As the moment looms nearer when Governor Cuomo makes his final decision on lifting the moratorium on horizontal Hydraulic fracturing (Fracking) in New York State, we should reflect on what risking our environment actually means. “Risk is the potential that a chosen action or activity (including the choice of inaction) will lead to a (an undesirable outcome)” Wikipedia. However, ‘undesirable outcome’ doesn’t quite cover what happens when we risk our environment.
Some of us like riding motorcycles and are willing to risk our lives doing that. It’s a high risk, as a day doesn’t go by when someone in the area isn’t killed on one of those things, but the danger is to one’s own life. Not like risking the future of all animals and plants and generations of folks who want to have children, as environmental risks can do. The risks that Fracking imposes on our water resources is another kind of risk than extreme sports, than skateboarding without a helmet, than petting a junkyard dog. Risking our fresh water in New York State by Fracking is jeopardizing everyone’s fundamental right to potable water—and generations to come. Not to mention the health of our riparian ecologies, wildlife and plant life.
Let’s not quibble: while some will argue about this point until their water starts on fire, most agree that there is a threat to our water if mistakes are made. And that’s why community after community in New York State, including the City of Rochester, has put a moratorium on Fracking—though Monroe County has left the door open on using our public wastewater treatment plants for Fracking waste. Mistakes will be made and there are too many known unknowns and unknown unknowns on Fracking:
EPA Sees Risks to Water, Workers In New York Fracking Rules New York's emerging plan to regulate natural gas drilling in the gas-rich Marcellus Shale needs to go further to safeguard drinking water, environmentally sensitive areas and gas industry workers, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has informed state officials. The EPA's comments, in a series of letters this week to the state's Department of Environmental Conservation, are significant because they suggest the agency will be watching closely as states in the Northeast and Midwest embrace new drilling technologies to tap vast reserves of shale gas. (January 13, 2012) ProPublica
Actually, there’s no human or corporate equivalent to environmental risk because the kind of risks we take to our lives and the risks corporations take to their livelihoods cannot compare to threatening the underpinnings of life itself on this planet. Somehow we have let the concept of ‘risk’ bleed into our unquenchable thirst for money. We all have to take risks to get ahead and that has evolved into the absurd notion that we should risk all life on this planet in our pursuit for the almighty dollar. We use phrases like “willingness to tolerate significant risk” in deciding issues like Climate Change and Fracking as if we know what we are talking about. But, we really don’t understand the risk in just the way we didn’t understand decades ago how incredibly risky and stupid it was to let industries use our lakes for their toilet:
America's 'Most Polluted' Lake Finally Comes Clean : NPR Onondaga Lake in Syracuse, N.Y., has often been called the most polluted lake in America. It was hammered by a one-two punch: raw and partially treated sewage from the city and its suburbs, and a century's worth of industrial dumping. But now the final stage in a $1 billion cleanup is about to begin. Standing in his office amid stacks of reports, scientist Steve Effler glances at an old front-page headline of the Syracuse Herald-Journal: "Divers find goo in Onondaga Lake." (July 31, 2012) Environment : NPR
New York City and Rochester and others can shrug off the risk imposed by Fracking for awhile because many consequences of our actions on our environment take awhile to boomerang back to us—though they always change something somewhere. For example, throwing stuff away into landfills and our waters seems to go away, and then comes back as pollution and methane leaks that warm our atmosphere. Allowing only areas in southern New York State where there are no moratoriums is merely another example of thinking we can shrug off the risks to our water by arbitrarily compartmentalizing our environment and thinking we have mitigated our risk.
Cuomo Proposal Would Restrict Gas Drilling to a Struggling Area ALBANY — Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s administration is pursuing a plan to limit the controversial drilling method known as hydraulic fracturing to portions of several struggling New York counties along the border with Pennsylvania, and to permit it only in communities that express support for the technology. The plan, described by a senior official at the State Department of Environmental Conservation and others with knowledge of the administration’s strategy, would limit drilling to the deepest areas of the Marcellus Shale rock formation in an effort to reduce the risk of groundwater contamination. (June 13, 2012) New York Times
Who are we kidding? As soon as the camel’s nose of Fracking slips into New York via this method, lawyers, drillers, the fossil fuel industry, and free market fundamentalists (who believe Nature is but a candy man of resources) will consume the Marcellus then the much larger Utica Shale from all the greenhouse gas emitting fuels until what’s in our ground from billions of years of life will be spewed into our atmosphere and warm our planet further. There is no point of satiety if money is one’s only value.
Besides, we don’t even need Fracking fuel in New York State. The price is down and that gas will be sold overseas. And if your argument is that Fracking will decrease the risk for national security by using this fuel instead of their fuel, wouldn’t it make more sense to leave that natural gas in our ground until we actually need it?
Let’s, as the muckrakers of old, call a spade a dirty little shovel: Why is Governor Cuomo risking our environment, our water, our national security, our farmlands, our roads, and our climate with Fracking? He is doing so because a lot of powerful folks want it that way. If it was energy we needed, we would have tolerated wind turbines. If it was jobs we needed, we would have carved up the banking system and spread the wealth with public sector jobs instead of giving it to the 1%--who have made more money since money was invented.
Frackers know they can shrug off the risk that Fracking imposes on New York State because they can pick up and leave when they’ve had their way with us. They are risking our environment for their profit, so it’s understandable how they can shrug it off.
We need Fracking about as much as a fish needs a bicycle.