November 5, 2009
Traditional Native Leaders: Hydrofracking must be banned
Haudenosaunee Environmental Task Force issues statement
against proposed new method of gas drilling
Albany, NY—The Haudenosaunee Environmental Task Force (HETF), the environmental branch of the traditional Haudenosaunee (Iroquois Confederacy) government, issued a statement today calling on New York State to ban the permitting of natural gas drilling.
The statement by the Haudenosaunee leaders vowed to exert their treaty rights to ban any hydrofracking on or near their aboriginal territory, and cited threats posed by the proposed drilling not only within the New York City watershed but to clean water around the region, including the Great Lakes which contain a fourth of all potable fresh water in the world.
“The Haudenosaunee will not allow hydrofracking on or near their aboriginal territory, and call on the Government of New York State to similarly ban hydrofracking and other unconventional gas drilling methods with New York State… we do so for the future of all our relations,” the statement reads.
Leaders for all the traditional Indian Nation governments that comprise the Haudenosaunee Confederacy traveled with their HETF representatives to Albany on Friday for a high-level government-to-government consultation with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. The four and a half hour meeting included Stuart Gruskin, Executive Deputy Commissioner, and representatives of the Divisions of Water, Permitting, Oil and Mineral Resources, Environmental Justice, and Fish and Wildlife.
“Water is the first law of life. We cannot live without water. Over ¼ of the world’s potable water is right here [in the Great Lakes watershed] and [hydrofracking is] in danger of damaging it severely,” stated Onondaga Faithkeeper Oren Lyons.
“This decision is a moral decision,” Cayuga HETF representative Dan Hill admonished the regulators.
The Haudenosaunee leaders also related to the DEC leaders their personal experience with the unintended but, in retrospect, inevitable consequences of century-old drilling for salt and brine in the Tully Valley which decades later spawned devastating mudboils and subsidence of the valley floor that left Onondaga Creek silt-choked and dead.
“The Onondaga Nation knows first hand the impacts of messing with the deep bedrock of Mother Earth,” the statement to the DEC read. “Our grandchildren will be the ones to feel the worst impact.”
Concerns raised included how the DEC intends to hold companies accountable for accidents and take care of all who are impacted, not just immediately but in the future from unintended and unforeseen impacts; the deficiencies in well casing regulations; the lack of adequate treatment for the polluted water; and equity and protection for all watersheds, not just NYC’s. Most importantly, the Haudenosaunee leaders expressed the need they see for more time, public hearings and education, and a moratorium on lease-signing so that good decisions can be made by everyone that will be affected.
“People are woefully uninformed about this process,” stated Lyons. “We believe that all people should be educated about potential impacts, consulted, consider the seventh generation to come, and be of a good mind together before any decision of this magnitude is made.”
Additionally, two major concerns were raised which are unique to the Indian Nations: (a) horizontal drilling under Indian territories will be a violation of treaty protected mineral rights; and (b) the current structure will not have any mechanism for the protection of cultural resources of the Nations: sacred sites, unmarked burial sites and former village and other archeological sites. These issues were raised with the DEC officials as well.
The meeting was considered a success, as good conversations were had; it became clear, however, that the DEC lacks the authority to protect the environment or its people by identifying an industry as inherently detrimental and banning it. The best they can do is regulate and fine polluters when the inevitable accidents occur; their hands are tied by policy set higher up in the government.
“Half an action is no action at all,” observed Lyons, “regulations and fines do not protect the environment. There is no way to undo the harm hydrofracking will cause.” .