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.
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