Fracking vs. beer: Does natural gas exploration threaten America's breweries?
If fracking techniques pollute water supplies, what will happen to beer production?
Fri, Feb 01 2013 at 12:04 PM
Photo: John Murden/Flickr
You can't make beer without clean water, but now some breweries are afraid that fracking will threaten the very water supplies they depend upon.
"It's all about the quality of the water," Simon Thorpe, CEO of the Ommegang Brewery in Cooperstown, N.Y., told NBC's "Rock Center with Brian Williams" this week. "The technology surrounding fracking is still not fully developed. Accidents are happening. Places are getting polluted." He says the company established its brewery in upstate New York because of the access to fresh water. "If that water supply is threatened by pollution, it makes it very difficult for us to produce world-class beer here." He suggests waiting until the technology is safer before its use is expanded.
Fracking, short for "hydraulic fracturing," is a process for extracting natural gas from shale rock by pumping millions of gallons of pressurized water, sand and proprietary chemicals down a well. It has previously been linked to earthquakes, sick livestock, and water that has a tendency to burst into flames. Proponents of fracking say it creates jobs and energy independence in the U.S. Natural gas is cheaper than many other forms of energy. It also produces fewer greenhouse gases than coal or oil, although its primary component is methane, which is a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.
Unfortunately for Ommegang Brewery, some nearby farms are tempted to sell natural gas leasing rights on their property, deals that could bring them much-needed income. One dairy farmer in Cooperstown told "Rock Center" that she is convinced fracking can be done safely and it will not threaten milk production on her farm. "We all love this area, none of us want to see it ruined," Jennifer Huntington said.
Several towns in the region have approved fracking, a contentious decision throughout the area. Another local dairy farmer, Cooperstown Holstein, has filed a lawsuit alleging that only the state, not individual localities, has the authority to approve fracking operations. That case is currently being argued in the New York State Supreme Court.
Ommegang discussed the issue with The Washington Post earlier this month. The brewers say their equipment can filter sediment from water and adjust pH levels, but they do not have the equipment to filter out some of the potential toxic chemicals that could enter the water supply via fracking, including benzene, methane and even diesel fuel. If the water becomes polluted, the company may need to truck in water, move or shut down the brewery altogether — a last-ditch effort that would cost the region about 80 jobs.
The Cooperstown brewery is not alone. Elsewhere in New York, Brooklyn Brewery has also called for the state to protect water supplies, according to a report from The Climate Desk. The discussion even reached the New York Wine, Beer and Spirits Summit this October, where the Independent Oil and Gas Association spoke out in favor of the technology as a way to create jobs in the state.
You can watch the report from "Rock Center" below:
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