As the New York Times reported yesterday, the Cuomo administration is looking to lift a moratorium in New York State on hydraulic fracturing, a controversial – and inadequately studied – technique for extracting natural gas from shale. “Fracking” would be allowed on private lands “under rigorous and effective controls” but banned inside New York City’s upstate watershed and on state lands, like parks and wildlife preserves.
Natural gas fracking is one of the fastest-growing areas of the energy industry, because it burns cleaner than coal and creates jobs in economically pinched areas. The natural gas industry has a powerful lobby. “Safe drilling for natural gas has the potential to create thousands of new jobs and millions of dollars in economic investment,” New York’s Senate majority leader, Dean G. Skelos, said in a statement. But is safe drilling even possible? “I’ve been concerned about it since I first heard about the possibility a couple of years ago,” an anti-fracking advocate in New York state tells the Times. “There’s no safe way to put toxic chemicals into the ground and control them.”
She’s right to be skeptical. As Alexander Zaitchik recently reported for rollingstone.com (in an article that makes for a great introduction to the fracking issue):
In essence, fracking involves shooting large volumes of water and sand laced with dozens of exotic toxins at extremely high pressure into the shale thousands of feet beneath the surface. This releases the raw gas for retrieval and refining. But the toxic waste remains a problem both above and below ground. Much of it is recovered and stored in what are often unguarded, open-air chemical sludge pools near the drilling site. The rest of the wastewater, sometimes up to half, remains underground, where it can contaminate nearby water tables and seep into the environment in ways that are still not completely understood. “We know there are significant risks associated with … the pollutants involved in fracking,” says Anthony Ingraffea, a rock-fracture mechanics expert at Cornell University. “These drilling techniques result in amounts of toxic matter so large – in solid, gas, and liquid states – that, in effect, everybody is ‘downstream.’ You can’t get far enough away.” …
As research deepens our understanding of fracking’s environmental impacts, the incidents continue to pile up. Most of these fracking spills do not make headlines. An investigation conducted last year by Scripps Howard found that in Ohio alone, gas companies have in the last decade been charged with nearly 2,000 violations resulting in pollution and contamination of the local environment. Similar numbers could soon be reported across Fox’s gas map of the United States, where 34 states are now being targeted for drilling.
Read the full article here.