Professor replies to New York’s impending approval of fracking drilling expansion

New York mustn’t contribute to the problems caused and posed by hydraulic fracturing (fracking) drilling by opening the state to drillers next year.

That is the feeling of one Cornell University ecology and biology professor who wrote an editorial in an edition of New York Daily News this week in response to a wave of conversely opinionated tomes from the state’s Governor Andrew Cuomo on the same pages of that newspaper in recent weeks. New York is currently the center of the hotly-contested fracking debate in the U.S. as it plans to open some public and private lands to companies which will lease it and open likely thousands of new wells in coming years.

The decision to allow fracking in New York has been exhaustively debated for several years and finally the state is ready to introduce draft regulations that will govern the controversial process of extracting natural gas, mostly, from underground shale formations. In New York, drilling companies are after the gas-rich Marcellus shale formation that extends across much of the southern and central portions of the state from west to east. The rock bed is believed to contain a fortune in natural gas reserves and the companies with the ability to get it are eager to get started.

Using a mix of hundreds of thousands of gallons of fresh water, dangerous silica sand, and a mix of more than 600 chemicals and other agents, a drill is rushed through an underground horizontal well that extends close to two miles until it reaches a shale formation. The drill and drilling slurry blast apart the rock and release natural gas, rushing it all back to the surface where it is supposed to be collected and stored.

Problems with this process have stoked an already hot debate on the value of domestic natural gas reserves. Opponents to the process believe fracking is dangerous for the environment and causes localized and widespread pollution and the faults of the process allow some dangerous toxins to create environmental threats long after a well is eventually closed.

In his editorial, David R. Atkinson, Professor of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology at Cornell University, states “The fracking cheerleaders are misinformed. Drilling for natural gas has some disastrous environmental consequences. It will speed climate change, not help stave it off. The methane that is inevitably emitted from natural gas wells and pipelines is more than 100 times more powerful than CO2 as a greenhouse gas during the first two decades after emission. Not only are the supposed global warming benefits of hydrofracking nonexistent, but those whose chief environmental concern is climate change must acknowledge that the technology is about as harmful as they come.”

Proponents of fracking drilling, like Cuomo, believe the benefits of the process will help New York and the nation, not only economically but also environmentally. But as the state gets set to allow fracking wells to be opened on privately leased lands and some public plots, some local governments in the state do not share the same sentiment and have passed laws to ban drilling ahead of the state allowing it.

In neighboring Pennsylvania, those living closest to active fracking wells believe the drilling has been a burden on their lives in many ways, not only environmentally but also to their health. They blame fracking drilling for health problems like breathing difficulty and skin irritations, some of which have escalated in severity the longer they are exposed to these dangerous elements.

Opponents to fracking also say the drilling has contaminated their fresh water supplies and polluted their around their homes, forcing some to leave altogether to escape the pollution.

New York officials have announced they’ll pass draft rules on fracking drilling early next year.

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