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To frack or not to frack?

Politicians have a knack for skirting issues which might cost them votes at the ballot box, or worse, campaign dollars on the road to election. Never has this been more apparent than in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s refusal to take a stand on the growing fracking debate.

Few environmental issues in recent memory have galvanized the opposing sides like hydraulic fracturing, better known as fracking, has. Far from a distant national issue that has no resonance to the North Country, New York is one of 33 states in the Lower 48 where shale gas formations have been identified as targets for fracking. The massive and much coveted Marcellus and Utica formations cover all of western and much of central New York, lapping at the very foothills of the Adirondacks. And these are only the formations they have so far discovered. Could there be more in the mountains themselves?

Fracking’s history goes back to 1947, when it was first used on a well in Grant County, Kansas to stimulate gas production. Fracking itself is a technique used for extracting natural gas trapped in shale gas formations be injecting a myriad of chemicals and massive amounts of water into the ground, causing the shale to fracture, releasing the gas held in the shale. A technique called horizontal drilling, perfected in the early 1990s, then captures a portion of the newly released gas, and pumps it to the surface.

Two issues with fracking become obvious to anyone who doesn’t align themselves with the oil and gas industry. The first, is that these companies are not bound by the 1974 Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), and do not have to disclose what potentially deadly chemicals they are pumping into the ground. Most of these chemicals, which are trucked around the country to well sites, would generate a hazmat spill response if they were released on land. But because of lobbying, and deep national political penetration by individuals from the oil and gas industries (potential fodder for a later editorial), the fracking industry was written out of the SDWA. They simply do not have to say what chemicals they are pumping into the ground that was just fractured, and can thus seep throughout that ground.

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