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January 10, 2012
New York State Department of Environmental Conservation
Albany, NY 12233-1010
RE: Draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement on High Volume Horizontal Hydraulic Fracturing
Dear Commissioner Martens:
The New York Chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects (NYASLA) is an organization of landscape architects in the New York City Metro area, Long Island and Westchester. We appreciate this opportunity to respond to the Draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement on High Volume Horizontal Hydraulic Fracturing (HVHHF or fracking). We applaud New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) for extending the public comment period and taking the time needed to gather the necessary information to make careful decisions about this wide-reaching issue.
NYASLA asks that fracking be banned in New York State until such time as it is shown to be safe, clean and have minimal or mitigable impacts on the environment including water resources. Overall, we find the proposed unconventional gas extraction practices for New York State troubling, potentially dangerous to long term public health and detrimental to maintaining environmental quality. It threatens certain New York economies that are based on recreation, tourism, and food and beverage production in order to support certain energy development-based economies. Finding a sustainable balance will not be simple. We urge DEC to err on the side of safety, moving cautiously in the light of numerous serious impacts from similar practices in other states, such as increased seismic activity, public exposure to carcinogenic fluids and dispersal of polluted, salty waste water harmful to plants and animals.
In the event that limited HVHHF drilling is allowed, we offer four suggestions, below. These are followed by comments based on the American Society of Landscape Architects’ national policies on Water Quality, Wildlife Habitat, Open Space and Rural Landscape Conservation, available for viewing in full at www.asla.org.
1. Clean Water Standards
Protection of drinking water sources is of highest priority. NYASLA suggests that Federal Clean Water Act standards be applied to gas extraction in New York. Precautions and oversight personnel should be in place in advance of drilling, and in the event of a conflict over permitting specific drilling locations, the most stringent regulations should be applied.
2. Regional Cooperation and Planning
NYASLA suggests regional scale planning and cooperation among the states containing Marcellus shale to protect interconnected habitat, groundwater and surface water resources that extend beyond political boundaries. The Delaware River Basin Commission provides a model for interstate coordination, which we suggest be extended for the purpose of HVHHF planning to the other states in the Marcellus area.
3. Cumulative Impacts
We suggest analysis of the full “build-out” of the proposed development for gas extraction, to visualize and comprehend the costs and impacts associated with HVHHF, comprehensively and cumulatively.
4. Health Study
We join other organizations suggesting that New York State have an independent Human Health Impact Analysis done for hydraulic fracturing, in advance of permitting this activity.
WATER QUALITY AND CONSERVATION
Policy: NYASLA urges efficient use of available water supplies, equitable allocation of water resources, and the provision of safe drinking water. We encourage land use practices that conserve and protect water resources and related ecosystems and eliminate all forms of water pollution.
Compromising the safety of any type of drinking water sources through HVHHF activity is unacceptable. HVHHF can lead to the reduction and/or contamination of groundwater contributions to spring-fed areas such as wetlands, streams, rivers, and vernal pools. HVHHF effluent, and some of the chemicals they disturb deep below ground, are toxic to a variety of plants and animals. Above and below ground pipelines that convey HVHHF effluent are also particularly dangerous to drinking water and dependant biotic communities.
The huge demand for water in typical HVHHF operations may alter local and regional groundwater elevations and direction of flow. New York State is rich with spring fed ecological features (wetlands, vernal pools, rivers, etc) and disruption of groundwater systems has the potential to negatively impact these areas.
The injection of massive quantities of undisclosed proprietary toxic materials that could infiltrate ground water reserves supplying drinking water should be illegal. Complete disclosure of fracking chemicals and analysis of their potential impact is an essential prerequisite for considering permits for drilling.
WILDLIFE AND ITS HABITAT
Policy: NYASLA supports the protection of wildlife and wildlife habitats. Stewardship of the land through the integration of the principles of land use planning and design with the principles of wildlife and wildlife habitat protection promotes ecosystem biodiversity.
Concerns with respect to HVHHF impacts on wildlife include:
Increased mortality through contamination, road kill, sedimentation, and other factors associated with HVHHF in local populations of sensitive ecological species such as fish, amphibians, reptiles, some types of songbirds and insects they feed upon. Moreover, most state data sets on location and abundance of particular state and federally listed species is either out of date or insufficient. Due to the decline in agriculture and especially silviculture in the 20th century until today, New York’s ecological systems have significantly recovered and matured to the extent that data from twenty or even ten years ago may be out of date.
Large areas of forest that were logged in the 18th and 19th Centuries have returned and now host numerous types of plant and animal species whose habitation patterns would be impacted by HVHHF activities. Well pads frequently have footprints of 4 acres or more and require significant lengths of new or widened roads. Such disturbances are documented widely as having disruptive impacts on local ecological systems.
New and widened roads, well pads, pipelines, and truck parking areas will create fertile ground for invasive species such as stiltgrass, Japanese knotweed, and Phragmites. Areas that currently have small or absent populations of invasive species will see those levels rise. Trucks, sand (often imported from distant areas), and equipment will transport invasive seed that will compromise fragile native systems.
HVHHF activities bring a variety of light, noise, and air polluting technologies into remote and “wild” type landscapes. These negative ecological impacts disrupt bird nesting patters, damage trees, and influence sunlight sensitive species.
Analysis published by Hudsonia (HVHHF and Biodiversity, Unaddressed Issues in the NY Debate, Fall 2011) indicates that hydraulic fracturing is “likely to have severe impacts on biological resources in the Marcellus region.” The range of a number of rare native animals overlaps significantly with the lands containing Marcellus shale. These include freshwater species especially vulnerable to siltation, increased salt and reduced seasonal flow, all associated with the drawdown of water for drilling and by-products of the drilling process. The effect of habitat fragmentation on different species varies considerably. Prediction of habitat impacts due to gas development on a species-by-species basis has been mapped for other locations by The Wilderness Society. We advocate that similar methods be employed in the Marcellus region to aid in locating drilling sites to minimize impact.
If HVHHF is allowed to move forward, we advocate for establishing a third party ecological review funded by gas developers. This third party should be scientific and objective. It should perform general and local natural resource inventories based on in-the-field data and not rely on “desktop analysis” alone. Such a third party would be necessary because a) government staff are already stretched too thin to accurately investigate local ecological conditions, and b) gas companies may hire “industry-friendly” experts who do not perform the level of due diligence that is required in order to execute a proper natural resource inventory.
Policy: NYASLA believes that each community should contain ample and ecologically diverse open spaces to meet the range of human and environmental needs and to sustain interconnected natural systems in perpetuity.
HVHHF, if fully developed in the Marcellus shale zone, would severely compromise New York’s open space by displacing green space with pavement, disturbance, noise, and polluted land and water. If HVHHF is allowed to advance in New York, reduction of impacts, mitigation methods installed in advance and post-mining restoration should be integrated with gas development.
CONSERVATION OF RURAL LANDSCAPES
Policy: The rural landscape provides natural resources, food and fiber, wildlife habitat and inspiration. It supports the diversity of organisms that make human life possible in our complex ecosystem. The rural landscape needs to continue to accommodate human uses, which are a significant contributor to global socio-economic systems. However, the rural landscape is also the domain of other forms of life, and human uses need to accommodate biodiversity. Sprawl, resource exploitation, infrastructure, and industrial land uses contribute to the degradation or loss of the special qualities of the rural landscape.
HVHHF increases the risk of natural resource damage as a result of conveyance of mining waste, causing seismic activity and subsidence.
HVHHF will dramatically impact the way rural road transportation systems function and how long they can survive. If HVHHF is allowed to advance in New York State, a comprehensive plan of HVHHF impacts on air quality, traffic, signals, tire and air brake volume, parking, accident and mortality rates, and expected damage to existing pavement should be performed by an outside party prior to any approvals.
If HVHHF is allowed to proceed, local governments should be allowed to create and enforce comprehensive planning documents that limit or exclude HVHHF from some or all areas within their jurisdiction. Also, local governments, nonprofits, educational institutions, and other stakeholder organizations should also be given access to funding for well-water sampling, natural resources inventories, planning consultants, and other types of expertise. Funding for these activities should be provided by natural gas companies.
If HVHHF is allowed to proceed, absolutely no well pads should be placed in floodplains or other areas at risk from natural disasters. Recent storm events in New York have proven to be severe and unpredictable. Dangerous chemicals stored above and below ground in gas extraction sites would pose a real danger if overtaken by rising floodwaters or snowmelt.
Local livestock and food products from New York and Pennsylvania farms should be monitored for chemicals introduced by HVHHF activities.
In summary, we ask that New York State not allow HVHHF to advance in New York State until such time as it can be shown to be safe for humans and the environment. If HVHHF is allowed to advance, we ask that the state create and uphold the highest of standards in order to assure long-term protection of water quality and biodiversity in the Marcellus shale lands by minimizing damage, especially to the most intact ecological networks, and conserving open space, rural landscapes and wild lands providing vital services such as clean air and water.
On behalf of NYASLA’s Executive Board, thank you for considering these comments and suggestions intended to help protect public health, safety and welfare.
Denisha Williams, President
Marcha Johnson, Policy Committee
Curtis Velsor, NYASLA Representative to the New York Council of Landscape Architects
Adrian Smith, NYASLA Representative to the National ASLA Board of Trustees
Slavica Mickovic, Board Member