Hii Explores Fracking

Join the Human Impacts Institute Community Conversation! What policy do you want in NYS concerning fracking?


The current energy debate taking place in New York revolves around hydraulic fracturing in the Marcellus Shale, a reserve of natural gas that spans several Northeastern states, including New York. Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is “a process in which drillers blast millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals at high-pressure into sub-surface rock formations to create fractures that facilitate the flow of recoverable oil or gas”.

In December 2010, Governor David Paterson issued an executive order prohibiting the high-volume hydraulic fracturing of horizontally drilled wells until July 1, 2011, in the face of concerns about the environmental hazards involved with the process. On July 8th, 2011, the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) released its revised draft of guidelines for hydraulic fracturing in New York, which would prohibit high-volume hydraulic fracturing in the New York City and Syracuse watersheds, within 500 feet of primary aquifers, and on state-owned land. Any drilling within 1,000 feet of the water supply infrastructure would require an environmental review.

For proponents of drilling in the Marcellus Shale, they highlight the potential resources available in fracking the site, which may contain 490 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, means powering electric plants for two decades. Syracuse University hydrology professor Don Siegel argued the importance of tapping into the reserves in an effort to fight climate change; as the cleanest of the fossil fuels, switching to natural gas can reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 17 percent and hold New York over until alternative energy sources are more feasible.

According to Kate Sinding, a senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, the guidelines released by the DEC are“ not enough to protect New York City’s water”. In an article in the Journal News, Kate Sinding and other environmental activists warn that vibrations and shaking from drilling near the water supply infrastructure could threaten the stability of the water supply tunnel and that fracking fluids could enter the tunnels through cracks or fissures in the tunnel walls. According to representatives of Responsible Drilling Alliance, there is no evidence of fracturing fluid contaminating drinking water, however, this could be attributed to the fact that most gas companies do not disclose what is actually in the fluid.

Another hazard of fracking is the leakage of methane into drinking water, which has led to true stories of homeowners being able to set their water on fire. They are also concerned that superficial treatment of the millions of gallons of fracking wastewater, classified by the DEC as nonhazardous industrial waste, will be harmful to the human health.Confidential EPA documents reveal that wastewater is often laced with highly corrosive salts, carcinogens and radioactive elements. The wastewater is “sometimes hauled to sewage plants not designed to treat it and then discharged into rivers that supply drinking water”.

Fear of the dangers of fracking is alive and well in New York and it is not as unfounded as gas companies would like us to believe. The government would do well to apply the precautionary principle here; in the absence of scientific consensus that fracking is harmful to the public or environments, the burden of proof that fracking is not harmful falls on those advocating fracking.

By Jenny Cheng, 2011 Human Impacts Institute Climate and Coalition Building Intern

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