June 20th, 2013 - Fracking, also known as hydraulic fracturing, fracing, and fracture stimulation, is when shale gas drilling companies come to an area, buy up drilling rights from landowners, cut new roads and raze patches of land in formerly undisturbed natural environments, cart in and out tens of millions of gallons of water and tons of chemicals and "proppants" like sand with hundreds of big rig trucks that produce tons of diesel emissions and wear down existing roads, drill holes that go vertically down and then horizontally under multiple properties, mix the water, chemicals, and proppants together on-site to make fracking fluid, run compressors that produce more diesel emissions to pump the fluid into the wells at high pressure to shatter underground deposits of shale and release bound-up natural gas, pump some of the fluid back out and cart it off to who knows where while leaving the rest underground, install permanent equipment to "clean" and capture most of the natural gas that comes back up the well and to release gas into the air when there's excess pressure, and then pack up, go home, and cash checks while the land stays pockmarked with drill pads, the air's been polluted with volatile organic compounds, and the water supply of everyone downstream is left in jeopardy--drilling in New York State could affect you, NYC! And you, Philly! And you, New Jersey! Much of the interest in exploration lies in the Delaware River Basin in NE Pennsylvania and NY State's Southern Tier, as well as the Catskills region, areas that supply your water. Water, water everywhere...
FRACKED NATURAL GAS IS NOT CLEAN ENERGY
Like some industry proponents claim, fracking has a history that goes back over 60 years--but not in its current form. The first forays were meant to squeeze the last drops from existing traditional wells. The first stimulation experiment anywhere near today's scale was related to the U.S. Government's Peaceful Nuclear Explosions program, known as Operation Plowshare, and in particular Project Rulison. In 1969, a 40 megaton atomic bomb was detonated deep underground outside Rulison, Colorado to stimulate the release of natural gas1. This massive experiment was successful in that the gas was freed, but unfortunately it was too contaminated with radioactive isotopes from the blast to be useful. Today, fracking companies are back in the area of the Rulison blast2, which is no surprise given that many of the target "plays" for fracking, deep underground, themselves have naturally-occurring radioactive materials (NORMs) far in excess of safe levels.
A THREAT AT EVERY LEVEL
There are a number of human and environmental costs to consider, the most critical being our drinking water supply, as New York City has the largest unfiltered surface water supply in the world3. Another is our air, which, despite natural gas being touted as having 50% less carbon emissions than coal or oil, is polluted with significant amounts of hydrocarbons and volatile organic compounds by the shale gas extraction process itself. So, one concern is the above-ground transport and handling of fracking chemicals, another is the potential migration of hazardous fracking mud left underground that couldn't be economically pumped out (typically about half), and yet another is pollution generated from the operation and maintenance of wellheads and related above-ground equipment over the life of the wells. Industry advocates like to minimize these risks, complaining that environmentalists exaggerate the dangers. Perhaps they really believe that, whether through ignorance or self-delusion, but there's also the possibility that they actually stand to gain even more if our water supply is contaminated.
WATER FOR SALE
Texas oilman and corporate raider T. Boone Pickens is a major financier and evangelist of natural gas exploration across the United States, from the Haynesville Shale to the Marcellus. He claims that natural gas paves the road to energy independence in his "Pickens Plan4." He says that it's "green," and it seems he came to this realization right around the time his oil wells stopped being productive. Interestingly, according to BusinessWeek, "Pickens owns more water than any other individual in the U.S. and is looking to control even more5." So, if all goes according to his Plan, groundwater across the country will end up contaminated by the energy we buy from him, but he will be able to sell us all the clean water we need. Pickens Plan? We say slim pickings, man!
ENERGY PRODUCERS CAN SWITCH LANES
You can either drill, frack, and extract for a decade or two while neglecting the need for renewable energy development and deployment, or just skip the wasteful and dangerous extraction process altogether by funding and enabling renewable energy research, development, and production now. Why wait? Switching lanes now could actually make up the loss of the big annual payday associated with these natural gas plays over time, not to mention provide a huge reduction in external costs and the associated legal and regulatory risks. Did you know that you could now harvest methane from landfills and sewage sludge? It would be a PR dream for your companies if the biggest domestic side-effect of your production process in our neck of the woods was getting rid of that odor in Jersey. What's more, couldn't you repurpose much of your existing equipment to, say, install geothermal heat pumps, or use old drilling rigs as towers for industrial wind turbines, or even apply horizontal drilling techniques to create minimally-obtrusive paths for cable runs to get all this renewable energy from point of capture to point of use? That would yield revenue in perpetuity, paying off less up front but more valuable in the long-term. The NPV analysis is up to you, but that perpetuity formula is pretty attractive.
BUILD YOUR KNOWLEDGE
There can be big consequences to messing around underground. Did you know about the Lapindo mud volcano in East Java? It's an ongoing, non-stop eruption of toxic mud, expanding over the Pacific island at the rate of about 50 Olympic swimming pools per day, that started over four years ago. 13 people have died and over 50,000 have been displaced so far as a result. The Lapindo mud volcano was almost certainly triggered by gas drilling6. Below are links to news stories from credible sources around the country, as well as content from both opponents and proponents of hydraulic fracturing. Please read, learn, and make your own decision. Our recommendation? BAN HYDRAULIC FRACTURING IN NEW YORK STATE AND CLOSE THE HALLIBURTON LOOPHOLE TO PROTECT OUR WATER SUPPLIES THROUGHOUT THE UNITED STATES!