Hawkins: Why I Will Ban Gas Drilling Waste in New York's Landfills

I have been clear throughout my campaign this year, as I was in my 2010 campaign, that as Governor I will ban fracking and will work to build a 100% clean renewable energy system by 2030 in New York State.

I have been clear that I oppose all new investments in fossil fuel infrastructure, including new natural gas power plants and pipelines, the proposed liquified natural gas export facility at Port Ambrose, the proposed storage of natural gas and liquified propane and butane gas in the salt caverns next to Seneca Lake, and the proposed boilers to heat crude oil for transfer from trains to tankers and barges at the Port of Albany. I want a moratorium on crude oil "bomb" trains through New York State for safety reasons.

Investments in fossil fuel infrastructure locks us into decades more reliance on energy that is heating the planet and more expensive than clean renewables. It is time to make the smart investments in clean energy that will create millions of manufacturing and construction jobs, lower energy costs, and put New York State in the leadership of the energy transition the world must make to avoid catastrophic climate change.

What I want to make clear today is that I also oppose the import and treatment of out-of-state frack drilling waste in New York State. Even the pro-fracking Republican candidate Rob Astorino signed a law as Westchester County Executive in December 2012 to ban the import and treatment of frack drilling waste in his county. Meanwhile, under Governor Cuomo's watch, the oil and gas industry has been allowed to import and treat of fracking wastes from Pennsylvania in New York State.

The Chemung landfill, which I saw from several vantage points today, is one of at least five landfills in New York that are taking frack drilling wastes from Pennsylvania. Since 2011 more than 300,000 tons of radioactive drill cuttings have entered these five landfills from fracked wells in Pennsylvania, with little oversight from the DEC because of the DEC's erroneous interpretation of our state's low level radioactive waste laws. i

Drill cuttings (the pulverized slurry that comes out of the borehole) and flow back water from deep shale formations contain naturally occurring salts, heavy metals and radioactive particles. They can have high levels of radium-226 and-228 which can be dispersed as airborne particles or become dissolved in water. Human exposure to radium 226 leads to developmental problems, neurological disorders and cancer. Wastewater that enters sewage treatment plants either directly from fracking operations or as leachate from landfills taking frack drilling wastes goes into the rivers and streams that supply water to millions of people.

DEC is allowing drilling wastes from hydrofracking in Pennsylvania to be placed in New York's municipal and construction and demolition landfills in spite of the DEC's own data showing extremely high levels of gross alpha and gross beta radioactivity in the produced brine from vertical Marcellus wells in New York. Appendix 13 of the draft SGEIS shows gross alpha and beta levels in the produced brine from wells drilled in Schuyler County and Steuben County are as high as 123,000 pi/L. ii This is more than 8,000 times the EPA permitted levels of gross alpha and beta in drinking water supplies of 15 pi/L. The well with the highest reading, in the Town of Orange in Schuyler County, is located just 10 miles from here.

So why is the DEC allowing these wastes in New York landfills? The DEC is allowing this under an illogical interpretation of what constitutes Naturally Occurring Radioactive Material (NORM). NORM is exempt from the stringent requirements of New York's low level radioactive waste disposal laws.iii Without the DEC's determination that frack drilling wastes constitute NORM these wastes would be banned from New York's municipal and C&D landfills. They would have to be transported to low level radioactive waste landfills and every load would have to be monitored and tracked. The wastes could not be disposed of in New York because we have no low-level radioactive waste landfills in New York.

As radiation experts have noted, the DEC's treatment of concerns about the radioactivity brought to the surface in gas drilling wastes displays a "cavalier attitude towards human exposure to radioactive material . . . . [The SGEIS's] superficial characterization of radiation risks has prompted warnings from . . .the EPA whose public comments on the SCGEIS reflect deep concerns about the DEC's understanding and appreciation of the actual risks posed by radiation."iv

We must begin to take proper account of the risks posed by the radioactivity in frack drilling wastes. As Governor, I will make sure that fracking wastes are subject to New York's low level radioactive waste laws, and that the NORM exemption is only be applied to naturally occurring radioactive material in its place of deposit by nature, and undisturbed by human intervention. v

I applaud the efforts of Residents for the Preservation of Lowman and Chemung and People for a Healthy Environment, Inc. to bring the issue of radioactive drilling wastes in the Chemung County landfill to the attention of the public, the DEC and the Chemung County legislature, which is currently considering a sizeable expansion of the Chemung County landfill to allow the landfill to take more drilling cuttings. I greatly appreciate the tour I was given this afternoon by members of RFPLC and PHE and I look forward to continuing to learn from local activists about the important issues affecting our state.

We can't let contaminated landfills and contaminated rivers be our legacy to the future of New York state. We must develop clean energy alternatives.

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