Friday, March 30, 2012

Banning Fracking

When I drive through upstate New York, I’m always in awe of the natural beauty of the state of which I am proud to call myself a citizen.  I’m also greatly appreciative of the fairly stringent environmental regulations of New York State that have created a reservoir system in which water is so pure that it doesn’t even require filtration.  It’s actually the largest unfiltered surface water supply in the world!  Very few states in the country can boast that kind of achievement.

That’s why I’m particularly disturbed by a plan that’s underway that would permanently scar some of the most pristine natural areas of the state and at the same time threaten the integrity of our state’s water supply.  What is this nefarious plan, you may be wondering, and what sort of villains are behind it? 

The plan is to open up large parts of upstate western New York to hydraulic fracking for natural gas.  And the villains behind this plan—besides the usual suspects in the gas and oil industry—seem to be our own elected officials in both political parties. 

What is Fracking, Anyway?

In case you’re not up on this issue, the Marcellus Shale is a black shale rock formation that extends from Ohio and West Virginia through Pennsylvania and into western New York.  For years geologists have known that this shale formation contained large supplies of natural gas, but the depth and tightness of the shale made gas extraction difficult and expensive.  Recently, however, the development of  hydraulic fracturing—or fracking, as it is commonly called—has made it possible for corporate interests to get their greedy little paws on this gas, which potentially could mean billions of dollars in revenue for them. 

In order to drill for gas, shale gas companies come into an area, buy up drilling rights from landowners, and then raze large patches of land in formerly undisturbed natural areas. The process of hydraulic fracking itself injects thousands of gallons of water, toxic chemicals, and sand into horizontally-drilled wells under high pressure to release the natural gas from shale. 
The Fracking Procedure
Dangers of Fracking
While this process does indeed have the potential to extract large amounts of natural gas, there are some significant problems associated with fracking that have led most environmental groups to condemn the practice.
  • With each frack 80,000 pounds of toxic chemicals are leached into the land.  Seventy percent of fracking fluids, furthermore, stay underground and are not biodegradable.  Methane and other toxic chemicals used in fracking can then leach into groundwater, posing a huge health risk for those who depend upon this water (and please remember, millions of people in New York City depend upon drinking water from reservoirs that potentially could become contaminated).
  • Recent studies suggest that toxic chemicals released into the air during the process of fracking may pose a serious health risk to human beings.
  • Fracking activities can cause seismic faults that can lead to earthquakes (as was the case recently in Ohio). 
  • The chemicals used in shale drilling may be linked to increases in cancer rates found among those who live near drilling sites.
These are just a few of the many environmental and health risks associated with hydraulic fracking.  Now, you will hear representatives from the oil and gas industry claim that the dangers of drilling for gas are overstated.  The industry, furthermore, has recently spent huge sums of money to convince people in the areas that could be affected by drilling that the procedures that they have in place for extracting gas are perfectly safe.  Of course, these were the same people who claimed that there was no possibility of oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico, and we are still paying the price for their lies. 
So What Can We Do?
As I write this, New York’s Governor, Andrew Cuomo, is deliberating about whether to allow fracking to go ahead in New York State.  The signs don’t look positive:  Cuomo and Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos have already blocked a proposal for an independent health impact study of hydraulic fracking and are under continuous pressure from gas and oil interests to allow them to rape and plunder the natural resources of our state.     

But what can any one of us do in the face of the millions of dollars that the gas and oil industries have available to distort public opinion and buy compliance from our elected officials?  Individually, we can’t very much.  But collectively we have the power to sway public opinion, force our elective officials to work for the common good, and prevent further degradation to our natural environment. 
So here are a few simple things you can do if you care about this issue:
  • Inform yourself about the issue, so you understand fully the price that all of us will have to pay if fracking is permitted in New York State.  A good place to start is at the No Fracking site, which contains as much information as you could ever want to know about this issue in addition to many useful links.
  • Sign an on-line petition to persuade Governor Cuomo to ban fracking in New York State.  Or even better, call the Governor’s office directly to voice your opposition.  The Working Families Party has a hotline that makes it easy for you to do this. 
  • Talk to your friends and family about this issue and get them involved. Remember, collectively we have a voice and the more people who commit to a cause, the greater the likelihood of success.
Of course there are alternatives to drilling for gas and oil that could eventually supply most of our energy needs in the future, make us energy independent (i.e., no more wars for oil), and have almost no environmental impact.  These are renewable energy sources like solar, wind, hydro, and geothermal.  As the price of gas and oil continue to rise—as they inevitably must with world demand increasing annually—these alternative energy sources will become more economically viable and will have the potential to transform our planet. 

So if you really want to stop the environmental degradation and human suffering that comes from gas and oil drilling, then please,
  • support the concept of renewal energy both as a personal choice and as public policy.

5 comments:

  1. Gary (Carbondale, IL)March 31, 2012 at 4:11 PM

    I came upon this piece from the Occupy Wall Street forum. Thanks for writing it. I'm sure that there a lot of people who have no clue about just how dangerous fracking actually is. All they think about is how much money it could potentially bring into their state. But the money's not worth it if your kids get cancer frrom drinking toxic water. What price will the gas companies put on that????

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  2. The potential benefits of fracking are huge. It could make us energy independent for at least 100 years. To me, that's worth any risks involved.

    Besides, I don't think that any of the risks that you write about in your post have been proven. And there are those, like Daniel Yergin - on the President's energy committee - who say that is absolutely no dangers involved in fracking.

    Most of the negative press on this issue seems to come from liberal tree huggers like you.

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    Replies
    1. If you were to admit that there were at least SOME potential risks involved in fracking, but they are worth the potential benefits (i.e., greater energy independence), you might be able to make a case to some people. But the idea that there are NO risks associated with this practice, when in fact we have much evidence to the contrary, strikes me as being extremely dubious.

      And if you really want the country to be energy independent, then the best way to achieve that is to support renewable (Green) energy.

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    2. I guess that earthquakes aren't a danger, then, because they have been linked to hydraulic fracking:

      http://articles.businessinsider.com/2011-11-07/europe/30368594_1_shale-gas-fracking-process-tremors

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  3. This is clearly a huge fracking problem. The natural gas supply our country has, is an asset we should hold off from using for as long as possible. Granted, the United States Natural Gas Fund is losing millions of dollars every year, but these efforts should be concentrated on reaping benefits in the long term. What I essentially mean, is that yes - even though we're LOSING money by not tapping into these refineries, just think of how profitable they can become when oil and gasoline becomes scarce in approximately 20 years. As of right now, there is no NEED to tap into these refineries - so why do it? I say we should hold off at least a couple more years, and then reassess our natural resource situation.

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