What the Frack?

A couple weeks ago I attended a panel discussion organized by the Sustainable Professionals Network on the Politics of Hydraulic Fracturing. For those who don’t know, Hydraulic Fracturing is a drilling technique that involves injecting undisclosed toxic chemicals, sand, and millions of gallons of water under high pressure directly into the ground to release natural gas in shale deposits. Some of the largest shale deposits of this kind are found in the Marcellus Shale, a huge geological formation underneath Ohio, West Virginia, Virginia, and Pennsylvania as well as New York. Oil and gas companies are eager to exploit this newly accessible resource.


I found this discussion to be very confusing. I would consider myself relatively knowledgeable on the subject, but imagine how someone with no knowledge of the subject would interpret the information that was provided. The discussion was as follows: the Natural Resources Defense Council, Earth Justice, and Toxics Targeting representatives would explain how fracking can contaminate water, decrease the beauty of the land, cause noise pollution, decrease tourism, and then the Natural Gas representative would say the complete opposite. How can anyone make sense of this? Who is right and who is wrong? What are the facts?

Controversies have been coming up with regards to the funding of certain research projects concerning fracking. Recently the University of Texas provost announced he would re-examine a report by a UT professor that said fracking was safe for groundwater after the revelation that the professor pocketed hundreds of thousands of dollars from a Texas natural gas developer. This suggests that we can’t even trust the academic institutions that are supposed to provide us with unbiased scientific facts. The industry denies that fracking, by itself, can contaminate aquifers. But while the existence of toxic wastes has been reported, thousands of internal documents from the Environmental Protection Agency state regulators and drillers show that the dangers to the environment and health are greater than previously understood. With these high level risks wouldn’t you think using the precautionary principle would be best?

In my opinion, fracking is just keeping us further from achieving attainable reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Although natural gas is touted as emitting half as much greenhouse gas as coal when combusted, it has been pushing out more sustainable sources of energy like solar and wind, thus moving us away from a clean energy future.

You might be wondering, how does this affect us in New York? After having conducted statewide studies on the effects of natural gas for four years, the Cuomo administration is now saying its decision on whether to allow fracking in New York will have to wait until a review of the potential public health effects of the drilling process is conducted. The commissioner of the State Department of Environmental Conservation, Joseph Martens, said that of the 80,000 public comments the state had received on hydrofracking during its deliberations, most focused on the possible harm to public health. Among the areas of concern are the contamination of drinking-water supplies, air pollution produced by the drilling equipment and the danger of accidents from increased truck traffic. Hopefully Cuomo will make an informed decision about whether or not to allow hydrofracking in New York.

Dominique Murray, Ecopreneurs Project Coordinator

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