Fears About Fracking

Fracking—at least in one form—may be temporarily on hold in New York State, but it won’t be banned for now. In mid-December, New York Governor David Paterson vetoed a bill that would have banned high-volume hydraulic fracturing (HVHF) in New York’s Marcellus Shale rock formation—otherwise known as “slick-water” hydraulic fracturing, a process that requires much more fresh water and chemicals than traditional methods, results in significantly more drilling area and produces tons more truck traffic and toxic waste disposal. The shale is thought to contain trillions of cubic feet of natural gas. One fact sheet put out by the The Marcellus Accountability Project for Tompkins County located in New York’s Finger Lakes Region takes a look at how intense, industrial-scale drilling would impact just one New York community—that of their own Tompkins County, home to Cornell University, Ithaca College, and lots of farms, falls and hiking trails.

The group writes: “If we assume only 8 HVHF wells per square mile, the impact on Tompkins County (300,000 drillable acres, 469 square miles) is: 3,752 wells, 770 million to 3.5 billion lbs. of chemical additives, 6.6 to 7.1 million tanker truck trips, 21 billion gallons of fresh water removed, 353,000 cubic yards of drill cuttings, and more than 2,345 acres cleared…”

Acknowledging the devastating environmental impact that such concentrated drilling would bring, Gov. Paterson issued an executive order that put a moratorium on horizontal high-pressure hydrofracking until July 1, 2011, until it gets more thorough environmental review. But he refused to sign a law sent to him by the New York State Assembly that would have put a moratorium on any new permits for hydraulic fracturing—vertical or horizontal. Paterson says vertical drilling is not a cause for concern and would have unfairly impacted jobs. But environmental groups such as Riverkeeper are worried that this will allow drilling companies a loophole: to begin with vertical wells and later shift them to horizontal wells to tap into the lucrative gas supplies. Not only is fracking known to contaminate drinking water, but the specific chemicals used in the process are guarded as industry secrets.

Sources: New York Times; Fracking Fact Sheet; Riverkeeper