Don’t Frack With New York’s Water
You’ve come home from school after a long day. You’re tired. You’re irritable. You walk into your warm — is it too warm? — apartment and notice a strange smell. It takes a quick second for your brain to process what you’re smelling, and by the time you get the picture you’re already alarmed. You’ve left the oven on — it’s unmistakable. You’re smelling gas.
All over the country people are smelling gas — natural gas. It’s leaking into water sources and making tap water flammable. It’s becoming a topic of conversation as news cameras start to set their sights on the toxic landscapes that natural gas drilling has created. It’s just as dangerous as the fumes filling the forgetful student’s apartment — and on a massive scale.
A technology called high-volume hydraulic fracturing is being used across the United States to extract natural gas from large shale formations deep underground. The process, more commonly known as hydrofracking, or simply fracking, employs high explosives to create gas-bearing fissures in the bedrock and pumps massive amounts of water, sand and hazardous chemicals deep underground. Gas and chemicals often leak into nearby aquifers, contaminating water for miles around. The fumes from the waste created by this process are deadly to plants and have been known to cause mass nosebleeds in some cases.
From coast to coast, stories arise every day of another disastrous scenario, playing out in real time, in shouting distance of a natural gas rig. In Dimock, Pennsylvania, well water has become a putrid brown, and the entire area is so contaminated that residents have claimed it’s beyond repair. In Arkansas, the explosives used in drilling caused sizable earthquakes. And on April 20, a massive spill in Bradford County, Pennsylvania sent millions of gallons of drilling fluid into a creek that feeds directly into the Susquehanna River.
The question is, why would a process so destructive be allowed? There are several reasons. One is the so-called “Halliburton Loophole” in the Clean Drinking Water Act that exempts the process from oversight — the clause derives its name from its creator, Dick Cheney, the CEO of Halliburton when the company developed the drilling technology. Another is that natural gas is packaged and sold as a “clean” alternative to coal and oil — although recent studies by one of the technology’s originators, Anthony Ingraffea, suggests that natural gas extraction may in fact be more environmentally hazardous than the burning of coal. The last is that for many in the country, the reality of hydrofracking is foreign and hazy. It may be in someone else’s backyard, but it’s not in theirs.
Today, hydrofracking is not only in New York’s backyard — it’s knocking on the front door. Gas companies are seeking to drill extensively in the Catskills and Delaware River watersheds, which provide the city’s unfiltered tap water. They are currently prevented from doing so by a thin moratorium that expires in July, extended from the original May deadline by executive order of former Governor David Paterson. Gas drilling, and its accompanying disasters, can look and sound like ‘something that happens to other people’ in our 24-hours-of-horror news cycle. Well, we’re about to be those other people.
What can a New Yorker do to protect their tap water? Speak up. In a meeting with the leading energy activists on April 15, President Obama reminded attendees that while many politicians, himself included, would like to push for cleaner energy and more environmental protection, they need the voice of the public to back them up and sway the national discussion in the right direction. By raising awareness of hydrofracking and, more importantly, by raising awareness of opposition to hydrofracking, you can give lawmakers ammunition when going up against gas companies. Currently, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has threatened to sue the federal government if a full environmental review of the process isn’t conducted immediately. By contacting state and federal lawmakers about the importance of this issue, we can give threats like Schneiderman’s the credibility they need to be effective.
These are just some of the facts, and only one side of the story. It’s up to anyone reading this to educate themselves about hydrofracking, and to decide how they want to act on what they learn. But the more you read, the more you’ll realize that with every spill, every leak, every explosive blowout and every poisoned well, the clock is running down on our water.