Fracking. Hydrofracking. Harsh, percussive words. Have you heard them? Seen them on buttons, bumper stickers, in headlines? What is fracking? Why is it surfacing here and now? This PNL section aims to provide a basic overview of as many facets as possible in one place; to give a puzzled citizen a sense of the many ways this process would impact our state.
So what is fracking? The word itself is short for “hydraulic fracturing,” a gas industry term for a method of extracting natural gas. In the layers of shale that are under much of New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia, and West Virginia, natural gas does not occur in pockets as it does in other layers of rock, so the gas is not accessible using conventional drilling methods. Instead, tiny amounts of gas are scattered within the shale. To get this gas out, the industry uses high volume slickwater hydraulic fracturing. A shaft is drilled down vertically thousands of feet. The drilling is then angled horizontally, sometimes over a mile and in several directions. A huge amount of water mixed with sand and a chemical cocktail is then forced under very high pressure into the horizontal shaft, causing the shale to break up or fracture. Some of the fracking fluid flows back out, and the released gas moves into the new passages and flows to the surface.
New York State is deciding right now whether or not to allow this form of hydrofracking. While the gas industry paints a rosy picture, the experiences of other states tell a different story.
New York has the opportunity to take the time to look hard at fracking and make a good choice for our state. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) is currently reviewing over 13,000 comments on its draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (dSGEIS) on hydrofracking. The US Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) has been tasked by Congress to study hydrofracking’s effects on drinking water. But both agencies are under considerable pressure from the oil and gas industry to cut corners and allow hydrofracking as soon as possible with minimal oversight. NYSDEC has taken the small step of making it more difficult for drillers to get approval in the Catskill and Skaneateles watersheds, but everyone needs clean drinking water, not just NYC and Syracuse. The only way to protect ourselves from the oil and gas industry is to inform ourselves – it is our hope that this special section of the PNL will begin to do just that.