Thursday, December 20, 2012 Rochester, NY - Admittedly the science and engineering involved in high pressure, high volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing is beyond my primary area of competency. As a philosopher and community activist, I am not qualified to speak with the authority of a degreed ecologist, geologist, or mechanical engineer.
Furthermore, I have absolutely no technical experience working in the oil and gas industry although it is always a dangerous fallacy to assume that professional credentials matter if one’s position is accurate. In the words of Leonardo Da Vinci: “Anyone who conducts an argument by appealing to authority is not using his or her intelligence, they are just using their memory.” So if the greatest genius in human history is right about trusting instincts, I do not need to be a trained chemist to know that cigarettes contain carcinogens that tear holes through the fabric of our lungs. Nor do I need to be a biologist to know that all animals consist of delicately manufactured cells that require clean air and clean water to survive. I also know that hydrofracking is wrong.
Miraculously New York remains the only state with significant shale gas reserves to forbid energy companies from using this technique to acquire petroleum, gas, and other substances. To date, there are over 100 municipal bans and moratoriums against hydrofracking. If fracking comes to New York it will bring the threat of water contamination, noise pollution, wildlife habitat destruction, and even human disease. In fracking zones across the country, there have been noticeable increases in reported cases of asthma, chronic obstructive lung disease, and congestive heart disease.
Even if the industry could guarantee that methane will not leak into the atmosphere, that radioactive elements like radon and uranium will not seep into freshwater drinking supplies, and that trucks will not crash and spill toxic fracking waste onto roadways; there are still unavoidable sides-effects to the process that have severe consequences to the health of communities. Clearing the land to build new access roads, well pads, and water storage tanks disrupts community life, burns colossal amounts of diesel fuel and destroys indigenous habitats. Regardless whether or not the transporting of fluid through encased pipes can be done “safely,” each fracking operation requires approximately 5 million gallons of fresh water, and between 10,000 and 40,000 gallons of chemicals and toxins including hydrochloric acid, zirconium, titanium salts, aluminum phosphate, benzene, and even arsenic.
Ithaca based scientist and climate activist Sandra Steingraber claims that between 34,000 and 100,000 wells are planned for New York State. Some drill sites can be fracked several times. Having done the quick math, let’s seriously consider the current water crisis going on in the world and ask ourselves if we want to raid our rivers, lakes, streams, and reservoirs. This preposterous wastage of water is insane given how valuable clean drinking water is becoming as a commodity on the world market. Water is the gold of the 21st century and we are treating it like cheap brass.
The industry cannot claim to know how hydrofracking can be done safely, nor can they say with a straight face that transitioning to alternative energy is impractical. The industry has done everything in its power including securing an exemption from the Safe Drinking Water Act of 2005, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, and The Toxic Release Inventory, to put profit margins ahead of full disclosure and public safety. According to the environmental group SourceWatch, it was found that from 1998 to 2011, there were a total of 2,025 safety and drilling violations that were issued to 335 companies in seventeen states between February 1998 and February 2011; 549 of which were classified as “major.” The simple fact that between 1990-2011, oil and gas companies contributed $238.7 million into gubernatorial and Congressional election campaigns should be an unmistakable indicator that in regards to hydrofracking- the health of New Yorkers is being lawfully but unjustly compromised.There are good reasons why hydrofracking has been banned all over the world. France and Bulgaria have taken dramatic steps to forbid the practice, and the United Nations has proclaimed it to be unreasonably dangerous and economically inadvisable for any country to pursue. Michael Bloomberg recently stated: “Based on all the facts, the risks are too great and drilling simply cannot be permitted in the NYC watershed.” Thousands of people living in Colorado, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Maryland, North Dakota, Texas and Louisiana do not need the advice of billionaire mayors or the United Nations to tell them that they cannot sleep due to the nonstop light and noise of the well pads; or that their property has plummeted in value; or that their streams and ponds are polluted with fracking runoff and spillage; or that their friends and relatives are getting sick. These people do not need to recite the UN Declaration of Human Rights or read the New York Times to know that their water is unsafe to drink.
Putting the obvious public health concerns aside, hydrofracking is merely a short term economic fix to a long term energy crisis called peak oil. No one in the media or government wants to talk about peak oil. It is likely that 75% of Americans are unfamiliar with the term. Peak oil is a simple problem with unimaginably complex consequences. Societies all over the world are nearing a tipping point when the cost of oil and gas extraction will be more expensive than the commercial profit that these resources can bring to extractors and distributors. Sooner than most Americans realize, a post-petroleum scenario will begin to transform nearly every aspect of our daily lives. Everything from transportation patterns to sleeping patterns will be altered by the disappearance of constant, cheap, and controlled oil and gas. Hydrofracking represents a last ditch effort to get what is left before the public catches on to the severity of the situation. In fact, many experts in the industry openly concede that shale gas is inferior compared to the oil that is close to depletion in places like Kuwait, Venezuela, and Texas.
The fact that oil and gas companies are even clamoring to drill in Western New York State signifies desperation rather than opportunism. Major corporations such as Halliburton and Chesapeake Energy are trying to scrape what they can from the bottom of the barrel while they still have the energy capacity to keep their rigs running and their pipelines flowing. It is all coming to a halt; the rigs and compressor stations will soon stop in their tracks. These machines and miles of pipelines will lay littered across the once bejeweled valleys and hills of the Southern Tier like steel monuments to our greed and stupidity.
I do not have a comprehensive solution to our nation’s energy crisis other than to say, in terms of hydrofracking, we should leave Mother Earth alone. This is not a Utopian plea for our species to go back to a distant time in the past, but an urgent invitation to be better stewards than we have allowed ourselves to become today. There are other options. We can harvest methane from landfills and sewage sludge. We can repurpose existing technology to create geothermal heat pumps and wind turbines. And we can use less! But the growingly popular push to permit hydrofracking in New York State only proves that many of my fellow citizens have become suspicious and ungrateful of the home that births and sustains us all. Many of my fellow New Yorkers have allowed themselves to become the dependent offspring of a nonrenewable life source that is dying faster than anyone can understand.
Fortunately it’s not too late for the majority of New Yorkers to make a stand. It is clear that Governor Cuomo does not want the public, the legislature or health care experts to be part of the decision making process. The DEC has neglected to hire enough additional personnel to handle the increased workload that will come with fracking the Marcellus, and the only public health impact assessment is set to be released after drilling commences.
The time to act is now. Success depends on personal education, word of mouth activism, op-ed writing, marches, boycotts, lawsuits, petitions, subversive art and journalism, nonviolent direct action, and civil disobedience. Relating the words of M.K. Gandhi to the battle against hydrofracking, “Full effort is full victory.”