Opinion: What's the fracking fuss?: Understanding a controversial process that affects us all

Posted by Eliza Sherpa

You may have heard the word "fracking" around campus and wondered what all the fuss was about. 

Fracking, a method of extracting natural gas from deep shale reserves, has emerged as a topic of controversy in recent months. Proponents argue that fracking will both increase national security by providing a domestic fuel source and help New York State's struggling economy by creating jobs. Some additionally insist that the increased use of natural gas is our solution to climate change, as the burning of natural gas emits less greenhouse gas than does oil or coal. While these are valid arguments, much of the natural gas extracted will be exported, and the potential economic gains exist only in a boom and bust system, which will not result in long-term economic growth.

Other industries in this state, including agriculture, tourism and small business, will be threatened. Jobs will be temporary, and not given to those New York residents who need them most. There will be huge costs for taxpayers, including an estimated $211 to 378 million spent on roads alone. In terms of environmental impact, the comprehensive process of extracting, purifying and burning natural gas emits more greenhouse gases than coal. These valid concerns aside, the problem with hydrofracking isn't, for me, one of science or economy. It's one of morality.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has determined that fracking is too dangerous to take place within the New York City watershed. But don't all regions of the state deserve the same protection? When my family was approached and asked to lease our land to a natural gas company, we were promised a revitalized New York economy with thousands of new jobs, a role in furthering America's energy independence and, of course, a hefty check. While my family had the opportunity to say no, many others did not.

Over 50 percent of my town in rural New York is now leased, and, if drilling proceeds, everyone in our town will directly feel the environmental and economic impacts.??

There are other issues with fracking as well. Because of regional class divides, drilling disproportionately affects working class landowners in rural areas. The process blasts millions of gallons of water into the ground, infused with thousands of gallons worth of over 500 chemicals, including the poisons hydrogen fluoride, lead, ethylene glycol and known carcinogens such as formaldehyde, naphthalene and benzene. It is impossible to remove all of this contaminated water from the ground, and frequently the waste is stored, at least temporarily, in open pits, which risk spillage.

Drilling brings hundreds of trucks into targeted communities, and the land value of areas affected by drilling plummets.  While the industry claims safety, what is perhaps most worrisome is that fracking is exempt from federal regulations, including the Clean Water Act, nor has an independent environmental impact statement ever been conducted.??

While no effect, positive or negative, can be assumed as certain, negative effects have been demonstrated time and time again all over this country. There have been over a thousand instances of groundwater contamination, countless incidents where water has actually been demonstrably flammable and hundreds of people that have become sick in at-risk areas. Recently, there have even been indicators linking fracking to earthquakes. But evidence has been covered up, and these stories are rarely heard.  

The corporations argue that there is no scientific proof linking fracking to these broken communities, and that drilling is, therefore, safe. Yet with clear evidence pointing towards water contamination and human health impacts and little evidence to the contrary, wouldn't we at least want to look further into this process?

Once we begin, recovery will be difficult.

??Recently, there have been droughts in the Midwest and West, and national concern for the availability of clean water has intensified. With fracking, we risk contaminating our fresh water, the most fundamental and vital resource for our existence. By allowing fracking to move forward in this state, we are continuing to allow corporations to represent us in the government. If we say no, we protect our needs. We are showing our state, and our country, that we wish to build a sustainable green economy, one that runs on clean, renewable energy, not dirty fossil fuels, and that will create long-term economic growth and job development. ??

The fight against fracking is a fight to tell the government to value communities over corporations and to protect human rights over corporate profit. The fight against social injustice has been fought for us by countless generations past. Now it is our responsibility to sustain the fight against social and environmental injustice, and pursue a clean energy economy for a just and sustainable future.??

Governor Cuomo will be making a decision on hydrofracking this December, and plans to move forward with the process despite significant public uproar, including a move by many cities, such as Albany, to institute local bans. Now is the time to take action and make our voices heard. If you're interested in getting involved, please contact esherpa@skidmore.edu or come to EAC meetings Monday, 9 p.m. in LADD 207.  There are upcoming Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) hearings (Nov. 16 Dansville, Nov. 17 Binghamton, Nov. 29 Loch Sheldrake, Nov. 30 New York City, Dec. 1 Ithaca) as well as the Delaware River Basin Commission hearing in Trenton, NJ on Nov. 21. 

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