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March 6, 2012

 

Lifton lobbies for health study on fracking

Assemblywoman seeking money in 2012-13 state budget for study of impacts

StudyBob Ellis/staff photographer
Craig and Julie Sautner, of Dimock, Pa., show off a gallon jug of their tap water during a rally in April in Binghamton. The Sautners live 976 feet from an operating natural gas well that they say has ruined their drinking water.

By CATHERINE WILDE
Staff Reporter
cwilde@cortlandstandard.net

Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton, whose district includes part of Cortland County, is pushing the state to set aside money in the 2012-13 budget for a comprehensive health study of hydraulic fracturing, commonly know as hydrofracking or fracking.
Hydrofracking is the process of extracting gas from underground shale by injecting chemically-treated water to break apart the shale.
It has come under fire for being potentially dangerous to the environment and for posing health risks to people and animals but the gas industry claims the method is safe.
In Lifton’s letter to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and the chairs of the Health and Environmental Conservation Committees, Lifton (D-Ithaca) urges the health study to examine how other states were impacted by drilling and the toxicity of chemicals used in drilling.
Lifton said her request was prompted by two trips she took to Pennsylvania over the past two years, where she learned of two young women who have barium poisoning after gas drilling occurred near them.
Lifton found this an odd coincidence since barium is one of the chemicals that can be used in drilling.
“We have learned that when they do the first drilling ... they put barium in the drilling mud as one of the chemicals that helps in the initial drilling. This is why I need a study, I don’t want to base it on conjecture,” Lifton said, of suspicions surrounding the situation.
Lifton said she was not sure how much should be set aside for the study but predicted it could be upwards of $1 million to $2 million.
She wants data to be collected from other states where drilling has occurred and she wants a detailed overview of the health risks of all chemicals used in the drilling process.
As the Senate and Assembly work to prepare their own versions of the budget before reaching consensus on a unified proposal, Lifton hopes the Assembly version will devote money to the study.
The Assembly puts its plan forward Monday, said Lifton. She said the chair of the Health Committee, Assemblyman Richard Gottfried has already indicated he supports the idea.
“I hope to start by getting it in our one house Assembly budget, then push for its inclusion in the final budget,” Lifton said.
Brad Gill, executive director of the Independent Oil and Gas Association of New York, an industry lobbying group, disagreed with Lifton’s assertion that a health study is needed.
“There is no conclusive evidence that HVHF causes any adverse health effects in Pa., N.Y. or elsewhere,” Gill said. “Ms. Lifton’s anecdotal references to ‘likely causes’ of barium poisoning isn’t substantiated. The benign chemical dilution that is used in well completion is documented and accessible to the curious public, both through www.fracfocus.org and on the NYS DEC website.”
Gill said he believes Lifton is using the issue to hold up approval of state regulations now being drafted by the state Department of Environmental Conservation to govern fracking across the state.
“This constitutes a delay tactic which will continue to send the message the NYS isn’t open for business,” he added.
“Our economy will continue to suffer while neighboring states will prosper.”

 

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