While filming a new movie in London, I learned that the sole shale gas well in the nation -- just a few hours north of me -- has triggered two earthquakes, suffered a "structural integrity failure," and risked poisoning water supplies.
That's right: the only fracking well in the United Kingdom failed and caused two earthquakes!
This news is a stark reminder of what's at stake in my home state of New York, where newly re-elected Governor Andrew Cuomo has said that he will soon make an announcement about fracking.
In his first four year term to date, despite much sound and fury from the gas industry, Governor Cuomo maintained a de facto moratorium on the practice. The emerging science shows the wisdom of that decision -- as scientists themselves are quick to point out. Just last week, Concerned Health Professionals of New York presented the Governor with an updated, hundred-page Compendium on the risks and harms of fracking to health, water, air, wildlife, and economic vitality.
On the same day, the Physicians Scientists & Engineers for Healthy Energy released its own analysis of the 400 peer-reviewed studies on fracking -- nearly all of them indicating dangers and nearly all of them published since the Governor took office in 2011. Among the key findings:
· 96 percent of all papers on health found signs or risks of sickness;
· 95 percent of studies on air found evidence for air pollution;
· 72 percent of studies on water found signs or risks of water contamination;
Rising in parallel with these growing signs of trouble is another trend: the increasing numbers of people who oppose fracking.
Many New Yorkers have been closely following the science, and a poll earlier this fall found that fully 79 percent of New Yorkers support a moratorium. Americans across the nation are also becoming aware of the harms of fracking from the science, and over 15 million Americans now live within a mile of a wellpad. This familiarity has bred contempt: more Americans now oppose fracking than support it. The bloom is off the fracking rose. Furthermore, just as New York studies the impacts of fracking, many other countries are as well, and already many have put in place bans and moratoria, including Australia, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Ireland, Netherlands and parts of Canada, Spain and Switzerland.
While the oil and gas corporations are trying to buy support with their slick PR campaign, New Yorkers, in poll after poll, show we're not for sale. Indeed, we've countered with our own campaign called 'Not One Well' (www.NotOneWell.org), which, ironically enough, launched just one day after VICE News reported that the one well fracked in the United Kingdom failed.
Fracking is like playing a game of Russian roulette with our precious drinking water and public health. The industry knows that the barrier of cement and steel protecting our drinking water from fracking's toxic chemicals and explosive methane fails immediately about 5 percent of the time. In 2003, Schlumberger, one of the world's largest fracking corporations, reported this rate in its own magazine, and that 50 percent fail after 15 years, and 60 percent fail after 30 years, stemming from these inherent engineering flaws. As wells are fracked and refracked, as steel gradually corrodes and cement slowly crumbles, as time goes by, that percentage keeps going up.
And, in spite of many declarations of "I'll do better next time!" and "just give me one more chance!" the truth is that the industry has never shown itself capable of fixing its problems. Take a look at northeastern Pennsylvania. There, the Department of Environmental Protection found that fully nine percent of all new Marcellus Shale gas wells in the northeastern part of the state leaked within the first five years of being drilled.
No wonder Pennsylvania has suffered at least 243 confirmed cases of water contamination from drilling and fracking operations. And, look, these aren't test wells. All of these cases involve the drinking water wells of real-life families.
Some of those families include people I personally know. These folks are now forced to haul water from long distances just to bathe, cook, drink, and wash their clothes.
New York's Not One Well campaign aims to prevent these tragedies from happening here. It also seeks to publicize the hard truths about drilling and fracking's inherent engineering flaws. (One of the foremost experts on the issue, Cornell University Engineering Professor Tony Ingraffea wrote a short and brilliant essay, "Why a car's engine has more integrity than a shale gas well." Read it!)
To those who say that municipal bans are sufficient -- and stout-hearted New Yorkers have passed 180 local, municipal prohibitions on fracking -- let's point out that they don't protect everyone, and pollutants don't stop at town borders. Especially vulnerable are the towns along Pennsylvania's border, which are both more likely to be fracked and -- as a recent New York Public Interest Research Group reportconfirms -- more likely to be governed by town officials who themselves hold gas leases. The Not One Well campaign insists on equal protection under the law. That's why we need Governor Cuomo to continue the statewide moratorium and, ultimately, ban fracking altogether. All of New York's children are equally deserving of unpolluted air and water.
I'll be back home in New York for the holidays. All my family wants, along with millions of other New Yorkers, is for our home state to be protected from fracking and to live our lives with the peace of mind that we will not be poisoned. I ask you to join me -- whether you're a New Yorker or just a New Yorker at heart -- in asking Governor Cuomo to give us a big gift this holiday: protect our water, health, and the lives of generations still to come by continuing the moratorium. Not One Well!