An actor who lives in the epicenter of New York State’s debate over hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, recently visited Cornell University to speak out against the controversial gas drilling technique. Mark Ruffalo was joined at Cornell by State Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton (D-125th), a proponent of a gas drilling moratorium being considered by the Assembly.
Hydraulic fracturing involves injecting water, sand, and a cocktail of chemicals at high pressure into rock formations thousands of feet below the surface. The chemicals that make up that fracking fluid are cause for concern. They may include, among other things, barium, strontium, benzene, glycol-ethers, toluene, 2-(2-methoxyethoxy) ethanol, and nonylphenols. All have been linked to health disorders when human exposure is too high. Thanks to a move by Congress in 2005, fracking is exempt from federal regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act. As a result, frackers don’t have to disclose the chemicals that make up there fracking fluids.
Ruffalo, whose movies include â€œ13 Going on 30â€ and â€œEternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,â€ lives in Callicoon, an area in New York’s Marcellus shale region already impacted by the fracking debate. According to a recent USA Today report, some farmers there are hoping to sign leases with gas drillers so that they can enjoy the financial bonuses and royalties the industry has promised. However, other landowners are fighting against the gas drilling, which many feel will contaminate their water and environment.
Ruffalo is among those opposed to the drilling. Earlier this year, he visited Dimock, PA, a town that has had serious water contamination issues that have been blamed on fracking, with the Natural Resources Defense Council and Robert F. Kennedy. He has lived in Callicoon, a town along the Delaware River, for 12 years. According to an interview Ruffalo gave to the site Alternet, the Millennium Pipeline was drilled right behind his home.
According to The Cornell Daily Sun, he and Assmeblywoman Lifton addressed a group of 100 at Cornell Sunday night about the controversy. Ruffalo asserted that the fracking boom now going on in the Marcellus shale, a gas rich formation that covers parts of New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia and Maryland, has potential to become one of America’s greatest environmental disasters.
Ruffalo claimed that fracking has caused water contamination in many places, and he alleged that hydrofracking sites are also associated with huge rises in childhood asthma and nasal disorders. According to the Daily Sun, Ruffalo pointed out that it can take up to 200 trucks to frack one well, which worsens the pollution problem. â€œThey come through every two minutes and they just trash the place.”
He also criticized the federal exemptions that allow frackers to keep the chemicals they use a secret. â€œ[The scientists] say â€˜we canâ€™t study it if we donâ€™t know whatâ€™s in it.â€™ Well, if itâ€™s safe, then why donâ€™t [the companies] tell us whatâ€™s in it?â€ Ruffalo said.
In New York, fracking has been particularly controversial. The state’s Marcellus shale region includes the entire Catskills watershed that provides New York City with all of its drinking water. The New York Department of Environmental Conservation has had gas drilling permit approvals on hold since 2008 while it conducts an environmental review of fracking.
In August, the New York State Senate approved a measure that would temporarily ban horizontally-drilled hydraulic fracturing wells until May 2011. But the measure has yet to become law, and is still being debated in the State Assembly.