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So What's "Fracking"?

There has been a lot of heated talk recently about “fracking” or “horizontal hydrofracking” or “hydraulic fracturing”—all words new to most of us. The gas and oil companies are promising clean energy and jobs to keep the state going and the opposition argues that this activity will ruin New York.

So what is this and why should I care? The short technical answer is that fracking is a new process for extracting methane (natural gas) held in rocks deep in the earth. Gas extraction has been going on a long time in New York, but this particular process is different because it drills miles down into ancient and radioactive rock, and uses millions of gallons of fresh water, sand, and more than 600 chemicals, many of which are known to cause cancer. Some of this water stays deep in the earth and some comes back up contaminated not only with the chemicals sent down, but also with radioactivity. A clue that there might be something problematic about this process is that, unlike historic gas extraction, this process is exempt from the Clean Water Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, and the Toxic Substances Control Act.

This process has destroyed the water supply in some communities, has negatively impacted water sources, industrializes rural landscapes to the point where neighbors can’t sell their land, destroys roads and habitat, and generates greater ozone air pollution that vehicular traffic. And it is not the clean fuel the supporters would have you believe: Studies have shown that this method of gas extraction creates as much greenhouse emissions as burning coal.

In spite of these problems, and in spite of the fact that France, New Jersey, Ontario and other places have banned horizontal hydrofracking, Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New york State Department of Environmental Conservation are going to allow it in parts of New York State. One reason has to be the political pressure brought by oil and gas companies and given that eight of the twelve largest corporations in the world are gas and oil related, these corporations have deep pockets. And by the way, what parts will be open to drilling? Well, everywhere except in New York City and Albany watersheds. Interesting. If downstate can’t be fracked, then upstate should not either.

Missing from this conversation is the message to stop this search for more fossil fuels. It is past time to shift to renewable energy and the state should be using its powers to support the transition now with a plan that will, unlike the hydrofracking, create millions of jobs.

If you want more information on fracking or on proposals for renewable energy, check out the Sierra Club Niagara Group website ( The formal General Environmental Impact Statement is now available for comment at And please write to Governor Cuomo and DEC Commissioner Joseph Marten to tell them that upstate New York will not be fracked.

Sara Schultz, Buffalo

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