Fracking and New York: What you need to know
In January 2020, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo of New York announced that the state would permanently ban hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, to protect the environment as well as public health (1). This announcement comes seven years after the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) officially prohibited the practice of fracking in 2015. New York is the only state with vast reserves of shale gas to ban fracking.
The History of Fracking in New York State
Fracking is a natural oil and gas extraction technique that involves injecting high-pressure liquid into the subterranean rocks to create fractured networks that allow for the trapping of crude oil and natural gas to the surface. According to the Department of Energy (DOE), fracking began in the United States in 1949, and by 2017, many states, including New York, were at their peak production of natural gas and crude oil.
While fracking has been legal and carried out for years in New York and neighboring states, the increased magnitude, scope, and the locations of the prospected industrial drilling led to the fracking ban. Industrial gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale, as well as other shale reserves in the state, has had significant impacts on the environment and the communities living in it.
Andrew Cuomo (Governor of New York) and His Thoughts
Governor Cuomo unveiled his firm support for a forceful and complete ban of fracking in New York following a recommendation by the Department of Environment Conservation in late 2014 when large-scale fracking was prohibited. His stand is that high-volume hydraulic fracking, often used in combination with horizontal drilling, has adverse impacts on the health of the environment as well as increased air and water pollution (2).
Governor Cuomo’s fracking ban announcement came at a time when environmental conservation, global warming, and the effect of fossil fuels on both is a sensational discussion topic all over the world. On top of the list of adverse effects that fracking brings, the governor listed surface spills, surface water contamination, and the creation of fissures and earthquakes as among the most significant reasons to ban the practice.
“New York’s leadership on hydraulic fracturing continues to protect the environment and public health, including the drinking water of millions of people, and we must make it permanent once and for all,” Cuomo said.
PA Fracks: Why Can’t NY?
Fracking proponents point to the success of fracking processes in Pennsylvania as a reference to why New York should not have banned the practice. Considering the entire New York City West-of-Hudson Watershed supplies drinking water to over 90% of the New York State population, everything must be done to preserve this invaluable water catchment. Since fracking involves pumping toxic chemicals, water, and sand into shale formations, it has adverse negative effects on the environment.
Coincidentally, this area sits on part of the Marcellus Shale, a significantly large reserve of mineral deposits under the surface (3). Fracking had to be banned in New York to protect this and other natural resources in the state on which human lives depend. On the other hand, Pennsylvania has more great open spaces than New York and can allow fracking without significant damage to the environment on which the livelihoods of millions depend.
Frack, or Not to Frack: What do You Think?
Governor Cuomo’s announcement of intent to permanently ban fracking in New York State was welcomed with a lot of excitement and hope in some quarters. Still, the prospectors and landowners were not the happiest lot. In the interest of protecting the environment and putting public health above all else, the governor has transcended the interests of oil companies and set a good example that other states should follow.
The Shell Project that seeks to use ethane obtained from fracking sites in Pennsylvania to make plastic is still on course (4), being pushed by big petrochemical companies. Some milestones have been achieved since fracking was banned in New York five years ago. Top among these are the greater adoption of clean energy, a reduced rate of air and water pollution, and encouragement of other states to embrace the ban on fracking and other environmentally harmful mining practices.
There is no future in fossil fuels, considering the recent plunge of oil prices following the COVID-19 pandemic, and damaging the environment to get it off the ground is not worth the effort. Fracking may be just a fuel extraction alternative to gas companies. Still, to the environment and the people, plants, and animals living in it, it is a death sentence to continue using such dangerous techniques to extract fuel that the world can do without. Tell Governor Cuomo your thoughts about fracking (5).
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