AC Alert for August 22, 2011 The Signs on the Barn – Not Burma Shave…”Fracking?”

Aug 23, 2011 12:00 PM ET

AC Alert for August 22, 2011 The Signs on the Barn – Not Burma Shave…”Fracking?…

Kevin and Alicia had planned their summer vacation for several months. He’s a New York City firefighter, a proud member of the FDNY, and his buddies had been urging him to take a few days off and drive up to the more rural parts of New York State to see “the other side of life” outside the big city in which they serve.

New York is indeed one of those “multi-personality” states: congested and urban downstate; beautiful rolling farmland and mountains upstate.  With a solid week of good weather in the forecast, Kevin and his wife filled the car and headed north towards the Catskill Mountains, the city of Binghamton and the region known as the “Southern Tier.” A week later, upon his return, back in the firehouse he couldn’t say enough about the charm and beauty of rural New York State.

There was just one thing that puzzled him: “What were those signs doing all over the sides of the barns” he asked one of our editors. “No Fracking Way” said one sign; another said “Say Yes to Safe Gas”; and then there were several which displayed this motto: “Drill First Ask Questions Later” with a diagonal line drawn through the heart of the words.

In his travels through the upstate countryside Kevin had stumbled upon a major controversy which has erupted in areas along the Marcellus Shale, which stretches underground through parts of Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and New York State. 

The critical question that public sector officials grapple with is this: Whether to permit companies to drill deep down and uncover huge supplies of natural gas trapped deep underground in shale layers. Hydraulic fracturing or Fracking is the process which makes it happen: Oil and gas companies drill down deep, initiate a fracture in a rock layer, and employs the pressure of a fluid as the source of pressure to increase the extraction rates and ultimate recovery of natural gas deep beneath ground.

The bottom line: The gas derived from the process is lifting an otherwise sluggish local economy, as landowners (many of them farmers) receive handsome payments for allowing this drilling on their property. However, many folks believe the process is or could be environmentally risky. Specifically, the liquids pumped into the ground under pressure are raising alarm – these include hazardous waste chemicals, diesel oil and other unwanted liquids.  These chemicals can enter water supplies in deep aquifers. And if drillers are not careful, up top fluids can leak through faulty connections into upper level water supplies.

Questions have also been raised about the potential impact of fracking on human and animal health, as well as on locally-grown agricultural products. (New York State’s agricultural sector is one of the leading revenue generators both locally and statewide.  New York’s economy is not just about Wall Street money and Manhattan skyscrapers.)

Industry leaders have responded with arguments about the safety of their process and the need for obtaining non-imported energy sources. The public debate on fracking now involves state regulatory officials, members of congress and other elected officials, public health professionals, environmentalists, investors, financial analysts, civic/community leaders, industry oil and gas executives.  

It’s a controversy that is heating up and likely to linger for quite some time.  Accountability Central editors recognized this issue and some months ago created the Hot Topics coverage, an important source of information – check out our Hot Topics section: The Truth About Fracking. Hardly a day goes by without another development or commentary (pro and con). 

Here’s the link for the recent articles: AC’s Hot Topic Section on Fracking:

New York Subpoenas Energy Firms
(Source: New York Times) New York State’s attorney general has sent subpoenas to three large energy companies as part of a broad investigation into whether they have accurately described to investors the prospects for their natural gas wells.

Federal fracking response could be years away
(Source: iwatch news) For all the furor over fracking, opponents’ best hopes for action on a federal level appear to be many months if not years away.

Big, new pipelines on tap for Pa., Marcellus Shale
(Source: Business Week) Pennsylvania and the Marcellus Shale natural gas reservoir are emerging as a key focus of natural gas pipeline operators, as the increasing gas flow spurs projects to bring it to customers in the northeastern United States and possibly Canada.

Panel urges steps to reduce shale-drilling risks
(Source: A natural gas subcommittee appointed by U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu is recommending more public disclosure, more tracking of data, and other actions to reduce the environmental and safety risks of shale gas production in the nation.

DiNapoli wants gas companies to pay for hydrofracking contamination fund
(Source: WNYC Radio) As New York State prepares to permit hydrofracking on some private lands, State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli is proposing a fund, financed by fees on drilling companies, that could be used to pay for remediation should there be an accident at one of the fracking sites, or if chemicals leak to drinking wells and water is contaminated.

Groups want more info on fracking fluid
(Source: Reuters) Advocacy groups have filed a petition asking U.S. federal regulators to draft rules requiring energy companies to list substances used in fracking fluid.

This is just a sampling of the information in our Alert.  Go here for the full text of this alert, and more information on Sustainability, and other Accountability related topics.