Municipalities must take lead on banning fracking

As someone who has become aware of the negative impacts of fracking on various communities across the country in my years of organizing, there should be serious concerns over Chautauqua County welcoming in the oil and gas industry to frack due to its impact on the water, air, and health of residents.

The gas industry’s own data shows that there’s a 6 to 7 percent well casing failure in new wells in Pennsylvania over the past three years, which can lead to instances of water contamination for those who have drilling on their property or live nearby.

Between botched wells and surface spills, we are not guaranteed clean water anymore if we allow the gas industry into our region. Communities in Wyoming, Texas, and Pennsylvania still live with water contamination caused by drilling. The Scranton Times-Tribune received Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection records that showed at least 161 homes, churches, businesses, and farms had their water supplies damaged by drilling and fracking between 2008 and fall 2012.

Water contamination should not be the only area of concern, as fracking operations also spew various chemicals into the air. After three years of research, a Colorado School of Public Health study found air pollutants near fracking sites at levels high enough to raise risks for cancer, respiratory issues, and neurological deficits.

On top of this, the gas industry has many exemptions from Federal regulations like the Safe Drinking Water Act, Clean Air Act, and Clean Water Act, which means that it’s been increasingly difficult to hold the industry accountable in communities in which they drill.

New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation’s draft plan on fracking is also lacking in terms of protecting communities from the harms of fracking and disposal of the millions of gallons of chemical-laden and potentially radioactive waste fracking creates.

Chautauqua County is a beautiful region that is known for tourism and agriculture, which only increases the need to be careful about what industries are welcomed in and what we choose to turn away.

Now is the time for cities and towns to move forward local laws to protect themselves, similar to what Dunkirk has already done. Until Gov. Andrew Cuomo bans fracking outright, which he must do, it is the responsibility of local elected officials to protect everything we hold dear in Chautauqua County.

Rita Yelda is the Western New York Organizer for Food and Water Watch, a non-profit consumer organization that works to ensure clean water and safe food.