Natural Gas VS. The Natural World: Why Not Fracking The Marcellus Shale Is Just Fine

The moratorium on hydraulic fracturing is about to expire in NY. So why was there a ban in the first place?

I have to admit, though I had heard of fracking and had heard it was bad, when asked to give a specific definition or explain exactly what about it is bad, I found myself stumbling, so I decided to do a bit more investigation into the issue.

In its most general sense, fracking (short for hydraulic fracturing, also called hydrofracking , due to its use of large amounts of water) is a means of tapping shale deposits containing natural gas that were previously inaccessible by conventional drilling.  Once a well is drilled (natural gas wells used for fracking are usually between one and three miles deep), millions of gallons of water, sand, and proprietary chemicals are injected into it under high pressure, fracturing the shale and opening fissures freeing the flow of what is often relatively minimal quantities of natural gas that were previously trapped in the shale.  This pressure used in pumping the water-chemical mixture used in fracking has been compared to exploding a series of pipe bombs deep underground.  To understand the ongoing debate about fracking, it is important, first of all, to understand that there are two types of fracking: vertical and horizontal.

Vertical fracking has been going on for nearly 40 years in dozens of states, contaminating water, air, and food.  It is pretty much what it sounds like: fracking which is done in a vertically drilled well.  Horizontal fracking is a relatively new technology developed by Halliburton in 2003.  It starts with a conventionally drilled vertical well, but after drilling down to the desired depth, the drill bit is turned 90 degrees and continues to drill horizontally under shale deposits.  This horizontal drilling usually goes out from the original well by sometimes as much as a mile after which the fracking process can begin.  A well can be horizontally fracked as many as fifteen times in different trajectories (think of the well as the center of a wagon wheel and the horizontal drilling as spokes) devastating a very large area.  While some of the toxic fracking fluid (called “produced water” in the doublespeak language used by corporations and politicians) remains underground, most of it is pumped back up to be stored in slurry ponds or storage containers where it is left to evaporate, contaminating the air for miles around till nothing is left but a thick toxic sludge which is then hauled off to a landfill.

Here are six major problems with hydraulic fracking:

1. In 2005 Congress passed an Energy Act that included (thanks to meddling by former Halliburton CEO Dick Cheney) an exception for hydraulic fracturing from the protections of the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Clean Air Act.  It’s called the “Halliburton loophole” and it is quite the loophole indeed!  Thanks to this loophole, fracking is, for all intents and purposes, entirely unregulated.

2. This state of being basically above the law, has allowed, up until very recently, for Halliburton and other energy companies to keep the list of chemicals in the concoction pumped into the ground for the purposes of fracking secret from the public.  Thanks to a recent subpoena from the EPA, a partial list has been released.  Here is that list along with details about each chemical’s effect human health (and keep in mind that the released list is probably the nicest substances in the concoction):

3. Despite energy company claims that the fracking process occurs beneath and is insulated from the water table, people who live near fracking wells, have found dangerously high levles of methane and other deadly chemicals in their water supplies.  Check out this news brief about tap water on fire at a Colorado home near a well.  This is only one example out of hundreds.  People, pets, and livestock have gotten sick from drinking water contaminated by fracking and where the methane levels are high enough, there have even been explosions.  What is particularly interesting is that while officially stating that such contamination has nothing to do with fracking, energy companies pay to truck in bottled water for homes whose water has been effected.  For example, Victoria Switzer, a  resident of Susquehanna County, PA, stated that after Cabot Oil and Gas Company started drilling deep underground and fracking for natural gas in her area, water from her well started coming up “bubbly, smelly, and foamy” and undrinkable.  Though Cabot insisted that it didn’t cause the problem, they did start trucking in bottled drinking water for her and 22 other families whose wells were also fouled.  If fracking truly had no effect on groundwater, why would Cabot (and other energy companies) pay to replace local drinking water?

4. Speaking of water, the process of fracking uses millions of gallons of clean usable water.  In a world where clean drinking water, in many regions, is becoming an increasingly rare resource, it seems incredibly wasteful to destroy the water we are lucky enough to have here in the US.

5. The fracking process for even one well, involves tens of thousands of diesel engine semi trucks to bring in the chemicals, the water, and the equipment.  This means a lot of noise, a lot of road destruction and traffic, and a lot of pollution and carbon emissions to the regions where these wells are drilled.

6. Some geologists are saying that horizontal drilling and the fracking process exhaust the well within as few as 8 years with a 75% decline in output after the first year.  This means that the safety of our water and air are being endangered in exchange for a quick payoff to the industry which in the long run, will not help America with its energy crisis.  Halliburton and gas companies will take the money and leave taxpayers with the devastation and clean-up.

So… why is this issue particularly important at this moment in time?

The southern half of the state of New York (as well as parts of Pennsylvania, Maryland, Ohio, and West Virginia) lies on one of the world’s largest natural gas stores buried in what is called the Marcellus Shale.  This is a thick seam of horizontal shale which cannot be tapped into without the use of horizontal drilling and fracking.

In December of 2010, New York state’s Governor David Paterson, signed a seven month moratorium which while allowing vertical fracking, restricted the use of horizontal fracking (necessary to access the Marcellus Shale).  This has kept us temporarily safe from fracking, but that moratorium is due to end on July first here in just a few weeks.  New York’s current governor, Andrew Cuomo had stated that he was pro-fracking during the gubernatorial debates, but we need to convince him otherwise!


Below is an email form and a model letter.  Please feel free to tailor the letter as you see fit, and then we will print it on FSC certified recycled paper and mail it for you.  Let’s encourage the Government, and especially Gov. Cuomo, to do the right thing!

You may also contact the Governor’s office by phone (518) 474-8390 or mail:

The Honorable Andrew M. Cuomo
Governor of New York State
NYS State Capitol Building
Albany, NY 12224

And NY state Senators can be contacted here:

State Senators can be contacted here:

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