‘Fracking’ debate hits home for NY, PA communities

The oil and natural gas boom brought about by hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, has reignited a national debate over developing the country’s vast energy reserves.

Fracking has become a hot-button political issue across the country, particularly in New York, where the practice faces a four-year ban.

New York’s Southern Tier — the counties along the border with Pennsylvania — sits on top of the natural gas-rich Marcellus Shale, but the state’s moratorium on fracking prevents people from accessing it. However, just across the border in Pennsylvania, many credit fracking with revitalizing local economies.

“The Pennsylvania-New York border is the ‘Berlin Wall,’” Karen Moreau, executive director of the New York State Petroleum Council, told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “Pennsylvania is West Berlin, and New York is East Berlin.”

“What’s happening in New York is just a continued decline in the economy of the Southern Tier. Those are the counties right along the border with Pennsylvania,” said Moreau. “Literally, people can stand there on the New York side and look just across the political border and see all this prosperity.”

Fracking involves injecting fluids into cracks in rock formations to widen them and allow more oil and gas to escape, increasing the amounts that can be recovered. Environmentalists worry that fracking is detrimental to the public health, and claim companies will not release important information about fluid content.

Critics of the practice are particularly concerned about radioactive waste water, contaminated drinking water, and radon exposure. Supporters argue it is safe, and point to economic benefits.

Natural gas production in Pennsylvania more than quadrupled between 2009 and 2011, in part because of fracking and horizontal drilling.There are about 240,000 people directly or indirectly employed by the oil and gas industry in the Keystone State, according to a state official.

“We’ve seen lower unemployment rates in the regions that have higher drilling activities,” Patrick Henderson, energy executive for Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett, told The DCNF, adding that tax revenues have grown and energy costs have fallen dramatically.