July 13, 2011
Commissioner Joe Martens
New York State Department of Environmental Conservation
Albany, New York 12233-0001
Dear Commissioner Martens,
I am writing to you today on behalf of our more than 1,400 organic farming, gardening and consumer members in response to the recent release of the updated SGEIS on the impacts of high volume hydrofracturing in the Marcellus Shale. We appreciate the lengths to which the DEC staff have gone to review and address comments in revising this important impact statement. However, we do not believe there has been sufficient research on the impacts specifically to the state’s agricultural industry, an industry so crucial to rural economies and community areas targeted for Marcellus Shale development.
As you know, agriculture is one of the largest industries in the state, contributing heavily to New York’s economy and its work force, as nearly one-quarter of the state’s total land area is utilized as farmland. Much of the land located within the Marcellus Shale region is active farmland, and we believe the impacts to farmers, farmland, the farm economy and food production has not been adequately studied at this point.
DEC staff, members of the Advisory Council and the consultant hired to prepare the Socio-Economic study lack the level of agricultural expertise necessary to fully assess the impacts to New York’s farming industry.
Therefore, on behalf of our members and the undersigned agriculture-related organizations, we ask the DEC to hire a consultant to assess the impacts of the permitting of high volume horizontal hydrofracturing on agriculture and the state’s irreplaceable farmland resources . As is the case with the other components of the revised draft SGEIS, this study of impacts on agriculture and farmland protection should be prepared and released to the public in advance of the official public comment period, so that the farmers of the region can properly assess its accuracy and completeness.
We ask that an Agricultural and Farmland Protection Impacts Study be produced including, but not limited to, consideration of the following:
- Statistics on the total estimated acreage and percent of farmland in the region that will be impacted-likely to be taken out of production due directly to gas infrastructure development (i.e., farmland lost due to drilling pads, pipelines, access roads, compressor stations, chemical, water, waste and equipment storage areas and other infrastructure). These statistics should be based on a cumulative, or “built-out” basis.
The current draft SGEIS calls for pre- and post-testing of water wells used for human drinking water in the vicinity of active drilling. For agricultural purposes, surface water and springs are also used to irrigate crops and water livestock, which also experience ill effects from contamination. An appropriate testing regimen to effectively mitigate any impacts on water sources used for agricultural purposes also should be devised.
- Effects of fragmentation of farmland due to access roads, pipelines and other infrastructure.
- Effects of settling and subsidence of ground associated with hydrofracking on drainage, both natural drainage and fields drained by installed drainage tiling, and impacts drainage changes may have on soil structure and crop productivity.
- Short and long-term assessment of available water resources for agriculture, residential and drilling and hydrofracking activities, by specific (i.e., town-level or smaller) area. Report on the current use of water by farming in the Marcellus Shale region by specific area, compared to the cumulative requirements for drilling and related activities in that area. For farming purposes, it is not practical to consider shipping water for irrigation or stock watering from adjacent townships. This data should help determine the extent of potential competition for water between farms, residential water needs, and hydrofracking operations, and identify any localities of particular concern for potential water shortages.
- Effects on the availability and cost of farm labor & commodity trucking due to competition from the gas industry. Farmers are already paying increased cost per hundredweight for shipping milk to haulers serving New York’s dairy industry, that have experienced these impacts from gas industry development in Pennsylvania.. Is there enough appropriately skilled, licensed and available work force in these regions to provide for both industries, or will the gas industry continue to drive up the price for farm- and agriculture-related labor putting New York’s farmers at a competitive disadvantage in the marketplace?
- Effects of competition for products used by both the agricultural and gas industries. Anecdotal evidence suggests a loss of availability of certain products or a significant price increase on products, which would negatively impact farm production and profit margins.
- Long-term impacts of impaired air and water quality on the health of soil, livestock, honeybees, fruit, vegetables, and other agricultural crops and production. As elevated ozone, in particular, has more serious impacts on per-acre productivity for some crops than it does on others (example: grapes), this analysis must be crop-specific, so that the industry can understand whether mitigations must include changes in crop mix to remain competitive with other producing regions.
- Impacts that effects on wildlife may have on agricultural operations (example: will a reduction in beneficial insect populations due to air quality deterioration result in booming populations of crop-eating insect pests no longer kept in check by natural predators?)
- Identify how farmers will be compensated for losses and damage due to water or soil contamination or other gas industry related incidents and accidents, including any involving independent trucking contractors. A clear and timely mechanism must be developed to assign responsibility for bearing and paying these costs to allow clean-up to begin immediately, to prevent the spread of contamination or the loss of more than one year’s crop. Payment of compensation must be up-front, not reimbursable, so as to not negatively impact farmers’ available credit for operations. Compensation regulations need to be crop or product specific and market-price based, with strict oversight and enforcement by the Department of Agriculture and Markets, which will require additional resources to provide this enforcement.
- Effects on the organic certification of certified organic farms. Because organic farmers must uphold higher environmental standards and provide adequate records that their farmland has not been contaminated by prohibited substances, how will farmers be assured that the hydrofracking activities will follow the organic requirements on organic farms as they relate to right of way pesticide application, water-quality, pesticide drift, and run-off?
- The Marcellus region includes the Susquehanna River Basin, which drains into the Chesapeake Bay and is subject to new regulatory restrictions. The EPA recently imposed Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs) for nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment in this watershed, and farmers are subsequently faced with the burden and cost of helping the state and region achieve these targeted limits. While gas development activities are likely to contribute to the sediment and nutrient loading of local waterways, this industry and its potential impacts were not included in modeling for the TMDLs, nor are they subject to accountability and oversight for their “contributions” to the problem. How will agriculture be insulated from unfairly being required to shoulder responsibility for mitigating the impacts on TMDL for various pollutants created by the gas industry in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed area?
- 12. Legislation such as the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and Safe Water Drinking Act have resulted in significant regulatory oversight and accompanying costs for agriculture. The gas industry enjoys a special exemption from these laws. If additional gas industry development creates significant changes in environmental status, will this put added pressure and costs on industries (like agriculture) operating in the same area, which may be forced to bear the burden of having to compensate for the exempted/unaccounted for environmental impacts of the gas industry? How will this industry-specific discrepancy in the enforcement of federal laws be addressed, how will pollution impacts be allocated to industrial origin, and will additional mitigating actions imposed by regulators create economic burdens that impact agricultural profitability in the region?
- 13. In some instances, owners of farms and farmland are the recipients of royalty payments associated with gas development. Payments can be substantial for high-producing wells. Impacts on farming and the agriculture sector as a whole can’t be accurately assessed without considering to what degree such payments are utilized as additional capital to expand or improve farming operations, additional family income to augment personal expenditures unrelated to the agricultural enterprise, or a source of primary income substantially replacing income made by working the farm. Conversations with Soil and Water Conservation staff from Pennsylvania have indicated that a significant portion of farmers cease farming operations when royalty payments begin. An estimate of these effects—including the potential for reclamation of any fallowed land by the owner or a leasee at such time that gas production declines or ceases—should be undertaken.
- A recent Duke Study has shown there to be a significance of Methane contamination in shallow drinking water systems. Livestock watering and irrigation systems use an even more fragile and sensitive surface water, not just water from wells. How does the SGEIS taken into account these significant risks to farm operations?
Thank you for your time and consideration in reviewing this letter. We would be happy to review our requests with you in person or over the phone.
cc: Governor Cuomo, NYSDAM Commissioner Aubertine