Monday, December 22, 2014

Fracking Banned in New York

In 2012, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) requested that the New York State Department of Health (DOH) review and assess DEC’s analysis of potential health impacts of hydraulic Fracturing (fracking). Last week the DOH has issued a 186 page report that finds fracking is a complex activity that could affect many communities in New York State because the Marcellus Shale covers a large portion of the state. The number of well pads could be vast and spread out over a significant portion of the state with different environmental conditions. This increase the risk of equipment failures and human error, and increases the risk for exposure to dust, methane gas, air pollution from the operation of equipment, water pollution and adverse health outcomes. Because of these concerns for potential impact to the environment and citizens of the state, New York has banned fracking.

The major findings of the New York DOH report are that there are potential environmental and human health impacts from fracking that include:
  • Increased truck traffic associated with fracking could have air quality impacts that could affect respiratory health due to increased levels of particulate matter, diesel exhaust, or volatile organic chemicals.
  • Fracking could contribute to increasing climate change by releasing methane to the atmosphere and making it cheaper to use natural gas to heat homes and make electricity delaying the adoption of renewable energy sources..
  • Faulty well construction could allow methane and/or fracking water containing a mix of chemical to contaminate potential drinking water supplies.
  • Surface spills potentially resulting in soil and water contamination.
  • Surface-water contamination resulting from inadequate wastewater treatment.
  • Earthquakes induced during fracturing. (Though federal studies have found that induced earthquakes are associated with deep well disposal of waste water not fracking itself.) 
  • Community impacts associated with boom-town economic effects such as increased vehicle traffic, road damage, noise, odor complaints, increased demand for housing and medical care, and stress.
This report from the DOH served more as the argument for the ban rather than a scientific study. A recent study by scientists reviewed all 166 fracking studies that have been performed and peer reviewed to consolidate all that we know about fracking and identify the areas where more research needs to be performed. This paper is  a complete and thorough review of all the risks and benefits and area where more study needs to be performed for the hydrocarbon extraction method known as fracking. The paper: “The Environmental Costs and Benefits of Fracking” in the Annual Review of Environment and Resources.( Annu. Rev. Environ. Resour. 2014. 39:7.1–7.36) by Robert B. Jackson formerly of Duke University and now at Stanford, Avner Vengosh, still at Duke University, J. William Carey, from Los Alamos National Laboratory, Richard J. Davies, from Durham University, Thomas H. Darrah, for Ohio State University, Francis O’Sullivan, from MIT and Gabrielle P´etron from the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Fracking is the current method of extracting unconventional oil and natural gas that is locked inside impermeable geological formations. Fracking is enabled by horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing (thus the name fracking). Fracking or hydraulic fracturing as it is more properly known involves the pressurized injection of fluids made up of mostly water and chemical additives into a geologic formation. The pressure used exceeds the rock strength and the fluid opens or enlarges fractures in the rock. As the formation is fractured, a “propping agent,” such as sand or ceramic beads, is pumped into the fractures to keep them from closing as the pumping pressure is released. The fracturing fluids (water and chemical additives) are partially recovered and returned to the surface or deep well injected for disposal. Natural gas or oil will flow from pores and fractures in the rock into the wells allowing for enhanced access to the methane or oil reserves.
From USGS the extent of the Marcellus Shale

Throughout their study the scientist recommend a series of research questions that should be answered to more fully model and understand fracking, but not banning . In addition they emphasize the need for greater transparency from companies and regulating agencies in information and the need for baseline studies prior to drilling is critical to even know if water or human health has been impacted. Predrilling data needs to include measurements of groundwater and surface-water quality and quantity as well as air quality, and human health. The scientists pointed out that there have been virtually no comprehensive studies on the impact of fracking on human health while state regulators and law in some instances allow fracking virtually in people’s backyards. The New York regulators have now banned fracking because it is not completely understood, the risks imperfectly managed and will likely contribute to climate change.

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