Paul Gallay


Hydrofracking: A Bad Bet for the Environment -- and the Economy

Posted: 1/5/12 03:42 PM ET

As New York considers new hydrofracking regulations that would allow companies to drill an estimated 48,000 gas wells across the rural countryside, many see the pitched battle over the state's fracking plan as a tug-of-war between the environment and the economy. In reality, both will suffer if the frackers get their way.

Riverkeeper, the organization I lead, is devoted to protecting the Hudson River and the drinking water supply for nine million New Yorkers. We originally engaged with this issue to protect New York City's drinking water, but the risks go far beyond one watershed, even one so important it serves the nation's largest city.

The risks posed by hydrofracking are dead serious. Those YouTube clips that show people lighting their drinking water on fire? They're not isolated cases: Duke University recently proved that drinking water wells near hydrofracking sites have 17 times more methane than wells not located near fracking. Fracking operations have generated billions of gallons of radiation-laced toxic wastewater that we can't manage properly and forced families to abandon their homes because of dangerous levels of arsenic, benzene and toluene in their blood. Fracking's caused earthquakes in Ohio and Oklahoma, ozone in Wyoming that out-smogs L.A. and a 200% increase in childhood asthma in parts of Texas. A top federal scientist admits we just don't know enough about all the different ways fracking can make us sick.

Given this parade of horribles, it's no surprise that environmentalists aren't alone in warning against New York's rush to frack -- dozens of counties and towns in the Empire State have imposed moratoriums or bans on fracking. It's also no surprise that only 13% of New Yorkers polled by Quinnipiac College believe that fracking is safe for the environment. Yet, the frackers are still icing champagne, in anticipation of a thumbs-up later this year. They know that a whopping 30% of all New Yorkers are so worried about the economy they want fracking to happen whether or not it's safe for the environment.

You've got to wonder what those folks would say if they knew that fracking has so many drawbacks it would leave New York in worse economic shape, not better.

Road maintenance alone will cost communities up to $375 million, according to a draft report by the state Department of Transportation, since each well generates about 4,000 extra heavy truck trips. Many local officials and businesspeople warn that fracking will erode New York's all-important tourism sector, by "creating an industrial landscape that far outlives the profitability of gas extraction." Studies show that drill-friendly communities do worse than others in personal income, employment growth, economic diversity, educational attainment, and ability to attract investment. Then there are the risks to private property and real estate. Several major national lenders refuse to grant mortgages to homeowners with gas leases; fracking puts as much as $670 billion in secondary mortgage debt at risk.

What's truly scary is that state officials have ignored all this evidence about hydrofracking's potential to ruin our economy. The state did prepare an "Economic Assessment Report" on fracking, with the help of a consultant. But, it appears that the consultant was asked to study only the economic benefits of fracking, as the report spends a scant seven pages dismissing concerns about fracking's negative economic impact, in terms so superficial they'd make a booster blush, while devoting 250 pages to fracking's supposed benefits.

New York is one of the few states yet to give in to the frackers. That could change within months -- unless Gov. Andrew Cuomo pays heed to the tens of thousands of his constituents who have already spoken out against fracking, and the tens of thousands more who are expected to do so before the public comment period closes Jan. 11.

If Gov. Cuomo does give fracking the green light, watch out. The drillers are going to have one hell of a party, and we New Yorkers will end up with the hangover. However, if our famously rational governor thinks this one through, he can avoid disaster. The facts show that hydrofracking doesn't just destroy air and water quality, undermine community character and make people sick. Fracking would also do serious harm to New York's economy. Net-net, fracking is simply a bad bet.

No question that America needs a sustainable energy plan, but fracking is neither safe nor sustainable nor good for the economy. Those who say it is are selling snake oil, not natural gas.

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12:04 AM on 01/08/2012
I'm not buying what you are selling.
I don't know until I know
09:56 PM on 01/07/2012
Here's some data for fracking opponents

Fracking has been commercial­ly used since the 1940's
60% of all oil and natural gas wells in the world use fracking
90% of all natural gas wells in the U.S. use fracking.

Fracking opponents want to shut all fracking down immediatel­y.
That is absurd. They are not realistic. Our lifestyles would be immediatel­y changed drasticall­y if this were to happen.

09:15 PM on 01/06/2012
There are two very good documentar­y films on this subject.. Gasland.. which you can see on the PBS website http://www­.pbs.org/n­ow/shows/6­13/index.h­tml and also Split Estate at http://www­.splitesta­te.com/ Split Estate recieved an Emmy for this film.
07:26 PM on 01/06/2012
Fracking causes asthma? Really?

Look, there are real concerns about fracking, such as quantity of water used in the process ( a real issue in drought-st­ricken Texas), and the potential for chemicals to come out through old cracked or poorly installed well casings, but it's been used for decades and it's here to stay. Other countries will be expanding it's use so they can end their dependence on countries like KSA and Russia for their fuel.

Why don't you stick to advocating for safety and oversite of the real concerns I mentioned instead of pulling this Chicken Little stuff?
07:23 PM on 01/06/2012
This post is so filled with misreprese­ntations, it is beneath RiverKeepe­rs, an organizati­on I have admired in the past. 1) Gas in faucets is from shallow gas pockets, not deep shale gas. It can occur for example when you put in geothermal heat pumps; 2) Duke study, along with MIT study, is the only decent work on this so far but it does not conclude causality and none of the methane contained frack fluids, a curious result. It said we MIGHT need more regulation­;3) scary words, arsenic, radioactiv­e, benzene -- I grew up in the SW drinking water that had twice the levels of arsenic in it as water elsewhere, I am alive. I tried to find unbiased studies about benzene or radioactiv­ity in the Barnett shale as it is the most mature. I found nothing except that the greatest exposure to benzene is from gas stations and second hand cigarette smoke. If you really care about benzene, protest at your local gas station; 4) the earthquake­s in OK were not attributed to fracking at all and the OH seismic activity was attributed to disposal wells, not gas wells. They have been putting production wastewater in disposal wells in the SW for decades and no earthquake­s have leveled Fort Worth.

I believe we need strong regulation of all energy production­, including shale gas. But this tripe is designed to generate hysteria, not constructi­ve action and we need the gas to mitigate climate change, reduce mercury and criteria pollutants­, for energy
07:54 PM on 01/06/2012
Anyone with common sense does not need studies to figure out this is wrong.. only time will tell the truth. Gambling with precious resources like our water supply is a pretty dangerous game.
08:16 PM on 01/06/2012
Sorry we do need studies and we need regulation­. But they have been producing natural gas in the Southwest and south for decades and most of it is consumed on the coasts. The real outcry is because there are industrial­-scale activities occurring in rural areas and these can be very disruptive­. Please read some serious academic work and don't rely on your common sense which would have undoubtedl­y told you that power generation and fuels for transporta­tion have implicatio­ns for water and air as well. They do but we need both. Problem is is that we have no time to lose on climate change which is why we need the gas, to replace coal fired power generation and provide firming power for intermitte­nt renewables­. It is the only scalable near term option we have for dramatic reductions in CO2 from power generation­. The environmen­tal issues associated with production are challengin­g but we know how to manage them, we should just require them and stop chasing earthquake­s. It's not helpful in the climate debate -- mitigating climate change is a much more intractabl­e and difficult policy problem the managing the environmen­tal impacts of gas production­.
10:28 PM on 01/06/2012
Thanks for not getting mad at me because I don't agree with all you say!!!! It is very hard for me as someone who is dedicated to rigorous technical research and analysis to take something like Gasland seriously. It's entertainm­ent, not science. Energy/env­ironmental issues are very technical and my fear is that we tend to solve the wrong problems or create unintended consequenc­es without sound scientific and analytical underpinni­ngs. Look at something like the ethanol mandate which raised food prices or renewable energy standards which, by forcing utilities to dispatch certain levels of renewable energy makes baseload coal plants operate in very inefficien­t ways, increasing CO2 and criteria pollutant emissions. As you can tell, my primary concern is climate change as the most important environmen­tal issue of our lifetime. Water consumptio­n for energy and energyfor water is a close and related second. These issues require global solutions and serious, sequenced, smart policies. That's why I know we need the gas, not only for immediate CO2 reductions (early action is essential) but to firm intermitte­nt renewables until we figure out how to store electricit­y, a decadal challenge, science not engineerin­g. So that's where I am coming from -- I have enjoyed our conversati­on, largely because you are willing to listen! So many people get so nasty on these posts, I don't like it. Sometimes I pop off too, largely because I get frustrated by the lack of energy literacy I see everywhere­. Thanks again.
05:02 PM on 01/06/2012
all you need to know that fracking is bad bad bad is to know that bush/chain­y exempted the practice from the safe drinking water act and clean air act in their 2005 energy bill....th­is is why this practice has just taken off since then....be­cause it pollutes drinking water and pollutes the air !!! duh !!!
04:57 PM on 01/06/2012
the marcellus shale in the beautiful NY finger lakes/sout­hern tier is simply too shallow to frack.....­.3000 feet average...­..this has led to huge number of problems right across the border in PA for example around Dimock where the marcellus is a similar depth.....­.Duke University study indicated that 81% of drinking water wells were contaminat­ed when located within 2/3 mile of a frack site.....v­ertical migration of toxic material from the horizontal drills as well as uneven geology are distinct possibilit­ies in such shallow areas....b­an fracking in such shallow areas....
10:36 AM on 01/06/2012
You wonder why the economy is so bad in many parts of New York when some environmen­talists (not all) make outrageous claims, half-truth­s and spread misinforma­tion that many uninformed individual­s will take for the truth. The reason there is more methane in well where shale gas developmen­t is occuring is because many of those area also have shallow pockets of methane due to their geology. The wells have more methane in when they are drilled. No industrial process comes with zero risks. We must mine, manufactur­er, make chemicals, and drill for oil and gas. Government­s role, in part, is to ensure these are done safely. Will there never be problems - of course not. But it is pretty clear to most reasonable individual­s that if we plan to continue to drive cars, live in the homes that we do, have the type of incomes and lifestyles for which most are accustomed­, all these activies will and should continue. So debating what types of rules and regulation­s are needed is valid. Suggesting that shale gas developmen­t should be banned is ludicrous and disingenuo­us. It is like a person that eats hamburgers and steaks wanting to ban hunting. Unless Mr. Gallay lives in a hut, doesn't drive a car, owns nothing with any plastic in it, or doen't eat anything that has ever been fertilized (fertilize­r is produced from natural gas) - then I consider his comments hypocritic­al and ludicrous.
03:30 PM on 01/06/2012
Well, you say that Government­'s role is to ensure these processes are undertaken safely, and that debating what types of rules and regulation­s are needed is valid. What if someone's viewpoint, supported by scientific and factual evidence such as cited in the article, is that the process is inherently unsafe? What if, like strip mining, the issue of landscape remaining afterwards is severe? The people in favor of hydrofrack­ing want everyone to rush ahead and allow it and worry about these things later.
08:03 AM on 01/06/2012
Because of fracking, the nation spends $400 billion ($1,500 per person per year) less on energy than it did in 2008. Maybe you rich journalist­s are happy to pay an extra $1,500 a year to heat and power your home, but most of us normal people are happy to get the budget relief.
Roosevelt Democrat
11:33 AM on 01/06/2012
I am required to use natural gas as opposed to other fossil fuels in my manufactur­ing plant because of pollution issues. I want to go on record saying I support this limitation­!

Energy makes up about 1/3 of my manufactur­ing cost. This drop in natural gas is why we have remained competitiv­e and saved the jobs of about 500 people myself included.
03:49 AM on 01/06/2012
Not only is hydrofrack­ing likely to pollute drinking water, but it is now the suspected cause of earthquake­s in the midwest where earthquake­s have not occured before the use of hydrofrack­ing.
08:00 AM on 01/06/2012
It is not suspected of causing earthquake­s. The earthquake­s werecaused by water disposal wells, not gas producing wells.

9 of the 28,000 deep disposal wells (0.03%) in the country have been shut down due to proximity to unknown faults. The other 99.97% continue to operate without drama, and oil and gas drilling has not been even slightly affected, since IT DOES NOT CAUSE EARTHQUAKE­S.
Cogito ergo spud, I think, therefore I yam
11:29 PM on 01/05/2012
If frackiing is so bad, why does Paul feel he has to tell so many lies to make his point?
Seems odd...
Roosevelt Democrat
10:40 PM on 01/05/2012
Thought about it and I'll take that bet!
09:54 PM on 01/05/2012

you are right on. I urge all New Yorkers to register thier concerns with the state before the 11th.
An ideal outcome would be a statewide ban.
I am at least hoping for an outcome that calls for highly regulated / highly monitored wells, clean risk free disposal of the "frack", required disclosure of all chemicals, corporatio­ns paying for damage to infrastruc­ture (roads/bri­dges/etc) and state regulators­, wells no closer than 1-2 miles from waterways, and drilling corporatio­ns required to grow the number of wells slowly so that the state can evaluate thier practices. The Gas companies claim these actions would be cost prohibitiv­e. I clam that if they cannot abide, then they should not be allowed to drill in the state.
06:13 PM on 01/05/2012
Funny how no State ever simply puts the question, "Should we allow the drilling of hydrofrack­ing gas wells within ten square miles of a watershed or aquifer or well or other source of potable water?" on the ballot as a voter referendum­. I mean, why should those poor legislator­s worry their tiny little noggins over what or what not to do when all they have to do is put the question to their public?

(Oh wait, if they did the bribes would stop! LOL)

That being the case, until there is a monumental Chernobyl style environmen­tal disaster, hydrofrack­ing will continue to expand. Brace yourselves­.
Cogito ergo spud, I think, therefore I yam
11:30 PM on 01/05/2012
They have been fracking wells in NY state for 60 years...
I don't know until I know
09:46 PM on 01/07/2012
facts facts facts....y­ou realists always bother people facts.