[Editor’s note: A thousand anti-fracking activists rallied outside of Governor Cuomo’s State of the State address in Albany yesterday to celebrate the statewide ban on fracking, thank Governor Cuomo, and begin the work of fighting fracking infrastructure projects and promoting renewable energy. Here below are the prepared remarks from Sandra Steingraber’s speech at the post-rally victory party in the nearby Hilton Hotel.]
My friends, we are unfractured.
And thereby hangs a tale.
It’s a tale in which we all are—each one of us is—a starring character and a co-author. We are the maker of this story that has been shaped by our unceasing, unrelenting efforts—all of which mattered and made a difference.
Every rally. Every march. Every jug of Dimock water. Every public comment. Every local ban. Every letter to the editor. Every letter to the Governor. Every concert. Every expert testimony at every hearing.
It all mattered.
Every phone call. Every media story. Every press conference. Every petition signature. Every chant. Every sign and banner. Every birddogging mission.
And every alarm clock that rang at 3:30 a.m. to take every person to every bus to Albany every time we came here for the past five years.
It all mattered.
It all prevailed.
Because that’s what truth does. And it is so sweet now to come together in one room to tell the story of our victory over the shale gas army to each other. That’s why we are here today.
Because each one of us played a different role in this epic movement, we all have different points of view.
Here’s how the story goes from my vantage point.
It was science that stopped fracking in New York. In 2008 when our moratorium was first declared, the state of knowledge about the risks and harms of fracking was rudimentary. The science on fracking was a vast pool of ignorance and unknowing; on the far banks of that pool were what looked to be faint signals of harm.
As the years went by, those signals grew stronger. By 2012, when the revised draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (sGEIS) was released, there were about 60 studies in the peer-reviewed literature.
But exponential growth is an amazing phenomenon.
Two years later, when the NYS Department of Health released its final public health review of fracking, the number of studies in the peer-reviewed scientific literature had exceeded 400. All together, these studies show that fracking poisons the air (especially with benzene) and contaminates water. They show that old wells leak. They show that new wells leak. They show that cement is not an immortal substance and cannot always create, for all time, a perfect gasket that seals off the fracked zone from everything above it.
The studies show that methane leaks from drilling and fracking operations in prodigious amounts and so poses serious threats to our climate. And they show evidence for possible health impacts, including to pregnant women and infants.
Those initial faint glimmers of danger turned into the warning beacon of a lighthouse.
The conclusions reached by the New York State Department of Health—that fracking has not been demonstrated to be safe as currently practiced and that there is no guarantee that any regulatory framework can make it safe—are echoed in literature reviews conducted by three other scientific shops. These include a compendium of findings compiled by my own group, Concerned Health Professionals of New York, a statistical analysis by Physicians, Scientists and Engineers for Health Energy, and a major report from Canadian province of Quebec.
Four independent teams of public health scientists looked at the data and came to the same conclusion: Fracking carries known and unknown risks of harm for public health and the environment upon which public health depends.
But, let’s be clear. Science alone did not stop fracking. The data received a big assist from a well-informed citizen movement that took the scientific evidence to the media, to the Department of Environmental Conservation, and to elected officials, including the Governor himself.
It was the people who spoke scientific truth to power.
You all accomplished that in two ways.
First, you issued invitations to scientists to come into your communities—into your church basements, town halls, middle school gymnasiums, chambers of commerce, and Rotary Clubs. Thus, for a couple years running, some of us PhDs and MDs spent a lot of Friday nights and Sunday afternoons in one small town or another in upstate New York, giving Powerpoint presentations and laying out the data for audiences of common folks and town board members.
Companies are betting big on forecasts of cheap, plentiful natural gas. Over the next 20 years, US industry and electricity producers are expected to invest hundreds of billions of dollars in new plants that rely on natural gas. And billions more dollars are pouring into the construction of export facilities that will enable the United States to ship liquefied natural gas to Europe, Asia and South America.
All of those investments are based on the expectation that US gas production will climb for decades, in line with the official forecasts by the US Energy Information Administration (EIA). As agency director Adam Sieminski put it last year: “For natural gas, the EIA has no doubt at all that production can continue to grow all the way out to 2040.”
But a careful examination of the assumptions behind such bullish forecasts suggests that they may be overly optimistic, in part because the government’s predictions rely on coarse-grained studies of major shale formations, or plays. Now, researchers are analysing those formations in much greater detail and are issuing more-conservative forecasts. They calculate that such formations have relatively small ‘sweet spots’ where it will be profitable to extract gas.
The results are “bad news”, says Tad Patzek, head of the University of Texas at Austin’s department of petroleum and geosystems engineering, and a member of the team that is conducting the in-depth analyses. With companies trying to extract shale gas as fast as possible and export significant quantities, he argues, “we’re setting ourselves up for a major fiasco”.
That could have repercussions well beyond the United States. If US natural-gas production falls, plans to export large amounts overseas could fizzle. And nations hoping to tap their own shale formations may reconsider. “If it begins to look as if it’s going to end in tears in the United States, that would certainly have an impact on the enthusiasm in different parts of the world,” says economist Paul Stevens of Chatham House, a London-based think tank.