Fracking: Boom or Doom

America's hydraulic fracturing gold rush portends the greatest environmental disaster of a generation

Fracking: Boom or Doom
Illustration by Kyle Fewell.

Ask someone like Jon Entine, a science writer for Ethical Corporation, to describe the sort of person who claims hydraulic fracturing presents a pollution nightmare in waiting, and you quickly find yourself pummeled with talk radio invective: "ideological blowhard," "leftist loony," and "upper-middle-class lefties."

But none apply to Fred Mayer.

When a reporter arrives at his 200-year-old farmhouse on a cloudy June day, one of the first things Mayer asks is: "Do you know who Glenn Beck is? You should really listen to him. Now that man knows what he's talking about."

The 62-year-old Vietnam vet's yard in Newark Valley, New York, is full of patriotic flags. His rotund body is covered in tattoos, with barbed wire wrapped around his thick arms and an Iron Cross on his left fist.

The first time he heard of fracking was in 2008. It's a natural gas drilling process in which millions of gallons of water—mixed with sand and more than 596 toxic chemicals—are pumped into shale formations 8,000 feet belowground, the pressure fracturing them to release the natural gas they hold inside.

Decades ago, Shell Oil attempted to drill on Mayer's property in hopes of retrieving the river of black crude that resides just under the rock formation. "They never were able to do it," he says. "They couldn't get through the rock, so they gave up."

Shell eventually sold its lease to Fortuna Energy. Mayer thought nothing of it until 2008, when his neighbors started getting leasing offers from gas companies that had a new way of drilling that could get through the thick layers of shale just fine. Only this time, they were in search of natural gas, often heralded as the greenest fossil fuel.

Mayer gave Fortuna a call, only to find that his father had leased their property for just $4 an acre. Since Dad had passed away, Mayer told Fortuna that the agreement was null and void. Fortuna countered with a new offer: $600 an acre. Mayer soon received a check for $58,200, with a promise of more to come.

But it wasn't long before Mayer received another surprise—this one less pleasant. One morning, he turned on his kitchen sink. Instead of water, the tap hissed with gas. Mayer grabbed his lighter, held it to the faucet, and watched it burst into flames.

Although Fortuna had yet to drill on his property, the company was already at work six miles to the west. Mayer called the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to file a complaint in January 2009. His case was assigned to an investigator, though no one actually came out to investigate.

"[Our] staff concluded that the gas in Mr. Mayer's well was naturally occurring and that no investigation was warranted for several reasons," says Emily DeSantis, a department spokeswoman. Not only was Mayer's residence more than a mile away from the nearest drilling, DeSantis says, but also "naturally occurring methane is commonplace throughout the state."

Mayer knew better, of course. His water hadn't become flammable until Fortuna began drilling nearby. More than three years later, he can make every faucet in his house dance with flames. He can't drink from his own tap. Sometimes the gas pressure builds up so much that it blasts coffee cups from his hands while he does the dishes.

Still, Mayer was less upset by the contamination than he was about not making money from it. About the time he signed his lease, then-governor David Paterson watched as drilling devastated neighboring Pennsylvania, where thousands of contamination complaints have been filed. In one incident near Pittsburgh, toxic wastewater ended up in the Monongahela River, leaving 850,000 residents without drinkable water. So Paterson banned fracking in New York.

As Mayer sees it, his water is already contaminated, and he could use his 17 percent cut of Fortuna's drilling profits. According to Public Policy Polling, about half of southern New Yorkers agree and hope that Governor Andrew Cuomo will lift the ban so they can begin reaping the riches promised by companies like Chesapeake Energy, Range Resources, Cabot Oil & Gas, and Schlumberger.

It doesn't seem to matter that in the past decade fracking has left behind a widening trail of health and environmental disasters. Or that research indicates the influx of money and jobs promised by these companies falls far short of their claims. New York landowners still whisper stories of overnight millionaires just over the border.

That's because people are desperate to flee the pressure of another disaster, the one created by the housing crash. The difference is that fracking could imperil more than pocketbooks. There's no shortage of scientists and public health officials who warn that large-scale contamination might leave millions of people without usable water.

Yet the natural gas industry has spent $747 million lobbying state and federal officials over the past decade, allowing it to continue drilling in 34 states. Few Americans are any richer. But a whole lot more have horror stories to tell.

Sharon Wilson is often dismissed as an anti-fracking loony. Range Resources, one of the largest fracking firms in the nation, has even accused her of manufacturing false evidence in a conspiracy to defame the company.

1
 
2
 
3
 
4
 
5
 
All
 
Next Page »
 
My Voice Nation Help
45 comments
gudrun.scott
gudrun.scott

We must call Gov Cumo TODAY  518-474-8390 - the secretaries are very polite and will only take down your zip code.  Tell the Gov that he must rescind the 2,000 plus pages of the environmental assessment of fracking in NY called SGEIS because it was written by the Mineral management branch of the DEC which has lost all public trust  - they need total reforming!  They heve ignored cleaning up after the last oil and gas boom and bust of the 20th century and left all the unplugged wells rotting in the woods - waiting to break open from hydrofracking and the department is filled with former industry hacks and does not deserve the name "environmental conservation"  Read here and call call call the governor -- thank you-- Gudrun Scott RN Sept 27

 

Read this and weep:  http://www.newschannel34.com/news/local/story/DEC-Regulation-Accusations/l6DpPJ1QiESdUIuoRA0LJg.cspx 

louiefree
louiefree

DENISE!!! thank YOU so very much for your time on-air AND online today(Louie b.Free Radio Show - Brainfood from the Heartland)++++ THANK YOU VILLAGE VOICE for 'covering' this vitally important issue

-

my2cents
my2cents

I quit worrying about his issues the minute he asked if he knew Glenn Beck and that he should listen to him because he knows what he is talking about.....bwahahahaha

rihanna.maya
rihanna.maya

I get paid over $87 per hour working from home with 2 kids at home. I never thought I'd be able to do it but my best friend earns over 10k a month doing this and she convinced me to try. The potential with this is endless. Heres what I've been doing, 

Fox87.com

 

Danilynn40
Danilynn40

@ravbasil @voicestreet @bpond72 I like reading comments.....often much more balanced than the article. #nbpoli

EastEndEddie
EastEndEddie

This article has negleced to mention that the fracking has also had an impact on this side of the border. For those who argue that we need to have the gas underground along with the oil, coal, etc. let me remind you that people survived quite well without all of it years ago. The greedy b*****ds in Washington and wall street ran economies around the world into the ground and the American people still support the unprecendented greed of  the corporations at the expense of your health and environment. Are your memories so short that you have forgotten 3 mile island and the health issues that emanated from that while you, the public, foolishly bought into the propaganda the companies and government spewed out??? How many of you out there have lost your homes and savings along with your health becaused you believed the lies??? You, who support the oil and gas companies along with the corrupt politicians and lobbyists, deserve the misery that will come about due to these actions. For those who do not support and/or question the motives of these companies and the practices, you have my sympathy that you have to put up with the ignorance of the others.

bpond72
bpond72

@ravbasil @VoiceStreet #fracking #NBpoli glad we live in Canada andhave a safe/responsible inndustry with sound regs.

21creatures
21creatures

@kyrasedgwick An awful situation since we need energy indep but this unint. conseq. is not unlike reckless tanning industry of last century.

HelioCurrent
HelioCurrent

@NRDC @klarajk We're @ crossroads. ExxoNo, ConocoNo, & ShellNo will all devote sign resources to convincing wrld natgas = saving tech.

steinsvold2
steinsvold2

An Alternative to Capitalism (protecting our environment)

 

Several decades ago, Margaret Thatcher claimed: "There is no alternative". She was referring to capitalism. Today, this negative attitude still persists.

 

I would like to offer an alternative to capitalism for the American people to consider. Please click on the following link. It will take you to an essay titled: "Home of the Brave?" which was published by the Athenaeum Library of Philosophy:

 

http://evans-experientialism.freewebspace.com/steinsvold.htm

 

John Steinsvold

 

“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result." ~ Albert Einstein

TXsharon
TXsharon

@kyrasedgwick From Texas Sharon Wilson in VVoice story. We need your voice. Will you help for the sake of our children. Please contact me.

prusin
prusin

Government has been pushing to get water lines laid so they can control the water of everyone in the country. That they would be against fracking because of a water problem seems to be someone blowing smoke up a dark hole. All governments in western NY are seeking to expand water districts, not contract them. And the use of flouride in these systems seems problematic, as well. Flourine is a cancer causing chemical, and chlorine isn't all that good for you, either.  Flourine may be an agent which causes nerve damage, and perhaps some brain damage, as well. It certainly is harmful to the liver as are most compounds ingested well over the limits needed by the body.

dgrollmus
dgrollmus

@frankstec thanks, frank! xo

dgrollmus
dgrollmus

@kyrasedgwick thanks for the tweet!

snickers1558
snickers1558

This is an informative article, but the author describes New York as having an existing ban on fracking.  This is incorrect.  The moratorium on fracking expired in July, 2011.  Cuomo is waiting for the state Department of Environmental Conservation to release its Environmental Impact Statement on fracking.  At that point, Cuomo can give fracking a green light if he chooses.  Rumors have been flying for months about when this decision will come.  I work for an environmental nonprofit that is urging him to ban this horrible practice.  New York's precious resources are its water and its agricultural land.  Fracking will destroy both. 

SandRa
SandRa

I wish this article had mentioned that right now the Spectra Pipeline is under construction at Hudson River Park and Gansevoort St. in the West Village.  The pipeline is to bring fracking gas from Pa. to NYC. Spectra Energy has hundreds of safety violations and in 2010 one of their pipelines in San Bruno, Ca, similar to the one currently being installed in Hudson River Park, exploded killing 8, injuring 57 and leaving a crater 4 stories deep.  If this pipeline and the one proposed for  Gateway National Recreation area in Jamaica Bay, NY get built, they will pave the way for fracking in NY State. Please get involved in stopping these pipelines. To learn more please visit saneenergyproject.org

SevaniBeauty
SevaniBeauty

@YourOrganicLife @billmckibben so concerned about fracking in PA also, as if we need more chemicals, let alone undisclosed #ecowed

cportie
cportie

@macfathom @denisegrollmus If Romney does not show his tax returns by Sept28 there's a group who claims to have them.http://t.co/I4t1Iuv4

lorettarap
lorettarap

Governor Cuomo - We want to continue loving NY!  Ban fracking now! 

Terence Wells
Terence Wells

No fracking! Our next generation will wonder why we greedily left them with sink-holes!

medard1
medard1

Where did the author get "the natural gas industry has spent $747 million lobbying state and federal officials over the past decade"? That's a lot of money and before I use it I would like to know the source.

NRDCNY
NRDCNY

@billmckibben Have you heard about @NRDC's new Community Fracking Defense Project in NY, PA, OH, IL & NC? http://t.co/87iPe2mf

WaterWolf4
WaterWolf4

@billmckibben Right up there with GMOs

Louis Bardel
Louis Bardel

obama supports fracking, which is one reason why i don't support obama

Louis Bardel
Louis Bardel

DOOM for sure. Fracking is dangerous -- period. It should be banned. Whatever economic benefit is gained will be far surpassed by the environmental degradation. Ever hear of Dimock, PA? People can't even drink their water.

Louis Bardel
Louis Bardel

DOOM for sure. Fracking is dangerous -- period. It should be banned. Whatever economic benefit is gained will be far surpassed by the environmental degradation. Ever hear of Dimock, PA? People can't even drink their water.

Kalydascopeyes
Kalydascopeyes

@kyrasedgwick This is an important moment to get educated! Fracking: Boom or Doom// Old news. =p,.

lindagoss
lindagoss

@kyrasedgwick it's a shame what is happening to America. I don't see how it can be fixed with our corrupt government.

lindalovesgary
lindalovesgary

@kyrasedgwick re: fracing, I dont c all giving up what oil can produce: SUVs, tires,plastic.... Hmm. Done correctly can b very effective!

tndevine
tndevine

@kyrasedgwick welcome to the Mid-West! :/ tornado alley, more like it.

kimfeil
kimfeil

For those that pull double or triple loads collecting a paycheck AND researching/protesting what they find to be loopholes or corruption in fracking...I say to you not to burn out-we need you! For those that quit collecting a paycheck (me), neglect their internet business (me) do three years worth of research (me) and rely on my husband for my food, pay my $550 month health insurance premium (I have a $5,000 deductible too), I am only pulling a double shift (being mom and houswife never stops)....I have never worked so hard in my life! WE ARE THE HEROS U SEE, cause we sacrifice, even risk arrest or beatings or worse to educate those too busy "living and making a living" to let them know what is really going on that the industry and other stakeholders don't want you to know and certainly don't want you to fix. I live in BarnettShaleHell and blog about it...I am only pulling a double shift. Please talk to everyone you know and meet and ask them to reseach fracking and get involved with getting rid of politicians who have the industry in their pockets.

The_Yeti_Knows
The_Yeti_Knows

 @rihanna.maya i'll pay you twice that if you head on over to this dude"s house and suck the farts out of his faucets for him... Im sure you're a natural.

ravbasil
ravbasil

@bpond72 Sorry to pop your delusional balloon Canadian enviro regs framework is being dismantled and no #NBpoli #shalegas regulations exist

YourOrganicLife
YourOrganicLife

@SevaniBeauty Fracking is a big issue in our town, too #ecowed

prusin
prusin

 @kimfeil OMG! You rely on your husband for food? Maybe you should stop eating? LOL! I thought that a husband & wife team worked together? Perhaps I am not aware of some new rules. If my wife works and I do too, does she provide half my food? Ummmm.......your so hard core as to be unbelievable. Energy, in all forms, keeps our economy going. Perhaps your time would be better spent educating yourself for a real job, or working on that internet business, or perhaps looking for other work to be able to feed yourself. BTW, who feeds the children? But your post was informative about what wacko nutjobs are out there working against American values of hard work, etc. BTW doesn;t the unemployment check pay for some of that food? nMaybe I'm off base here, but the first gentleman who is mentioned in the article is getting gas from his water well, and local fracking is more than a mile away? The odds of that happening, given his well is likely less than 100 feet down are unfathomable. Likely the state is correct that the cause is naturally occurring.

bpond72
bpond72

@ravbasil #NBpoli #shalegas ummmm,NG is flowing as we speak and for certain will be exoanding

SevaniBeauty
SevaniBeauty

@YourOrganicLife Yes, we know, it's so unfortunate, it's as if we are moving backwards when we were getting better. :( #ecowed

EDinNB
EDinNB

@bpond72 @ravbasil Natural Gas Regulation is a Provincal matter, and we still have world class companies doing the work here #nbpoli

prusin
prusin

 @kimfeil Everyone trying to control everyone else. I'm sick of it.How do you expect we'll survive if we don;t have gas, oil, coal? There's nothiing to replace it. Solar, wind, nuclear all have their problems, too, and their detractors.No one is going to please anyone, but trying to stop the only known ways to power things isn't going to help. Who is going to do slave labor producing food? Thyat's why we developed tractors, and combines, and cotton gins.Now, you're going to tell people they have to go back to the stone age so you can control who uses what? Trying to make a difference often means sacrifice. I know, I just listened to Barack Obama, aka Barry Soetoro, today on a youtube video telling how we need shared sacrifice to lessen global warming, or Global Climate Change, or whatever the words for the day are to describe it. He says we're going to need $12 a gallon gas, and electricity rates through the roof, and no more coal plants, or coal plants that lose money, meaning they cannot operate. Meanwhile, the poor suffer under unfair tax burdens, the wealthy are paying a disproportionate share of the federal tax, and no one is creating jobs due to BarryCare. It's all a scam designed to control us, and the bog government types are ruining our republic to do it. Insane I tell you.

 
Loading...