Efforts to ban hydraulic fracturing methods heat up
by Deyva Arthur, Green Party of New York State
Portrayed as an energy source alternative to oil, why is the Green Party so adamantly against the use of hydraulic fracturing (hydrofracking) for natural gas? With the increased risk of contaminating groundwater with toxic chemicals, emitting dangerous gases into the atmosphere, and no governmental regulations in place to keep any of it in check, it has become clear to residents and environmental organizations that they need to join with Greens to try to halt hydrofracking altogether.
“In less that 2 years time, the equivalent of Pennsylvania’s largest natural lake will have been turned into untreatable radioactive wastewater. This is unsustainable! This is unconscionable!” said Jay Sweeney, Green Party of Pennsylvania (GPP) member, on the impact hydrofracking will have in his state.
Green Party members in New York, Pennsylvania, and elsewhere have been taking the lead in not just raising awareness about hydrofracking, but trying to get it banned completely and permanently.
Hydraulic fracturing wells extract natural gas by drilling vertically and then horizontally into shale beds. An undisclosed cocktail of chemicals, sand and water is pumped into the wells to push out the natural gas. Companies like Exxon, Halliburton, Schlumberger, and Chesapeake state they will not reveal what chemicals they use for proprietary reasons, however, studies of nearby contaminated groundwater has revealed radioactive material, arsenic, benzene, and bromide, to name a few. Residents of drilling areas have become chronically ill from liver, heart, blood and brain damage as well as leukemia and other cancers due to exposure to carcinogenic, neurotoxic, and radioactive wastes in the air, water and soil. Although hydrofracking has been around for more than 60 years, new techniques and new chemical compounds bring it to a whole new level of danger and in the last 15 years its use has increased by 3000 percent, according to advocacy group Food and Water Watch.
Originally started in Texas, hydrofracking is now conducted in 34 states across the country. The Marcellus Shale bed, which runs from West Virginia through to western New York, has large deposits of untapped natural gas and is currently where the fracking battle is being waged most intensely between gas and oil companies and activists like local Green Parties.
But activists have received sporadic to no support from local, state and federal government. The use of hydrofracking has managed to side step most water and air regulations, so there has been few limitations to enforce. Even if there were rules and limits, most state agencies lack the ability to properly enforce them. With companies demanding their techniques remain private there is little information to go on to even set up new rules, and with the promise of cheap energy and economic benefits, corporations have been able to strong-arm state governments into allowing hydrofracking companies to do whatever they want unchecked.
Howie Hawkins, who ran on an anti-hydrofracking platform in his campaign for New York governor said: “A Cornell study finds that the global warming impact of natural gas is equal to or greater than coal due to the carbon dioxide released by burning gas and the leakage of methane, which is 23 times more potent as a greenhouse gas over a century. Burning all of the recoverable gas in the Marcellus Shale will release 10 billion tons of carbon dioxide, the full US per capita share of the 250 billion ton world carbon release cap through 2050 that climate scientists say is needed to prevent runaway global warming.”
Hydraulic fracturing is not only a risk because of added methane in the atmosphere and contaminants seeping into drinking aquifers, the process also strips vast areas of forest and farmland for the wells. Some municipal wastewater treatment plants have even been unable to handle the waste and ended up dumping it into waterways. Also there is some evidence the blasting to make the wells has caused earthquakes. Despite all this the Bush Administration officially stated hydraulic fracturing was completely safe and clean. The Obama administration is supporting that misconception.
Actually, the federal government has been so supportive of hydrofracking, it is being pushed in other countries. “In April 2010, the United States Department of State established GSGI — the Global Shale Gas Initiative — to promote hydraulic fracturing around the world, especially to China and India, to make money selling American technology,” said Green Party member Carl Arnold at a protest calling for a ban in New York State. He added gas companies are buying up leases in Europe, Africa, and Asia to start up there. “The CEOs of the powerful corporations, the Monsantos, the Exxons, the GEs, the Rio Tintos and Anadarkos, Peabody Coal or Massey Energy, these power brokers don’t realize that they’re suicidal. They don’t realize that they’re committing suicide for all of us. They’re not going to change. We must change the way we look at the world, at agriculture, at society, at water, air and soil — the very fundamentals that allow us to live — to exist,” Arnold said.
Green Party members in New York, Pennsylvania, and elsewhere have been taking the lead in not just raising awareness about hydrofracking, but trying to get it banned completely and permanently. Pennsylvania Greens have had to be diligent and take a strong stance against fracking as the state has been particularly hard hit with a drilling frenzy. Sweeney said, “DEP reports over 1300 wells were drilled in 2010 and over 300 so far in 2011. At 5 million gallons per fracked well, that is approximately 8 billion gallons of water used in the hydrofracking process in 16 months.”
In their statement submitted to the governor, Pennsylvania Greens make it loud and clear what needs to happen: “Be it resolved that, we, citizens of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and members of the Green Party of Pennsylvania, call for the termination and prohibition of all natural gas extraction involving the use of our Commonwealth’s water resources. We call for a ban immediately stopping all high volume, slick water, horizontal fracturing of deep shale, including exploration, in Pennsylvania and worldwide.” Both the cities of Pittsburgh and Philadelphia have resolutions banning hydrofracking.
Although drilling has already been happening in Pennsylvania, gas companies in New York are poised at the door to start major drilling. Thanks to strong activism against hydrofracking, the New York State Senate voted to have a moratorium on drilling until the Department of Environmental Conservation finishes its impact statement, which could take a year. Despite this small win, New York Greens and other groups are not resting in their laurels since hydrofracking companies will soon be making political deals to start production. To confirm the need for diligence, shortly after the moratorium was declared, Governor Cuomo said he would get it reversed (as a compromise he said he would restrict drilling near New York City’s water supply, but allow it elsewhere in the state).
Cecile Lawrence, last year’s Green New York State senate candidate, has been active against hydrofracking for years. Along with Howie Hawkins, gubernatorial candidate and the other candidates in the state slate, she made banning hydrofracking a major part of the campaign. Lawrence said at a speech in New York City, “A little over a year ago the Green Party stated its firm position that the only responsible response to the threat of hydrofracking into stone shales was a complete and total ban. That was the platform position on fracking for all the Green Party candidates running that year with the goal of returning us to the NYS ballot and it is still the position of the Green Party of New York. We got a lot of pushback, with people telling us that a ban was not realistic, was not politically feasible, or was illegal. Well, a year later, look at where we are now. Look at how many of you are gathered here today!”
As the effort to stop hydrofracking continues, Arnold said, “What can we do? First, we must continue to grow the ban fracking movement so that this scourge is stopped dead on our doorstep. If enough of us become mobilized, we can bring enough pressure on officials and politicians.… Then we must change our way of looking at the world, our way of being in the world.”
Sign the petition to ban unconventional gas drilling in New York State: www.thepetitionsite.com/1/NY-Statewide-Ban-On-Natural-Gas-Drilling