Whether you have a natural gas drill pumping in your backyard or you are a dutiful headline reader, it’s hard to ignore that hydrofracking has become one of the hottest environmental stories across the country.
Each week the war of words and PR releases escalates between drillers and conservationists, the former driven by potential profits and homegrown energy, the latter by desires to protect health, communities and landscapes.
Here in New York it is perhaps most fractious thanks to a moratorium on fracking that may either be lifted—or extended—as early as this summer. As petition drives ratchet up on both sides, an umbrella coalition, New Yorkers Against Fracking, is planning a rally and concert today (May 15) in Albany, on the state capitol’s front lawn.
Hosted by ardent fracking opponent Mark Ruffalo and Hudson Valley resident Melissa Leo, the concert will feature both music (Natalie Merchant, Joan Osborne, Meshell Ndegeocello and more) and spoken word, in an effort to put pressure on Governor Andrew Cuomo as he contemplates the options of banning hydrofracking in New York, or following suit with 30+ other states and allowing it.
Evidence against fracking mounts. Last week the journal Ground Water, put out by the National Ground Water Association—a nonprofit group representing scientists, engineers and businesses—published a study about the safety of gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale, which runs from New York across Pennsylvania to West Virginia. It concluded that chemicals used in fracking would reach drinking-water supplies far more quickly than experts had previously predicted.
According to the study, between mid-2009 and mid-2010, operators injected up to four million gallons of a chemical and water solution, under more than 10,000 pounds of pressure, in the course of drilling 5,000 wells.
Scientists testifying on behalf of energy companies have argued that the thick layer of rock a mile or more below the surface would keep the contaminants away from aquifers and other drinkingwater sources. But the new study concluded that natural faults and fractures in the Marcellus, made worse by explosions deep underground, could allow the chemicals to reach the surface in just a few years.
The Catskill Mountainkeeper and the Park Foundation, two upstate New York organizations opposing fracking in the state, paid for the research.
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Like so many environmental issues, the truth—like the chemicals—will surface only years from now, when many of the energy companies will have moved on and people and landscapes left behind will be forever impacted, negatively.
While Governor Cuomo continues to weigh the issue and its impact on his state—against the background of a potential presidential run in 2016, in which he would not have wanted to offend the wealthy energy companies or smalltown voters—communities are acting on their own. In New York alone more than 100 towns have banned or have moratoriums against fracking.
Across the U.S., another 23 states are considering 127 bills legislating the practice. Both sides are paying for hundreds of studies. The EPA has weighed in by issuing new air regulations intended to cut down on the methane emissions that are part of the fracking process, and environmental groups are pressuring the EPA to force disclosure of the chemicals being used underground.
So far only Vermont has totally banned hydrofracking, though in Europe—which depends a lot on nuclear energy—two countries (France and Bulgaria) have just said, “No.” Germany may be next.