September 7, 2011

The Honorable Andrew M. Cuomo
Governor of the State of New York
State Capitol
Albany, NY 12224

Dear Governor Cuomo,

Your first several months in office have been a resounding success, and I congratulate you on your accomplishments. It is all the more disturbing, therefore, that just a single action has effectively destroyed both your legacy and your political future.

I refer to your lifting of the moratorium on hydrofracking. The inevitable problems that will result, far more dramatic and harmful than any other in New York history, will now inevitably be tied to your administration, and you will be blamed for any and all resulting harm.

Historically, no human technological advance or invention has failed to result in the maximum feasible disaster, whether deliberately the result of sabotage, accidents resulting from faulty design, negligence, or simply a lack of awareness of the dangers. The examples are many and obvious, from the recent nuclear plant disaster in Japan, to environmental and economic results of the use of DDT, to the Bhopal deaths, to the oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska, to jetliner crashes, to the recent spate of sinkhole accidents in Florida resulting from overuse of water. The list is endless.

To assume that hydrofracking will be immune to such accidents is both naïve and dishonest; government oversight has never been able to prevent such problems in any industry. This is all the more true with regard to the energy industries, and more so than in any other area, the oil and gas industry.

Not only is the danger real and imminent (Pennsylvania has already seen examples of relatively minor accidents), but we are dealing with an industry that historically has never paid the least attention to safety and public welfare – its raison e’tre has always been the pursuit of the highest short-term profit without regard for truth, safety, or government/public concerns. That this industry is again lying regarding the safety of the technology is without question, and it is only a matter of time before this is proven by a disaster that could reach epic proportions.

At present, there is no way to hold the officers and owners of the hydrofracking corporations personally responsible for their actions. They will continue to hide behind corporate shields.

If the technology is so safe, and the chemicals used so benign, why are they so reluctant to put their own safety, and that of their families, on the line? I would be more inclined to believe their claims if they agreed to use water from wells near their drilling sites for their own personal needs.
Additionally, their lack of veracity, coupled with the new horizontal drilling technology, will inevitably result in drilling and extraction beneath prohibited areas, including the New York City watershed. To assume otherwise is to ignore their long history of evasion of regulations, and their ability to avoid government oversight. This is especially true in an era where government will have even less money to monitor their actions.

I hope you will more carefully look at the potential for disaster that this technology poses. A small leak could sicken and even kill hundreds of people. Conceivably, a major disaster could result in the contamination of New York City’s water supply. There would be no way to quickly or even feasibly clean this up – current water filtration technologies are not in place to deal with these chemicals and could not be for many years. Were I living in the City, my only reaction would be to move out as soon as possible, and I am sure most New Yorkers would feel the same. The resulting law suits would bankrupt the drilling companies; there is no way to force them to set aside sufficient funds to mitigate a disaster of this scope.

I urge you to reconsider your decision. Hiding behind the DEC reports will not save either the State or your reputation. Hydrofracking will result in a disaster.

The alternatives are also obvious, and we have been avoiding them for far too long, again under pressure from the fossil fuel industry. Changes in building codes and tax credits for retrofits to save energy are proven and simple, investments in mass transit would save even more, and the state has the natural and human resources to more quickly build a large renewable energy sector that would help to revive our economy by providing jobs and be a source of export revenue.
Conservation, and home and town based energy production (geothermal, solar, wind, waste processing), will save far more energy than hydrofracking can produce. In addition to tax credits, financing is relatively simple. As early as the 1970s the public willingly accepted small increases in utility rates to pay for conservation and renewable energy;  a project in California in the 1970s and ‘80s proved this. The California Public Utilities Commission mandated this program, and the New York Public Service Commission could do the same.

I urge you to resist the financial and political pressure of the hydrofracking industry, and to respond to the real needs and opportunities offered by and for the people of New York.


Ronald F. Lipton