The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has postponed a public hearing in New York discussing a controversial type of natural gas drilling called hydraulic fracturing, or hydrofracking, due to concerns about crowd control. The postponed hearing will be the fourth and final hearing by the EPA on the subject across the U.S.
Hydraulic fracturing is a process which opens fractures in rock formations to increase the output of natural gas or oil in wells. A mixture of water, sand and chemicals is injected at a high pressure into the formations which opens existing fractures and allows gas to rise through the wells.
The New York State Senate voted in favor of a moratorium on hydrofracking on August 3. The Department of Environmental Conservation has announced it will issue revised regulations regarding hydrofracking later this year and will begin issuing permits by 2011.
Much of the natural gas drilling in New York is done at the Marcellus shale, a rock formation rich in natural gas that lies beneath parts of West Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio and Maryland. A report by the Pennsylvania Land Trust Association found that Marcellus shale gas drillers have accumulated 1,435 violations since January 2008.
Supporters of hydrofracking admit that the process poses risks to the environment, but that the risks are outweighed by the need for a clean fossil fuel in the face of severe climate change. Natural gas is the cleanest of fossil fuels, and if used as a primary source of fuel, would possibly cut carbon dioxide emissions by 17 percent.
Critics of hydrofracking claim that the benefits of harvesting large volumes of natural gas are outweighed by the effects on the environment and possible injury to people. Water contamination, the scarring of natural landscape, the degradation of roadways, and toxic exposure on the job are major concerns.
Currently, there are no regulations on the types of chemicals used in the process. According to the Environmental Working Group, hydrofracking has been linked to cases of drinking water contamination and property damage in Colorado, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wyoming. Chemicals account for 1% of the mixture injected into the formations.
Don Siegel, Syracuse University hydrology professor (and supporter of hydrofracking), believes the risks of the process have been overblown and that cases of contamination are rare.
“You can’t stop the climate crisis from happening by doing nothing...we’ve got a clean energy source right under our feet,” says Siegel.