To Frack or Not to Frack?

New York State’s Department of Environmental Conservation is poised to make a long-awaited decision that will determine if and how High Volume Horizontal Hydraulic Fracturing (or fracking) should proceed.

The controversial practice of fracking involves pumping toxic fluids and other materials thousands of feet below the surface of the earth in order to release natural gas trapped within rocks. Once the gas is captured, these fracking fluids are then partially recovered and moved by trucks and pipelines to questionable disposal sites. In the case of New York, the area fracked would be the state’s share of the Marcellus Shale geologic formation.

The economic boom from natural gas exploration and extraction, already full steam ahead in neighboring Pennsylvania, has the potential to pump billions of dollars into New York’s economy. Some estimate New York’s natural gas reserves (largely in the state’s Southern Tier) to be almost 500 trillion cubic feet.

Such a large and accessible energy resource is undoubtedly welcome news to our energy hungry nation. But many are questioning if this boom (and likely future bust) is worth the costs to our state’s environment as we watch the poisoned wells, toxic spills, stress to the rural transportation system, and minor earthquakes the practice has produced elsewhere.

From an ecological perspective, fracking would bring a landscape-scale threat to New York’s natural heritage. Its impacts could include habitat fragmentation, pollution of water bodies, alterations and contamination of groundwater, injuries to species of concern, and other types of natural resource damages. Add into the equation the future unavoidable accidents like broken pipelines and breached containment ponds and the risks to the ecological communities many have fought so hard to protect become even greater.

Amphibians like the endangered Eastern Tiger Salamander are key indicator species of toxicity in the environment and may be further threatened with fracking.

Regulations in New York State are likely to be stiffer than in Pennsylvania, but many believe not enough is known about the practice to create effective monitoring and enforcement procedures. In the past few years, investigative reporters have started to bring to light many of the ills that come with this such as spoiled agricultural land, contaminated well water, over-stated gas reserves, and reduced property values. More details and scientific data will undoubtedly be revealed in the years to come.

Governor Cuomo should not allow fracking to move ahead in New York until the practice can be shown without doubt to be safe and protective of the environment. As a society, we need to start making our decisions from the perspective of future generations. The short-term gains of fracking are hard to resist, especially in this down economy, but the protection of our drinking water and the health of our ecosystem are much more important.

This guest op-ed is by Bryan Quinn, ASLA, a member of the NYASLA Board of Directors and an ecological consultant for Applied Ecological Services, Inc. Read NYASLA Downstate’s position paper, which was recently submitted to the NY State Department of Environmental Conservation during public deliberation on the state’s fracking policies.

Footnotes: (1) American Natural Gas Alliance (ANGA),  Sept. 7, 2011, (2) NYSDEC Revised Draft SGEIS, 2012, (3) National Conference of State Legislatures,  July 2011, (4) “Fracking and Biodiversity”, Hudsonia, Fall 2011

Image credit: (1) Kaaterskill Fall, Catskill, New York /, (2) Eastern Tiger Salamander / Lisa Powers Copyright, via Chattanooga Arboretum.

4 thoughts on “To Frack or Not to Frack?

  1. Jane Couch 01/12/2012 / 7:34 pm

    New York State’s Revised Draft SGEIS regulations are less stringent than current regulations for drilling in Pennsylvania, Texas and Oklahoma.

  2. Rochester Landscaper 01/21/2012 / 10:04 pm

    The amount of chemicals left in the ground when they are dong hydrofracking is unbelievable! I don’t understand why more people aren’t outraged.

  3. Kerri Murphy 01/30/2012 / 9:51 am

    I also agree and very much respect the way that NY ASLA is addressing this controversial issue.

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