Fracking: How Far from a School?

distance from pad to house

DEC proposed 500 foot set back from a house or place of assembly or drinking well. There is no set back from creeks.

I’ve been a teacher for forty-three years. When the custodian mows the grass outside the classroom window, all learning stops. When the delivery truck pulls up outside the window and exhaust fills the room, all learning stops. When the temperature in the non-air conditioned school rises to 95 and the air hangs heavy as wet cotton, all learning stops.

No matter how exciting the lesson, how passionate the teacher nor how cooperative the class, learning suffers when it’s too noisy, too smelly, or you can’t breathe. So when I read the proposed NY fracking gas drilling regulations I was very interested in how schools would be protected from any health, safety or noxious problems associated with fracking.

But the regs don’t actually mention schools. The closest thing is a place of assembly. I guess that means a school. The relevant section says:

560 560.4 SETBACKS

(a) No well pad or portion of a well pad may be located:
(2) within 500 feet from an inhabited dwelling or place of assembly;

Five hundred feet. That’s one and 1/2 football fields. Ah. Not outside the window.
But is that far enough to protect our children and ensure they can learn?

Here’s what Sandra Steingraber says:

In other states, many people who live considerably farther than 500 feet away from drilling and fracking operations report very high noise levels from blasting, drilling, constant truck traffic, and the diesel engines of heavy equipment. Of these activities, drilling is the loudest, with a decibel level at the wellpad of 115. (For comparison, helicopter and jackhammers come in at 105.) Only fifteen minutes of unprotected exposure to sounds at that volume creates risk of hearing loss. Drilling a single gas well is 1-2 month process, and, during that time, sound of drilling is continuous:  24 hours per day. And there are multiple wells on each well pad to be drilled.

Noise from drilling has been measured above 55 decibels as far as 3,500 feet away from the well—a distance that is seven times farther than the proposed setback distance for New York State. Fifty-five decibels (approximately the volume of dishwasher running) is the maximum recommended level for continuous ambient sound during normal waking hours. For sleeping, the recommended maximum is 45. A classroom should be no louder than 35 decibels. Ditto hospital rooms.

Further adding to the din of drilling and fracking operations are  flare stacks and compressor stations, which are used to pressurize the gas and push it to its destination. Flare stacks are located on the well pad, but compressor stations are stationed along the pipeline, every 40 to 100 miles. Compressor stations are extremely noisy and run day and night. They are also, unlike drilling and flaring operations, permanent sources of constant noise.

And also note: the 500-foot minimum distance between gas wells and our homes is as measured from the well pad rather than the well site.  The well pad is the platform for the drill rig itself.  The well site is a much larger area around the well pad that includes all the other equipment, including generators to drive the frack pumps and the drilling motor.  The roar of diesel generators can be horrific, as anyone who has lived through an extended blackout can attest, but there is no proposed setback for them.

In short, DEC’s regulations fail to ensure that noise levels from the various individual activities within the shale gas extraction process do not, when summed together, exceed the recommended maximum guidelines of 40 decibels of outside noise during the part of the night when most people are sleeping. Or 35 decibels in schools where children are learning.

Five hundred feet is not based on any science. It is arbitrary. Even the natural gas people think it isn’t enough. Dominion Transmission has asked for a 2000 foot set back from its LP storage facility BECAUSE: “Dominion asserts that a buffer zone is needed to protect the integrity of  its storage operations at the Sabinsville Pool from a potential breach that may be caused from hydraulic fracturing of the Marcellus Shale by third-party production wells located in the vicinity of the storage pool.”

Do you think gas storage facilities should have more protection than our children? If you are a parent or a teacher or a concerned citizen, call Cuomo today and tell him No Fracking In New York. 1-518-474-8390


About joan koster

Joan Koster writes historical fiction about forgotten women. She is currently working on a novel about abolition and woman's rights during the Civil War.
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