Hydraulic Fracturing 101: basic facts of fracking

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By Carina Sorrentino

The latest topic of debate that is making an impact on the political and environmental discussions on campus and throughout the state is hydraulic fracturing, or “hydrofracking.”

The process uses machinery to drill thousands of feet deep into the Earth’s surface, laying a pipeline and then moving horizontally into layers of shale. By then hitting the shale with a pressurized mixture of water, sand and chemicals, there is a release of natural gasses trapped in the Earth.

In recent years, fracking has proved effective in the extraction of petroleum and natural gasses, but the procedure maintains various risks.

For the past four years government officials of New York have been considering the approval of fracking in southern parts of the state.

While the Department of Environmental Conservation is seeking further scientific review of the potential consequences, stress is being put on Governor Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) to authorize regulations and get the ball rolling.

The primary supporters of fracking are those considering the current economic situation of the United States. Appealing to a depressed market of landowners in New York and blue-collar laborers who are out of jobs, fracking could provide a positive economic boost. Those who own large areas of land will be generously compensated financially, and manufacturing industries in the United States could become profitable again.

Union Economics Professor Lewis Davis stated, “There is a lot of pressure now because the job situation is not great; however, it creates a bunch of income for a generation and doesn’t last.”

On the short-term horizon, fracking could curb unemployment rates, but long term the costs of unintended negative impacts could be far greater.

In the political realm, it is a concern that fracking companies are not mandated to reveal what chemicals they are using in the water that is injected.

Political Science Professor Anthony Dell’Aera feels that the government would benefit from passing the FRAC Act, which would “require energy companies to reveal the chemicals that they are injecting into the ground and end the exemption to the Safe Drinking Water Act that was granted to fracking.” This could be a preventative step towards drinking water contamination problems like those that developed in Pennsylvania.

Other areas of concern are effects on the landscape, potential petroleum spills during transportation and physical disruption of tectonic plates relating to earthquake activity.

Environmental Science Professor Jeff Corbin expressed concern over the fragmentation of the landscape, saying it would become “less viable and can support less native species.”

A native of Queens, N.Y., Taiana Ospina ‘15 stated that “it makes sense economically, but it’s bad for the environment and for us, in the long term we wouldn’t be better off.”

The verdict may still be out on the fracking debate, but it is clear that there is a sufficient amount of “gray area” surrounding the topic. Under consideration is a form of funding dedicated to handling possible accidents, as well as strict safety regulations. With regard to all the debate going on about fracking, Cuomo and the New York State legislature are compelled by New Yorkers to make fracking a safe and beneficial process for New York State.

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