Michael: More costs than benefits to hydrofracking

Back in May, Gov. Andrew Cuomo revealed he would make his long-anticipated decision on hydraulic fracturing before the 2014 election cycle. With New Yorkers split 42-41 – according to the most recent Siena Poll – on whether to allow the controversial drilling method to come to the state and the governor’s deadline slowly approaching, the fracking debate is becoming one of New York’s most intense public debates. While the pro-fracking crowd has seen its numbers increase dramatically since June, a four-point jump according to the Siena Research Institute, hydrofracking remains a dangerous, environmentally costly and overall devastating process clouded in misinformation.

Lobbyists like former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge have adopted a few clever talking points in order to sell the dangerous drilling method to the rest of the country: natural gas’ potential as a “bridge fuel,” energy independence and a panacea to economically depressed communities. All three arguments are built on a foundation of lies and half-truths meant to fool the undecided voter.

Supporters of hydrofracking are quick to mention that methane, the natural gas being drilled for, burns cleaner than coal and tar sands. While that is true, when methane is not burned, the carbon emissions are close to a hundredfold worse than coal. Again, cement failure is the root of the problem; what is not being released into the atmosphere is going straight into the water supply.

The energy independence point is an attractive one at first. While the natural gas industry likes to sell hydrofracking as an all-American alternative to relying on foreign countries for our energy needs, huge multinational corporations have lead the effort to bring fracking to the United States, masquerading behind a front of “mom and pop” drillers.

Hydrofracking is a profit-driven enterprise, not a patriotic one. Several of these gas companies have put forward proposals to build liquefied natural gas ports off the coast of Long Island with plans to ship liquefied natural gas to European and Asian markets where the prices are exponentially higher.

One of the most persistent talking points of fracking supporters is the supposed economic benefits it can provide for depressed communities across the country. Without question, there are some short-term jobs created in these communities, but most of the workers on the actual fracking sites are extensively trained, long-term workers who have been with the companies for a number of years. Hydrofracking creates a short-lived boomtown effect in most of these once-depressed areas.

Some jobs are already being threatened as big gas and oil make a move on these depressed farming communities. The drilling companies drive the price of water up as they outbid farmers who could once rely on relatively inexpensive irrigation. Of course, this does not even take into account the effect the polluted water will have on growing crops or raising livestock.

Though lobbyists like Ridge will continue to spew lies and deception into the public conversation, it is important to remember how far the people of New York have come in protecting the state. Earlier in the summer, New York State Attorney Gen. Eric Schneiderman said he commended the anti-fracking movement on its organization and effectively stalling the gas companies from making a move on the state and Cuomo from reaching a decision.

In his State of the State Address, Cuomo repeatedly toted New York as the “progressive capital.” The time has come for him to prove it not just to New Yorkers, but the rest of the country; send a message to the gas industry that human life and dignity is worth more than profit.u