New York vineyard owners fear prospects of fracking drilling

Vineyard owners in New York’s Finger Lakes region are fearing the worst as their state prepares to open its land to hydraulic fracturing (fracking) drilling in the near future.

Officials in New York have long debated the pros and cons of fracking drilling and despite strong efforts to block drilling expansion for more than two years, it appears next year will mark a noticeable expansion in fracking efforts there. A previously held moratorium on drilling has long since expired and current Gov. Andrew Cuomo seems intent on allowing fracking drilling on privately-leased land and on some public lands within the state.

Only a yet-to-be-completed safety and health review stands in the way of drillers combing the state for natural gas reserves hidden in underground shale formations. Cuomo recently ordered further review of that state study in the face of a dogged resistance from numerous environmental advocacy groups representing numerous concerned New Yorkers.

According to an AP report, some of those concerned New Yorkers are private vineyard owners in the state’s Finger Lakes region. The Finger Lakes are a popular destination for a getaway weekend or vacation and the wine vineyards have become an added attraction. The area is known for its Riesling wines but more so for its picturesque landscapes. 

Grape growers in that region told AP reporters that fracking drilling will likely spoil that pristine “postcard” image the Finger Lakes has acquired or held for years. The flames of active fracking wells and all the industrial cacophony that accompanies this particularly messy and intrusive gas exploration process are liable to spoil that image and the thriving tourism industry already in place, residents told AP.

Fracking is conducted in the search for deposits of natural gas and oil in underground rock formations. In New York and much of the Mid Atlantic, gas drillers have rushed to open thousands of fracking wells, mostly in Pennsylvania so far, as they comb the massive Marcellus shale formation for natural gas deposits. For each well, a two-mile underground horizontal well is dug and supposed to be encased and sealed in cement. Wells can reach two miles in depth, far enough to reach an underground shale formation.

Through the well, a drill is guided by a fluid mixture of sand, fresh water, and a mix of more than 600 chemicals that eventually reach the shale, blast it apart and release the gas pockets. The drilling fluid and gas is supposed to be rushed back to the surface, collected, and stored for processing.

The energy industry has led much of the public to believe fracking can be conducted safely but many living closest to active fracking wells now believe otherwise. Toxic air pollution, strong enough to cause breathing problems and skin lesions, have been reported among residents living within a mile of active fracking wells in neighboring Pennsylvania. Further, and just as troubling, residents believe fracking wells are responsible for the contamination of their own private water wells.

Toxic levels of methane and other gases and chemicals have rendered many wells useless and capped, leaving residents to find alternative sources of fresh water, or even forced from their homes due to toxic accumulations of gas underground. These are the results of careless drilling practices, which involves poorly constructed wells that allow the dangerous contents of drilling fluid, as well as the gases it creates, to escape wells in infiltrate groundwater. The fracking process, they believe, also causes underground fissures through which these contaminants can escape.

Vineyard owners told reporters they believe these threats will impact their grape crops and soon consumers will be turned off by the prospect of their wines being contaminated with the effects of fracking.

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