When you think about it, it's pretty flabbergasting just how much water is a part of our lives. Not only does it comprise roughly 75 percent of the globe, but it comprises almost as much of our own bodies. Water's a universal element in itself. Universal in that everyone, no matter who we are or what our backgrounds are, rely on this simple substance for survival.
It's also local. It hits close to home when gas companies want to put something so important at stake, for the sake of buying time in the midst of global climate and energy crises.
If you live in Upstate New York, you are probably well aware that two of the five Great Lakes are practically in your back yard. I consider myself incredibly fortunate to be able to say I live less than 10 miles away from Lake Ontario, one of the largest sources of fresh water for the world. Then, about 20 miles south, are the beginnings of the Finger Lakes region, also a major component of the world's fresh water resources. Tourism, fine wineries and local marine activities are centered around the indescribable and constant beauty of the Finger Lakes and Great Lakes; but if hydrofracking
— the process of pumping millions of gallons of pressurized water, sand and chemicals down a newly drilled well to blast out the surrounding shale rock and gas — is allowed in New York State, all of the beauty and ecology we enjoy could be damaged.
What is unique about this issue is the two major geologic formations that lay below most of Pennsylvania and Western New York State. The one formation we hear a lot about in the local papers is the Marcellus Shale, which is a vast expanse of shale rock that covers most of Pennsylvania, parts of Virginia, West Virginia and the Finger Lakes region of New York. There is an estimated 500 trillion cubic feet of natural gas
trapped inside the shale, and from this estimate, there are projections that natural gas could power the U.S. for another 60 years or so, maintaining present energy demands.
However, there has been recent discovery of the Utica Shale, which goes further down into the crust than Marcellus, and geologists estimate there is even more natural gas. The Utica Shale extends under all of Rochester and even into Lake Ontario. Just when we thought Rochester, N.Y., would be safe from the drillers, we were proven wrong.
Hydrofracking and water go hand in hand, because the former will have devastating effects on our water if New York State decides to lift the ban on hydrofracking. However, gas companies make hydrofracking look like a safe, almost neighborhood-friendly project that will boost the local economy.
Myths about fracking
Of the plethora of hydrofracking myths, one of the most popular ones is that horizontal drilling will yield an abundance of clean natural gas. I've never heard of any "clean" greenhouse gas. The main component of natural gas is methane, which is a very potent greenhouse gas, more so than carbon dioxide.
Here's another myth: hydrofracking is a 60-year-old, well-proven technology. At a recent lecture I attended, this myth was debunked because in reality the technologies used now for hydrofracking are about four years old. To me, this screams "not enough research!" How can something so young, in terms of technology, be considered safe?
Yet another myth used by the gas companies is that fluid migration is a rare event. This simply means that the fluids used to break up the shale beds (and, keep in mind, this "fracking fluid" contains over 500 different chemicals, many of them carcinogens
) have a small chance of reaching into other fissures that could lead to groundwater aquifers. I beg to differ because not only have I seen "Gasland
," the award-winning documentary that revealed the flammable water coming out of faucets in Pennsylvania, but also because that statement just doesn't cut it. There have been too many incidences of contaminated waste water pools spilling over into fields and high levels of benzene and toluene in parts of Pennsylvania where hydrofracking is very prevalent.
What it all boils down to
This issue is much more than a tug-of-war between gas companies and people concerned about their water quality. Hydrofracking could threaten the quality of life for small towns, and it already has in rural parts of Pennsylvania. The danger from the chemicals used to break up the shale does not stop at the drilling sites; these chemicals, such as benzene, formaldehyde and methane, can leach into groundwater and soil, disrupting aquatic ecosystems and human and animal health.
This is a question of environmental justice, and I believe no one should be subject to harmful chemicals, even if the incentives for hydrofracking tout economic benefit and more jobs. We need to invest our money and energy into developing renewable sources of energy such as wind, solar and geothermal.
If hydrofracking is allowed in my state, all I can think to ask our legislators is this: what kind of world are we leaving for the future? Are we being responsible about this?
I once was told that equity is the key to being environmentally sound and people-oriented. I don't think destruction of forests and putting local farms at risk of contamination is fair. We keep thinking forward, about change, about furthering economic prosperity. The sad truth is that "our technology is outrunning our common sense."
These are the wise words of Chief Oren Lyons, a leader in environmental awareness. When the drillers come invade the once quiet towns and forested areas of the Northeast, not only are they poisoning our water, but they are poisoning our children's futures.
Gas companies may say that the natural gas below my feet is abundant and cheap and can power our county for decades to come.
The same thing was once said of oil.