the water and chemicals forced into the
fractured shale flows back up. And some
of the water and chemicals — 40 to 85 percent — stays in the ground.
A single fracking operation requires
drill rigs, a compressor station, a network
of pipelines, an access road, 2 to 8 million gallons of fresh water, 10 to 30 tons of
chemicals, and about 1,000 tanker truckloads of water and toxic waste. About 4,000
wells are envisioned for my county alone.
The environmental story goes like this:
In New York state, fracking represents
the industrialization of a rural landscape
and foodshed. If it goes forward, fracking
will usher in the biggest ecological change
since the original forests here were cleared.
Road-building and pipe-laying will accelerate habitat fragmentation. Spills and seepage of toxic contaminants, including
methane, into drinking-water supplies
have been documented in other states and
will certainly be an ever-present threat in
the Finger Lakes region as well. Beyond
this lie the unknowns.
The chemicals found in fracking fluid
are unknowns both because their formulations are proprietary (Halliburton et al.)
and because radioactive materials, heavy
metals, and brine, freed at last from their
subterranean chambers, combine with
the chemicals in the flowback water.
Where will it be treated? How will it be
stored? We do know that fracking fluid
contains benzene, a known carcinogen.
Of the 300 other chemicals that are suspected ingredients of fracking fluid, 40
percent are endocrine disrupters and a
third are suspected carcinogens.
The nature of government oversight
is unknown because fracking is exempt
from federal environmental regulations,
including the Safe Drinking Water Act, the
Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and
the Superfund law.
The impact on agriculture and public
health is unknown because a cumulative
impact assessment has not been done.
Dust, noise, tra;c, diesel emissions,
ozone, soil compaction, light at night,
methane plumes. How will these a=ect
asthma rates, pollination systems, cancer
risk, the growth rate of alfalfa?
There are also more elusive unknowns.
Can fractures in the Marcellus Shale radiate upwards? Could they connect with
other passages, faults, fissures, and channels? Could they crack an aquifer? Can
shattered bedrock safely contain toxic
chemicals for 430 million years?
The human story goes like this: The
Marcellus Shale could be worth a trillion
dollars. It may provide enough natural gas
to supply the nation’s consumption for 2
years. Or 11 years. Or 20 years. Or 100 years.
Leasing your land to a gas company can get
you out of debt. It can allow you to retire.
Across the border in Pennsylvania,
fracking is going full tilt, but, at this writ-
ing, there is a de facto moratorium in New
York, as we await the release of a state
review. Meanwhile, a pipeline has been
laid from Corning to Rockland County,
and millions of dollars are being spent
quietly issuing leases. In my village, 14
percent of the land is already leased to
gas companies. In the county, 40 per-
cent. “The shale army has arrived,” said a
representative from an energy company.
“Resistance is futile.” And, indeed, in
December 2009, ExxonMobil purchased
a large natural gas company, a decision
widely viewed as a game-changing com-
mitment to fracking technology.
A second edition of Sandra Steingraber’s
Living Downstream was just released by Da
Capo Press in tandem with a film adaptation from the People’s Picture Company.