While New York Governor Andrew Cuomo vacillates on whether to allow fracking in New York State, a coterie of publicity savvy activists posing as public health experts are spearheading a disingenuous crusade to prevent the exploitation of the vast quantities of natural gas trapped in shale thousands of feet beneath New York’s Southern Tier. The leaders of this movement, millionaires with estates in natural gas-rich areas, have thus far successfully manipulated public opinion and the media by linking fracking to water and air pollution.
But fracking doesn’t pollute water or air. No documented instances of adverse health effects have been linked to fracking, nor have any occurrences of groundwater contamination been confirmed from the more than 1 million wells that have been hydraulically fractured over the past 50 years. Former EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said as much last year when she was queried on this subject, and her former boss, President Obama, supports hydraulic fracturing.
Nevertheless, the fractivists want the process banned, or regulated into oblivion, in New York and anywhere else they can create controversy by press release. Their goal — far from benefiting public health, as they assert — is to impede the development of fossil fuels, so as to speed up their hoped-for transition to a post-fossil fuel economy.
They’re off-base. Fracking has the potential to not only create tens of thousands of new jobs in New York and across the country, but also make America one of the world’s leading energy exporters, and thus free us from our dependence on petro-despots in Venezuela and the Middle East. And natural gas is much cleaner than oil or coal — natural gas produces almost no smog- or asthma-causing particulates and has a much smaller carbon footprint than other fossil fuels. Replacing New York’s existing energy sources with natural gas would lower the disturbingly high rate of asthma among New York City children. If the activists get their way and fracking is regulated out of existence, the main victims will be these children, not oil and gas companies.
Fracking would improve the quality of life of all New Yorkers. Perhaps the biggest potential beneficiaries of fracking, besides New York children, are the small landowners whose properties sit atop gas reserves. Just south of the Southern Tier in Pennsylvania, hundreds of farmers are leasing their land to energy companies. Income from those leases has saved countless farms from foreclosure. Fracking would be a huge boon to economically depressed areas of rural New York State.
Our society cannot afford to let elitist environmentalists posing as public health advocates hold sway over our economy. It’s time for New York to legalize fracking.
Dr. Elizabeth M. Whelan is the president of the American Council on Science and Health.