What’s the hurry on hydrofracking?

The New York Department of Environmental Conservation, with the approval of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, has set up a fast-track approval process for hydraulic fracturing for natural gas in the state.  Public comments are being sought on the process itself and on the DEC’s proposed rules for the process at the same time, rather the one first and then the other if approved.  The comment period ends Dec. 12, and the DEC will then consider the comments and make its decision.

What’s the hurry?  The natural gas has been under the ground for hundreds of millions of years.   It won’t go away if the state government takes a slow and careful approach to studying hydraulic fracturing.  The natural gas will only become more valuable over time.  And – who knows? – maybe new technologies will be discovered that answer or mitigate current objections.

I can understand why natural gas companies are eager to drill.  If a natural resource is available, a business will want to exploit it before a competing business gets access to it.  But this is not necessarily in the public interest, and the DEC ought to take a longer-range view.

Hydraulic fracturing – “hydrofracking” for short – is a process for extracting hard-to-get natural gas from shale formations.  A casing is sunk deep into the shale formation, then horizontally.  The shale is fractured, and water mixed with detergent is forced into the fractures at high pressure, forcing out the natural gas.

Josh Fox, producer of the documentary movie Gasland, who is shown in the video above, says hydrofracking posts dangers to the environment and to public health.  The detergents contain toxic chemicals which potentially could contaminate underground water.  Natural gas (methane) burns cleanly, but in its raw state is a greenhouse gas with 25 times the global warming impact of carbon dioxide.  The process of hydrofracking creates wear and tear on the land, and on local roads and bridges.

But hydrofracking creates jobs in regions of New York state where unemployment is high.  Natural gas drillers say the shale formations are so far beneath the watershed that contamination is impossible.  The DEC says that hydrofracking, if done right, should not have an unacceptable environmental impact.

At present we need fossil fuels and nuclear power to maintain our industrial civilization.  The easy-to-get fossil fuels are being used up, and, unless alternatives are developed, it will be necessary to authorize hydrofracking for natural gas, mountaintop removal for coal and deep ocean drilling for oil, or revert to a primitive existence.  But we need not be in a hurry to take irrevocable actions.  The natural gas, coal and oil will not go away.  They still be there if and when we decide we need them.

Click on Gasland: a film for Josh Fox’s home page.

Click on Debunking GaslandThe Truth About Gasland and Fight Gasland Censorship  for critiques of the Gasland documentary.  They all seem like nit-picking to me.

Click on  Hydrofracking Leases Subject of Regrets in New YorkAlbany Study Shows Hydrofracking’s Risks and RewardsLatest Drilling Rules Draw Objections and Insiders Sound an Alarm Amid a Natural Gas Rush for New York Times articles on hydrofracking.

Click on Hydrofracking and Carbon Caps for my earlier post and additional links on this subject.

Click on New York Residents Against Drilling for information on the anti-hydrofracking movement in New York state.  [Added 10/6/11.  Hat tip to Hal Bauer]

Click on Drilling Leases: Some Wary, Many Welcoming for an article in the Rochester (NY) Democrat and Chronicle about the local impact of natural gas drilling by hydraulic fracturing.  [Added 10/9/11]

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