Natural gas drilling and hydrofracking have been hot topics of debate in the New York region where I live. Currently, Governer Cuomo is pursing a plan to allow hydrofracking in select areas of New York; my area of New York. 1 This beautiful area of New York, set between Albany and Binghamton has been struggling for years, long before the recession hit. I live in Oneonta, New York, which is located in Otsego county and work in a small town in Chenango County. In Otsego County, 14.9% percent of the residents are living below the poverty level compared to the state average of 14.2%2 In Chenango county aprpoximately 1600 jobs have been lost since 2000 3 and the median income is significantly less than that of the state average. 4 Many of our jobs in this are have been in agriculture, manufacturing, and tourism, although now we have seen many of our manufacturing jobs disappear, however our tourism industry is strong thanks to our natural beauty which brings people in for camping, fishing, and many other outdoor pursuits. That is why this topic is so controversial. On the one hand, we have an area that depends on the natural beauty and fertile soil for tourism and for farming. On the other we have people who are struggling to make ends meet in an economy that has been slow for a long time.
Hydrofracking is a practice that helps to extract natural gas from shale underground. According to www.energyfromshale.org, a pro-drilling organization:
“In a hydraulic fracturing job, “fracturing fluids” or “pumping fluids” consisting primarily of water and sand are injected under high pressure into the producing formation, creating fissures that allow resources to move freely from rock pores where it is trapped.” 5
However, one of the major concerns about this practice is the effect it could have on our groundwater, a great deal of which is nearby the New York City Watershed which begins in nearby Delaware county. The water and sand involved in hydraulic fracturing are also accompanied by various chemicals. The very well-researched Fracking the Future website has some more information about the possible long term effects of this.
“The chemicals in fracking fluid can include friction reducers, surfactants, corrosion inhibitors, biocides, stabilizers and lubricants which perform a number of functions such as preventing buildup in the well bore and allowing for the smooth passage of the gas from the rock. The sand, called a proppant, is used to prop open the fissures which are created in the blast and allow for the free flow of gas. ” 6
Some of these additives can also cause major side effects:
“Chemical additives are used in the primary stages of drilling and in the fluids prepared for the fracking process. Drilling muds or slurries are a mixture of chemicals and fluids used to facilitate boring. Although fracturing fluids are more commonly known to contain chemicals linked to cancer, organ damage, nervous system disorders and birth defects, drilling muds or slurries can contain a number of the same chemical constituents used in fracturing fluids.” 7
I live here, work here, and grew up here. I am in my twenties, and love this area more than words can say. I want this area to survive. I understand the need for economic development. Our economy was struggling long before recession hit. Winters are long here, and residents are always looking for ways to bring energy and heating prices down. There have been discussions throughout the years about hydropower, wind power, and solar power. Wind power in particular was discussed and set aside because many people did not want to ruin the view from their homes.
I agree that gas drilling would bring jobs, and would probably bring some economic development to this area. What we have to decide though, is if this particular development is worth the price. Is it worth risking the natural beauty that makes up our tourist industry? Would allowing drilling ultimately drive away customers for this industry?
I believe that there are other ways in which we can boost our economy in upstate New York which would not rely on the injection of chemicals into our groundwater. One thing that would help our area immensely would be to raise milk prices for dairy farmers. Some work is already being done on this through a new amendment which would allow milk industry groups to present pricing reforms. The amendment is further described on New York State senator Kirsten Gilibrand’s Website. On the topic of this reform she says:
” For years, New York’s dairy farms have endured volatility in the market – as feed and fuel costs rise, the price of milk plummeted.” 8
With the popularity of eating local and fresh food we could capitalize on our fertile lands and bring back large produce farms. Perhaps tax breaks and grants for business startups could help us.
We also cannot shirk our responsibility to be stewards of the land. We cannot be so selfish to put these kinds of stresses on our environment, and then leave the pieces for our children to pick up. I care deeply about the environment, but I will be the first to admit that there are ways that I could improve. But this land sustains us. It brings us beauty, joy, and for many a livelihood. My childhood was somewhat idyllic. We didn’t have a lot of money, but we had the outdoors. I spent so many days and nights splashing in streams, and gazing up at the night sky. I watched wildlife go in and out of my rural front yard. It was and is beautiful, and I cannot see the logic in devastating the land with a practice that is dangerous.
So now it is time to think. Are we, the residents of this area, willing to let our homes be torn apart for the sake of a practice that is dangerous to our environment and is known for exploiting the rights of homeowners? I love this place. I grew up here, I live here, and I work here. I have done a fair amount of traveling, and having seen other places, still believe that this is one of the most beautiful spots in the world. I would not mind looking out my window and seeing a wind farm. Nor would I mind more tourists coming through. But the minute the gas drilling trucks begin to crush the landscape and inject poison into my water, I will say goodbye to this place that I love, and look for a place that shows respect for the land both in business and in principle.
1. New York Times
2. U.S, Censuc Bureau
3. Opportunities for Chenango
4. Opportunities for Chenango
5. Energy from Shale
6. Fracking the Future
7. Fracking the Future
8. Kirsten Gilibrand