My Letter about Hyrdofracking
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It has come to my attention that the state of New York has decided to reopen the debate regarding the ban of hydrofracking within the Marcellus Shale region. As a lifelong New York resident, this news is deeply concerning, and I worry that a reversal of our state’s current position on hydrofracking will have tremendous consequences for our citizens and the surrounding environment. I am fully aware of the potential benefits that some stakeholders may value but I do not feel that they offset the grave risks associated with this energy intensive and environmentally destructive process.
The possible harm to water systems, coupled with the substantial ecological damage and ambient air pollution is incredibly troubling to me, as a resident. I hope to use this letter, outlining detrimental economic impact, environmental destruction, and public health ramifications, to dissuade you from allowing hydrofracking operations in New York.
Proponents of hydraulic fracturing intend to drill untapped Marcellus Shale to generate electricity. However, money intended for that purpose can be better invested in other opportunities for environmental advancement, given that New York can use solar and wind power to generate over 50% of electricity by 2030 (Mosenthal et al., 2014). This is a clear waste of economic resources, similar to how much money is wasted in damaging roads and transportation routes near well sites. Specifically, Dutzik and his colleagues (2012) found that hydrofracking is a tremendous strain on public roads and existing infrastructure. A major issue is that it is taxpayer money that is being wasted in such damaging projects. Taxpayers often have to pay for projects, such as hydrofracking and associated maintenance costs, which can put a strain on surrounding communities. Also, communities suffer from declining property costs in close proximities to hydrofracking wells (McMahon, 2014). McMahon (2014) found that properties with private drinking water wells dropped as much as 22% in value. These shocking financial repercussions can clearly affect taxpayers, communities, and property values alike, which is a detriment to New York as a whole.
In addition to economic threats, there are multiple environmental hazards associated with hydrofracking. First, a tremendous amount of both surface and ground water is used in high volume in hydrofracking wells (EPA, 2018). This can impact water levels for agriculture and negatively impact areas where rising temperatures have lessened water levels. Second, as many as 10 million gallons can be pumped into a single well, which could impact water availability when water is a limited resource, such as during a drought (DOE, 2018). While this is not currently an issue in New York, we are currently seeing California face the harsh realities of a drought and should take precautions. Third, water contamination can be significant and can persist for years after a spill or contamination event takes place. Therefore, if contaminants are observed in spills sites then the impacts can be enduring. Finally, aside from water-related issues, natural gas and oil development is also at risk if hydrofracking occurs. Air quality risks are generally due to pollutants, such as dust and exhaust emissions near fracking sites. Similarly, the drilling process associated with hydraulic fracturing may release chemicals, such as benzene and methane, the latter of which is a very reactive greenhouse gas (DOE, 2018). In accordance with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), it would be sensible for New York State to remain at the cutting edge of environmental safety initiatives. For example, the EPA recently issued New Source Performance Standards, which set the first air pollution standards for natural gas hydrofracking operations. These rules became effective in 2015, and include performance standards for oil and natural gas operations that are relevant to the processes of hydrofracking.
Finally, at the public health level, hydrofracking has hazardous impacts on public infrastructure and services. New York State can look at Texas, who is still feeling aftershocks from their hydrofracking experience, in the Barnett Shale region. Similarly, Pennsylvania estimated in 2010 that $265 million would be needed to repair damaged roads in the Marcellus Shale region. Aside from infrastructure damage, hydrofracking impacts water levels in regions that drilling occurs in. Fracking is alarmingly projected to account for 42% of mining water use by 2020 (Dutzik, Ridlington, & Rumpler, 2012). It also is associated with increased demands for public services. In a 2011 survey of Pennsylvania counties, (Dutzik et al., 2012) found that 911 calls had increased in nearly 90% of them. The demands of hydrofracking has broader impacts as well. For instance, farms in nearby areas are at risk of loss of livestock due to exposure to spills of fracking wastewater, difficulty in obtaining water supplies for farming, and conflict with organic agriculture. These findings are jarring, given that we can now see how fracking can impact the public health of New Yorkers at a micro and macro level.
Furthermore, there are a variety of human-specific health dangers associated with hydrofracking that all New Yorkers should be aware of. For example, toxic substances and wastewater, as well as air pollution from trucks and equipment, all result from fracking. These, naturally, are associated with a variety of negative health effects. In fact, the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health recently warned workers against inhaling hazardous air due to pollution and silica dust at fracking sites. Specifically, they list lung disease silicosis as an occupational hazard for workers. This dust-induced occupational ailment has imposed $50 million in medical care expenses in the United States, in recent years (Dutzik et al., 2012). Additionally, fracking-associated smog and soot is often associated with a range of health problems, from respiratory issues to eye irritation. This not only has important implications for residents’ wellbeing, but also for organizational outcomes (e.g., absenteeism, productivity).
Given the potentially damaging and harmful risks to New York’s economy, environment, public health and citizens, it is not surprising that I am not alone in cautioning you against hydraulic fracturing. In fact, dozens of regions in New York State have already issued their own bans on hydrofracking and many local stakeholders (e.g., politicians, businesses, residents) warn that in addition to my aforementioned points, fracking will hurt New York’s prosperous tourism sector. So, Governor Cuomo, I hope that you will consider my plea and heed to your constituents who are speaking out against hydraulic fracturing and its long-term detrimental effects.