As oil grows increasingly more expensive, hydraulic fracturing, or hydrofracking, has become a debated natural gas alternative across New York state. Associate professor of History Jordan
Kleiman said that defining the process of fracking is in itself controversial.
According to Kleiman, most people define hydrofracking as the “entire process of shale gas development, everything from well-pad construction, to drilling, to pipeline transmission, to waste disposal,” while “the industry defines it more narrowly as the moment at which the rock is fractured.”
In doing so, Kleiman said, “The industry aims to convince people that it’s a 60-year-old process with a safe track record.”
“The reality is that high-volume horizontal hydrofracking is a very recent technological development—around 7 or 8 years old—that is associated with environmental destruction wherever it has been done,” he said.
Kleiman has been teaching courses and educating others about fracking for over a year, although he has followed the issue for much longer. He is currently working with the Town of Rush, where he lives, to ensure that the community is protected from the harmful effects of fracking should it be allowed to proceed in New York state. He has also given a dozen or so invited presentations to other towns and organizations in western New York.
His work in Rush began in Nov. 2011 when he co-founded Rush Citizens Concerned about Hydrofracking to educate residents about the inherent risks of fracking. After the RCCH succeeded in persuading the town to pass a one-year moratorium in March 2012, Kleiman was appointed co-chair of the town’s fracking advisory committee, established to help town officials figure out what measures to take in order to protect itself.
The purpose of the moratorium, he said, was “to allow town officials time to establish adequate protections in the event that the state lifts its own moratorium—in place since 2008—and allows permitting to begin. The moratorium,” Kleiman added, “would enable the town to examine its zoning code and comprehensive plan, and to take stock of its natural resources, road infrastructure, rural character, and other assets to ensure they are adequately protected.”
Kleiman discussed the intricacies of fracking, stating that the technique requires the injection of millions of gallons of fracking fluid – comprised of water, chemicals, and sand – per well at extremely high pressure into shale formations as much as a mile or more underground.
“[Hydrofracking] has raised serious concerns about its impact on the environment, public health, local and regional economies, local democratic autonomy, and the quality of life,” Kleiman said. “What comes with shale gas development is massive industrialization of the landscape,” he added, noting that this process “threatens the cherished rural character of many towns, including my own.”
Kleiman said that shale gas is popularly advertised as a clean energy source because “it burns cleaner than coal at the moment of combustion. But scientific studies have shown that when the entire life-cycle of shale gas is taken into consideration, its greenhouse-gas footprint—due largely to fugitive methane emissions—is many times greater than that of coal in a 20-year time frame, and about on par with coal in a 100-year time frame.”
Regarding hydrofracking laws, Kleiman said, “What you have at the federal and state level is a regulatory vacuum. There is not much meaningful regulation at either level. This has forced the issue onto the local level, to municipalities.” As a result, he said, “one-hundred and forty-six municipalities in [New York state] now have either a moratorium or ban in place.
This is a movement that has caught on like wildfire in New York state.”
Kleiman explained that these regulatory failures at the state and federal levels are what prompted him to become involved with the issue in Rush. He added that “this is the easiest and most effective point of entry for those interested in becoming involved.”