Today is the last day for public comment on New York’s proposed fracking regulations.
The controversial energy extraction process, in which workers inject chemicals into the earth to remove natural gas, has environmentalists worried. Transportation advocates should also be concerned, as the fracking industry’s impact on New York’s roadways could be quite extreme.
Fracking is bad for roads
The fracking industry would take a huge toll on New York’s roadways. It would introduce substantial truck traffic to rural roads that weren’t designed for such heavy vehicles and, moreover, would make upstate communities’ streets noisier and more dangerous. The roads’ capacity and flow constraints have serious implications for safety and operations, and the increased traffic would inevitably lead to expensive maintenance and refurbishing. The industry could bring 1.5 million heavy truck trips annually and increase peak traffic by 36,000 trips/hour.
New York State knows this, but they’re not saying so
The New York State Department of Transportation has studied the subject and reached these same conclusions. In August, a leaked agency document outlined the “ominous” effects that fracking could have on the state’s roads and bridges—that’s where we got our data.
“Pavement structural damage done by the passage of a single large truck is equivalent to that done by about 9,000 automobiles,” reads the report.
But state spokespersons were quick to dismiss the findings (on the grounds that they relied on an outdated environmental impact statement, or EIS).
A revision to this EIS (“revised dSGEIS”) was released by the Department of Environmental Conservation this fall, but it doesn’t address the majority of issues raised by NYSDOT’s leaked report. According to Emily DeSantis, the Director of Public Information for New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, NYSDOT “reviewed and approved the [dSGEIS’] transportation analysis.” Given that the dSGEIS does not sufficiently respond to the concerns raised in the original report, this shift seems groundless.
The revised environmental impact statement doesn’t adequately plan to protect New York’s roads
According to the dSGEIS, the “primary mechanism” for controlling and mitigating these impacts would be Road User Agreements (RUA) negotiated between industry and each local governing body. These agreements would cover truck routes, weight limits, hours of operation, road improvements, and financial responsibility. Frackers would also have to submit transportation plans to NYSDOT for review, but the agency would be limited to an advisory role.
But the dSGEIS gives little to no guidance to local governments that want good Road User Agreements, and there are substantial risks to regulating a well-funded industry through a patchwork of local agreements.
While some governments will negotiate better deals than others, the real issue will be enforcement. Already, industry has started challenging some municipalities’ fracking bans and the legal fees could grow to be astronomical. The oil industry simply has more legal resources at their disposal than local governments.
In spite of the concerns raised in the leaked NYSDOT report, the dSGEIS concludes that fracking would “have a significant, positive impact on the economy of New York State.” While acknowledging the “significant negative costs” related to roads that “may not be fully mitigated,” it never calculates just how many dollars constitute a “significant negative cost.”
The review continues—New Yorkers are wary of fracking, but they’re not thinking about what increased truck traffic means for local communities and municipal public works budgets. The NYSDEC, for example, has hired an outside consultant to reexamine fracking’s potential effects on housing and emergency services, but the consultant hasn’t been charged with investigating the industry’s impact on roads. Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli called for an emergency fund to help pay for potential remediation, but he doesn’t mention the frackers’ impacts on New York’s asphalt assets.
There are plenty of reasons to oppose fracking, but as the industry works to settle in upstate, New Yorkers should be mindful of what it could do to municipalities’ roads (and budgets).