated by PA government.

In April 2011 the National Academy of Science published research led by Osborne at Duke that demonstrating that the contamination of drinking water wells with explosive levels of methane increased the closer the well is to a fracking site. This was a peer reviewed study—-the first peer review study that investigated the relationship between fracking and drinking water contamination. Neither government nor industry has funded any peer reviewed research on this issue. This study was funded by Duke University.

In July, a PA newpaper quoted Professor Terry Engelder of Penn State concerning drinking water contamination even with new triple cased wells, “as long as the state is finding violations,  you can take the next logical step, which is obviously they haven’t solved the problem.”

This month, NY DEC SGEIS acknowledges the fact that gas drilling poses a serious threat to drinking water, by banning drilling in certain surface water systems (NYC and Syracuse) and groundwater systems. They made a policy decision to protect drinking water from primary aquifers but not other sole source aquifers. This distinction is not based on science or law. This rules would protect the health of 300,000 NY users primary aquifers in the Marcellus region, but not over 800,000 users of non-primary aquifers exposed to the same risks. Many of these 800,000 people are in the Susquehanna River Basin.

What have we heard from industry in the past year?  The same story, that there is no problem, that it is impossible for drinking water contamination to occur from fracking.  Rex W. Tillerson, the chief executive of ExxonMobil, told Congress:

“There have been over a million wells hydraulically fractured in the history of the industry, and there is not one, not one, reported case of a freshwater aquifer having ever been contaminated from hydraulic fracturing. Not one.”

Given the many episode of aquifer contamination identified by government and academics, we know that Mr. Tillerson’s statement is a shameful falsehood. His statement, echoed, and echoed again by the gas industry, is in the sordid tradition of lead paint manufacturers and tobacco companies that for decades, and with full knowledge of risks, denied those risks, and poisoned people hiding behind  fake science and, more relevant to this discussion, government protection to continue their practices.

Most jarring are statements last month from former EPA officials to the NY Times that hundreds of cases of drinking water contamination were known to industry, but investigators were barred from seeing those records, as court settlements sealed these public health impacts and hid them from officials. This information gives us, and you, a fuller idea of the extent of industry’s knowledge of drinking water contamination, and their use of secrecy to hide the extent of the drinking water pollution from public scrutiny.

With what we have learned in the past year, the scales should fall from your eyes. It is past the time when you could say you do not know that the drinking water quality and the health of the people in SRB are under attack by the current policy on hydrofracking.  You have the facts to tell you this process is not safe.  It is also time to acknowledge that you do not yet know the full extent of the threat.

It is time to stop being so credulous with an industry that has consistently lied to you and the public about safety. Frankly, by maintaining the status quo, the Commission runs the risk appearing as puppets of an industry that acts with a shameless and callous disregard to public health.

You are being asked—-to follow the SUSQUEHANNA RIVER BASINCOMPACT’s mandate

“to protect the water quality of the basin in accordance with the best interests of the people of the basin.” You should halt hydrofracking in the SRB, and not entertain resumption until thorough, unimpeded, objective scientific study of drinking water and health impacts is completed.