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Sen. Ball has fracking concerns after Pa. tour

Tuesday public hearing scheduled

Sen. Greg Ball, left, accompanied filmmaker Josh Fox takes tour through northern Pennsylvania this month to film “Gasland 2.” The senator says he will use his findings on the affects of hydrofracking, such as health problems and damage to farmland, to shape legislation. Photo by Sen. Greg Ball’s office.
August 22, 2011
Following a tour of Pennsylvania communities affected by hydraulic fracturing, Sen. Greg Ball, D-Patterson, has scheduled a public hearing on the issue he's calling "Getting the Facts on Fracking" on Tuesday in Katonah, Westchester County.

Ball this month accompanied filmmaker Josh Fox, who directed the controversial "Gasland" movie, on a tour through Tioga, Bradford and Wyoming counties in Pennsylvania while he was shooting footage for a second documentary, "Gasland 2," about the effects the natural gas drilling process has on people, animals and the environment.

"I want nothing more than to create jobs in New York. But I will not roll out the red carpet for companies that are not willing to be held accountable," Ball said last week following his trip. "I saw beautiful communities booming with economic activity. I also heard horror stories from families and farmers who've suffered health problems, lost livestock and seen a 90 percent devaluation of their homes and properties."

According to Ali Skinner, a spokeswoman for Ball, the film crew encountered people with radiation poisoning, fifth-generation landowners whose properties are now rendered useless and a farmer who reported 75 percent of his calves were stillborn.

In the hydrofracking process, millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals are used at high pressure to crack rock beds and release the natural gas beneath. According to the Environmental Advocates of New York and other environmental groups, when the wastewater is brought back to the surface, it can be hundreds of times more radioactive than what is considered safe for drinking water, and it is difficult to treat and dispose of safely.

The senator also reported cases in which gas companies were unresponsive in paying for damages and that landowners, at times, did not have an understanding of the lease agreements and royalties. He said the companies seemed to "easily deny damages to water, soil, lost value of property and lost productivity," and that there was no fine or penalty system in place for contamination of water and soil.

Included in the list of those invited to testify at the hearing are Fox, representatives from the Environmental Advocates of New York, the Independent Oil and Gas Association of New York, Exxon Mobil, Chesapeake Energy, Citizens Campaign for the Environment, Ecosphere Energy Services, medical doctors and Robert Catell, chairman of the Advanced Energy Research and Technology Center at Stony Brook University.

However, late last week Ball said every one of the more than a dozen industry experts invited "backed out," including Exxon Mobil, the Independent Oil and Gas Association, Chesapeake Energy, Cabot Energy, Ecosphere Energy Services and Southwest Energy.

"Their unwillingness to participate in this hearing is an indictment on the industry," Ball said in a statement. "I want to know what they're afraid of. What do they have to hide?"

Skinner said she expects those testifying to discuss the economic impacts of hydraulic fracturing, such as job creation, development and growth, safety issues for the environment, people and animals, as well as policy issues.

Ball said he will use the information collected during the tour and at the hearing to help shape future legislation. A second hearing is planned for January.

Skinner said letters and phone calls from concerned members of the public motivated Ball, who is being proactive about what he sees as an important issue, to schedule the hearing.

"He is very much on the pulse of what his constituents are saying," she said. "He's really in a listening phase right now."

The hearing is scheduled from 9:30 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. Tuesday in the Garden Room of the Katonah Village Library.

The senator also included the following in his list of concerns following his tour of Pennsylvania:

- Lack of full disclosure about proprietary chemical formulas used in the fracking process.

- Lack of protection for workers at drilling sites from fracking fluids and waste.

- Lack of third-party chemical testing for contaminants in land owners' water

- Lack of local employment by the drilling companies. For example, the workers at the Chesapeake gas rigs were transported into Pennsylvania from Texas, Louisiana and Connecticut. The reason given is because it's too costly to train local workers.

- Seemingly aggressive, unethical sales practices used by gas companies' "land men" to encourage land owners to sign leases.

- Lack of sharing of information on contamination among land owners.

- Lack of air quality monitoring.

- Lack of a process to respond to, or to ensure against, devaluation of a land owner's property.

- Absence of an environmental impact analysis process.

- No disclosures or warning statements on lease agreements concerning the financial, health and environmental risks of hydrofracking.

- Lack of full disclosure of past violations and spills by companies.

- Lack of commitment to remediate soil and water upon contamination.

- Lack of regulations on campaign contributions by gas companies to chairs of environmental committees in state government.

- Lack of evacuation plans for local emergency workers.

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