Home / Opinion / Op-Ed / Let us frack our way to a greener environment

Let us frack our way to a greener environment

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s stalemate with the fracking industry and full-on war with the nuclear industry could deny New York residents the relatively clean and cheap energy these sources can provide. Cuomo’s confused decisions reflect the popular environmentalism in New York that claims hydraulic fracturing and nuclear power are bad for the environment. Our other options are far worse, however.
 
Cuomo is doing everything he can to shut down the Indian Point nuclear power plant, which supplies one-quarter of New York City’s energy and is being considered for the renewal of its license this year. Nuclear energy produces zero greenhouse gas emissions; by reducing nuclear energy production we force an increase in carbon-intensive processes such as coal burning and increase greenhouse gas emissions.
 
Nuclear isn’t the only domestic energy source Cuomo opposes. Natural gas, which New York has in abundance, produces half as much greenhouse gas as other fossil fuels and could reduce global warming as we decrease our dependence on coal and crude oil. The combination of nuclear power and natural gas, if supported, has the potential to provide clean, cheap energy as well as create jobs and improve the environment.
 
So why is Cuomo adding hydraulic fracturing to his list of things to ban in New York? Many people think hydrofracking would do irreversible damage to our environment, yet using it to increase the production of natural gas is our best alternative to coal and crude oil-economically as well as environmentally. Alternative technologies are simply not ready to replace fossil fuels entirely.
 
The stigma attached to fracking is misplaced. For instance, a recent op-ed in the New York Times claimed that fracking uses "5 million gallons of toxic water per well," when in reality, the average well uses 4 million gallons, 99.5 percent of which is clean water. The remaining 0.5 percent contains chemicals that occur in higher concentrations in household products such as table salt, household cleaners, cosmetics, deodorant and even ice cream. You are more likely to ingest these chemicals from getting lipstick on your teeth than from the fracking process.
 
Hydrofracking takes place between 4,000 and 9,000 feet below wells that supply home drinking water. Therefore, it is very unlikely that fracking fluid could contaminate home drinking wells or even aquifers. Post-fracking wastewater is either recycled and used again at another fracking site, or treated as per local regulations along with other wastewater.
 
Fracking also uses less space and is far easier to reclaim than coal mines. For example, the drilling needed for fracking is completed in less than one month and can supply gas for upwards of 30 years, whereas coal and crude oil extraction through processes such as mountaintop removal are a far worse use of land and are equally detrimental to the environment. Earthquake and radioactivity exposure risk are virtually non-existent with the fracking process.
 
Natural gas is ripe with economic benefits that New York is missing out on because of Cuomo’s refusal to act. Hydraulic fracturing will create high-paying jobs that will benefit local businesses and turn struggling local economies into thriving ones. Fracking will decrease energy costs, and savings could be channeled into research and development of alternative energies such as wind and solar, which have the potential to be even cleaner future energy sources.
 
Environmentalists should be banging down Cuomo’s door demanding that he allow fracking in New York. The energy savings could replenish the dwindling resources in alternative energy research and development while decreasing our greenhouse gas emissions and causing an eruption of jobs and economic growth across the state.
 
A comprehensive energy plan for New York must include both hydraulic fracturing for natural gas as well as nuclear power, yet the current state administration is failing on both points. In 2014, if Cuomo runs for re-election, my vote will be for someone who supports New York businesses and families and protects our environment. My vote will be pro-fracking.

Kristen Ferries is an undergraduate student studying financial economics at the University of Rochester.

11/23/12 (c) 2012 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email rbj@rbj.net.

3 comments

  1. Having heard all the profracking arguments before, and refuted them repeatedly it tires me to have to do this again however:
    The author points out that fracking occurs more than 4000 feet below the aquifer. This is true. However how does the author suppose the originally clean and now polluted water (which the industry won’t even tell you what it’s polluted with – you just need to take their word for it) gets below the aquifer and returns back up to the surface – why i believe it would need to PASS THROUGH the questioned aquifer to get there. Since the liquids are pumped under high pressure and hydrofacking BY ITS NATURE is proven to create seismic activity is it all that unreasonable to suppose leaks may yet occur. She also fails to account for the fact that once the polluted water is pumped back out – it’s retained in ponds (notorious for having leaked or overflowed in the past) and concentrated by evaporation with toxins. Again – no mention of that because it conveniently is the most common way wastewater returns to the environment. We don’t have to look far for either of these occurrences – they’ve already happened at other sites where fracking has occurred. Furthermore the biggest pollutant fracking has introduced to water supplies is the natural gas itself.

    She then goes on to compare natural gas to the far more dirty collection of oil and coal – as if any environmentally conscious person is proposing replacing one with the other.

    As usual in these pro-fracking discussions the author is a financial or energy analyst with an opinion, rather than a scientist with facts.

  2. Unfortunately natural gas “produces half as much greenhouse gas as other fossil fuels” is a false statement. After petroleum, natural gas is the second biggest fuel source contributor to New York’s carbon dioxide greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. (Source U.S. Department of Energy by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory: https://e-reports-ext.llnl.gov/pdf/483254.pdf)

    Studying the carbon dioxide emissions is insufficient. Methane on its own is “20 times more effective in trapping heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide” (Source EPA: http://www.epa.gov/methane/) Thus it is no surprise that “methane is the second largest contributor to human-caused global warming after carbon dioxide.” (Source Cornell U., NASA, Boston U., and U. of Cincinnati: http://www.eeb.cornell.edu/howarth/Howarth%20et%20al.%20–%20National%20Climate%20Assessment.pdf) Methane is leaked as ‘fugitive gas’ during about every stage of the process: during well completion, venting and equipment leaks, processing, transport, storage, and distribution as well. “Over the 100-year frame, the GHG footprint is comparable to that for coal.” (Source Cornell University: http://thehill.com/images/stories/blogs/energy/howarth.pdf)

    Thus from well to consumption, natural gas contributes both methane and carbon dioxide to our atmosphere, contributing to climate change, and may be no better than coal in the long run.

    Also current natural gas consumption rates would use up all our natural gas supply in the US in 92 years. (Source: http://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/faq.cfm?id=58&t=8)

    It would behoove our great state of New York to consider ways to reduce our production of and reliance on natural gas, not increase it.

    Renewable energy is the [only] energy of the future, and solar panels are cheaper, better, and lasting longer. (Don’t believe me? Look up “renewable” in the dictionary.)

    Regarding the lifespan of solar panels… “‘The results of this study indicate that the current module would guarantee 90% power after 20 years … there is no visible evidence that this degradation rate is increasing with time; i.e., we have no de?ned ‘‘end of life’’ only a continuous degradation estimated lifetime is indeed well beyond the 20-year assumption which is commonly made today” … “Although module warranties are often written for an annual degradation rate of 1%, actual modules appear to be degrading at 0.2–0.5% per year” … “systems are not designed for 100 year operation yet, but if an effort were made to do so, they might last that long” (Source: http://solar.gwu.edu/Research/EnergyPolicy_Zweibel2010.pdf)

    Basically we are not far off from producing solar panels that last 100 years. Even current solar panels may still be producing at 50% to 80% original capacity in 100 years if the observed 0.2-0.5% degradation proves to be steady long term. However, current natural gas consumption rates would use up all our natural gas supply in 92 years. (Source: http://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/faq.cfm?id=58&t=8)

    New innovations in solar technology, e.g. Solar Shingles by DOW (http://www.dowpowerhouse.com/), also may make solar power more affordable by serving as both a roofing material and a power generator.

    Everyone should be banging down Cuomo’s door demanding that policies enabling New Yorkers to put solar panels & shingles on every roof to be enacted, and we should all recognize fracking for natural gas is a ‘bridge to nowhere’.

  3. It surprises me that people in New York are still unclear on the multiple dangers of fracking. We know that fracking and the processes that surround it cause air, water and land pollution, including radiation. We know that fracking methane is a worse greenhouse gas than that derived from burning coal. We know that the traffic from hauling clean water and chemicals to the frack sites and then hauling the poisoned water and gas away from the frack sites ruin small towns, roads, and create hazards from the inevitable accidents. We know that most of the jobs are temporary and go to out-of-staters. We do not need fracking in New York. What we need is the development of clean energy and job from wind and solar.

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