Fracked to Pieces: Concerned Citizen Groups Call for a Ban as New York State Draws Closer to Wide-Scale Hydraulic Fracturing

By Tuhus, Melinda | E Magazine, November-December 2011 | Go to article overview

Fracked to Pieces: Concerned Citizen Groups Call for a Ban as New York State Draws Closer to Wide-Scale Hydraulic Fracturing


Tuhus, Melinda, E Magazine


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In anticipation of hydraulic fracturing or "fracking" for natural gas coming to New York's Catskill region, Jill Wiener made an unexpected career move. An artist who relocated from New York City to the Catskill town of Callicoon 15 years ago, Wiener is so upset about the proposed gas drilling that she's running for office on a platform opposing it. She moved to the area, she explains, after discovering the perfect homestead there. "I live in the country on 60 acres with a beautiful spring-fed pond. I'm a potter. I grow chemical-flee flowers. I depend on my clean water for everything. It [fracking] is not proven to be safe, and I'd never inflict this on the land I call home or on my neighbors or community. We have people running for office all over the shale. I'm running for town council because my councilman supports it. I didn't want to do this--I wanted to sit in my barn and make pots."

Drilling for domestic natural gas is one of the fastest growing sources of energy in the U.S. Based on all the industry media ads, natural gas looks like the un-fossil fossil fuel, the "safe, clean" source of energy for electricity, home heating and even for fueling a growing segment of the country's transportation fleet.

Yet a growing chorus of critics--including some within state and federal government--is challenging the industry that's always had a pass regarding many key federal environmental laws.

The biggest growth in production has come since 2004, as new technologies have allowed companies to drill wells horizontally into slick rock, a process that requires injection under high pressure of thousands of chemicals mixed with sand and hundreds of thousands to millions of gallons of water deep underground into hard rock shale formations to release the previously inaccessible natural gas within. Much of the criticism of the practice has focused on concerns about how fracking might contaminate drinking water wells. But a more fundamental problem may be that shale gas, which is predicted to grow from 15% of natural gas production in 2011 to almost half of production by 2030 according to the federal Energy Information Administration, is delaying and may even prevent the development of economically competitive clean, renewable energy.

Case in point: Texas energy tycoon T. Boone Pickens generated a big buzz in 2008 when he announced his plan to reduce U.S. dependency on foreign oil by greatly boosting both domestic wind energy and natural gas production, but in late 2010 he abandoned the wind component to focus exclusively on natural gas, citing its low price. He promoted it most enthusiastically for the transportation sector.

LOTS OF GAS, FEW SAFEGUARDS

Ninety percent of the country's million-plus vertical and horizontal gas wells are fracked, i.e., the rock holding the gas is fractured to enable more gas to flow out. But the added challenges of horizontal fracking--using higher pressure and more chemicals and more water--have made it the focus of environmental and public health concerns. The process is being used in deep shale formations in nine states. The federal Energy Policy Act of 2005 specifically exempted natural gas companies from complying with the Clean Water Act (it's called the "Halliburton Loophole," after the company formerly headed by then Vice President Dick Cheney which invented the hydraulic fracturing process.) In fact, the oil and gas industry, while claiming it must adhere to federal regulations, is actually exempt from major provisions of many federal environmental laws, including the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, the National Environmental Policy Act and the Toxic Release Inventory.

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The Marcellus Shale extends through parts of New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Virginia and Ohio. …

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