New York Fracking Debate Growing Intense

Environmentalists are reaching out to landowners in New York State considering profiting from fracking. New York is over the world’s second largest natural gas field, said the Daily News, seen as a potential money pot for landowners and as an environmental fiasco by opponents.

Fracking, which involves injecting a mixture of water and chemicals into shale deposits under high pressure to release natural gas, is generally exempt from regulation under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act, except when diesel fuel is used in injection fluids. As a result, the federal government does not require natural gas drillers to disclose the ingredients in their fracking fluid, and most regulation of hydraulic fracturing is left up to individual states.

This week, lawmakers and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) officials met in Washington, D.C, to consider the safety of hydraulic fracturing; Monday, anti-fracking activists convened in Albany to fight against the proposed lifting of the three-year moratorium on drilling in New York’s southwest area, which is over a portion of the Marcellus Shale formation, said the Daily News. The Marcellus Shale stretches from Tennessee to New York and is believed to contain some 500-trillion cubic feet of gas, an amount estimated to be sufficient to heat U.S. homes and to power electric plants for two decades, said the Daily News. Only the gas field behind South Pars, an area shared by Iran and Qatar is larger.

In Pennsylvania, about 3,000 shale-gas wells were drilled, driving up land values there, said the Daily News. But, at what cost? “There are people who have very legitimate economic concerns for whom this represents the possibility of a windfall,” said Kate Sinding of the Natural Resources Defense Council, a New York-based environmental organization, quoted The Daily News. “That cannot be allowed to come at the expense of drinking-water supplies and clean air and safe communities,” added Sinding.

Opponents of fracking are concerned that this type of natural gas drilling could lead to pollution of vital drinking water sources, either through the release of naturally-occurring hazardous substances such as arsenic, mercury, heavy metals, and radioactive materials from underground, or as a result of spills or leaks involving fracking fluid or fracking wastewater. Studies have shown that fracking fluids often contain some hazardous chemicals, including benzene and diesel.

A congressional investigation that concluded earlier this year found that drilling service companies have injected millions of gallons of diesel fuel underground during fracturing for natural gas. A report published by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) in early 2010 also found that many wells were being fracked with diesel without the proper permits. An EPA official told a Senate panel that any natural gas and oil drillers who acknowledged injecting diesel fuel into the ground during hydraulic fracturing broke the law if they didn’t have a permit from the agency.

While the president works toward decreasing our dependence on foreign oil, some see natural gas as a viable, less expensive, long-term, cleaner alternative, said the Daily News; however, fracking does pose the potential for serious environmental outcomes. In addition to hazardous chemicals, heavy metals, and contamination of water supplies, a recent Cornell University study found that fracking releases even more methane into the atmosphere than coal.

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