Water, Water, Everywhere: To Frack or not to Frack
As the crowd surrounding the New York State Capitol building for the June 17th New York Crossroads Hydro Fracking Rally in Albany, NY grew in numbers so too did the volume level and diversity in backgrounds, professions and messages of attendees. The atmosphere and chants heard echoing throughout the Capitol square coalesced in one clear message: No to Hydraulic Fracturing in New York State, Yes to alternative energy technologies. The former message could be gathered by mere observance of the signs and symbolism illustrated by the crowd. The latter became more clear and cohesive as attendees and keynote speakers demonstrated the implications that “fracking” policy in New York State holds not only for the region and the nation but more pressingly for global water systems. Undoubtedly, the direction we take in terms of energy policy in the United States often sets longstanding precedents domestically and internationally.
Each year the International Energy Agency (IEA) discovers more shale formations in an increasing number of countries, this year up 41 from 32 in 2011. Therefore, as New Yorkers, as Americans, and as humans, we hold the responsibility to make truly sustainable and conscientious choices about the sources of the energy we use everyday based on the well being of ourselves, children living on the other side of the world and generations yet to be born. Why? Just ask a second grader how the water cycle works. The likely answer: what goes around, comes around, goes back around. Furthermore, what happens to the entirety of the cycle when one water source becomes contaminated? The same answer applies. On a planet with unprecedented climate change, growing population, nuclear proliferation, changing food systems and dwindling fresh water reserves, how we preserve or pollute our fresh water resources is and will increasingly become a question of quality of life, world politics and the ability for living beings to exist on earth.
The debate over whether to allow or to continue the moratorium on high-volume hydraulic fracturing of the Marcellus and Utica Shale in New York State (NYS) sits at the crux of US energy policy. The IEA has projected that by 2020 the United States will be the largest producer of oil in the world, surpassing Saudi Arabia by means of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling. Estimates state that by 2020 the US will produce 11 million barrels a day, however holding the top production spot for only 5 years. This projected shift from reliance on oil from the Middle East to domestic oil does in fact offer one solution to continue on the current trend of a fossil fuel energy system and to feeding the ever-growing demand for oil to fuel American cars, industry and most every aspect of our lives.
However, opponents of hydraulic fracturing are demanding answers to two major questions: What are the short and long-term effects of fracking and reliance on fossil fuels? What more, what other options do we have?
Speakers at the June 17th rally provided evidence of the social, economic, geo-political and environmental dangers faced by fracking as well as a range of alternative energy solutions that are already forming shifts in energy policy with proven potential of being more economical and environmentally sound. Science, much at the core of this debate, has been a decisive factor in Governor Andrew Cuomo mandating the state-wide moratorium which has been said to be somewhat symbolic. It is important to bear in mind that science has also been at the core of the debates denying or confirming smoking as a carcinogen, global warming, the effects of DDT, and acid rain to human and corporate conduct. As seen in debates on such other issues a majority of the scientific community is unanimous on the negligence by various entities, yet think tanks and lobbyists backing big business are often given equal media attention. But as the line between symbolism and policy begin to blur in the fracking debate, pressure from both energy lobbyists and the 1,000+ NYS businesses, 200+ anti-fracking organizations and 7,000+ New Yorkers who’ve pledged their lives in non-violent direct action to oppose the practice is peaking. As the rally progressed, word spread that the New York State representatives inside the State Capitol Building could hear the chants reverberating from outside their ongoing meetings. It is noteworthy that a small number of politicians showed up to the rally including Tony Avela and Maurice Hinchy who are both outspoken opponents of fracking.
As each keynote speaker spoke, they repeatedly addressed the elected officials within the walls of the Capitol as well as their constituents gathered outside. And so began the outline of the rational for the necessity to prohibit hydraulic fracturing and instead accelerate implementation of solar, geothermal, hydroelectric, and wind technologies to produce energy with less environmental and human degradation than what the current reliance on oil sources have led to in the Middle East, Africa, in the United States and beyond.
As the first speaker, renowned Native American environmentalist and diplomat Oren Lyons reminded the crowd that “water is life” and as trustees living in North America among the Great Lakes which comprise roughly 18% of global freshwater, we hold immense responsibility for preserving the cycle and anticipate the consequences for our actions today seven generations down the line and beyond.
Fundamental economics are based on cost-benefit analyses and the evaluation of risks involved in investments. Because the current economic structure in the United States is centered around a fossil fuel industrial complex, investing in new forms of energy is perceived as high risk. Often missing in discussion of supply-demand economics is the contrast between short term and long-term outcomes. As Alec Guettel, co-founder of Sungevity, a solar technologies company took the stage, he outlined not only the environmental necessity to make shifts to alternative energy immediately but also the economic viability of doing so. Guettal states that in the past 10 years natural gas prices have remained virtually unchanged while solar technologies have seen a 90% decrease in costs. The current race for claims on oil reserves in the North Pole, Africa, the Middle East, North America and elsewhere represent extraction of finite resources, which after reaching their peak, output will continue to rise in cost for the entire world that depends upon them. Contrastingly, harnessing the infinite energy of geo-thermal sources, wind, water and the sun hold potential for creating long-lasting methods that can serve the worlds growing population at much more moderate costs as the supply remains constant with demand increasing. Solar technology is more cost effective and contructed faster than nuclear energy. Additionally, Guettal cited a study that stating the solar industry provides 30 times more jobs per unit of energy than hydraulic fracturing, disputing common claim that fracking is a strong source of employment.
Among the many other notable speakers, Sandra Steingraber, a biologist and toxic chemical specialist, spoke passionately on the need to make connections between our personal stories and the choices and consequences we make for our energy policy. Pointing to the pollution resulting from fracking in Pennsylvania, Texas, Louisiana, Colorado, Wyoming and Oklahoma, Steingraber commented on the irony of the clean, patriotic names energy company’s hold while utilizing practices such as storing combustible gases under Seneca lake, a source of drinking water for 100,000 New Yorkers. As Cuomo reviews the science from both sides of the debate, people on the ground throughout the country continue to witness questionable acquisition of land, growth of industrial waste areas, diminishing water sources, contaminated drinking and agricultural water and widespread reports of increases in illnesses in both humans and animals. As a trailblazer in the anti-fracking movement Steingraber has paid legal and personal prices for her convictions as her recent annual earth day lecture was made from a cellblock in Chemung county jail after being arrested with 9 other activists for blocking the driveway to the Inergy natural gas facility., Steingraber claimed “The road to Birmingham Alabama and the fractured land between our feet is our lunch counter in Greensborough, we are on a journey to survival and in our travel we will not desist.” Such statements draw clear parallels to the use of civil disobedience during the Civil Rights Movement in order to create political change
Providing a global link for the conversation about energy, water and their intersections, Arun Gandhi reiterated the political implications bearing in the direction NYS takes in its energy policies as one of the most significant states in one of the strongest countries in the world. Offering a story on a recent trip to India whereby he encountered groups of uneducated women who’ve been trained to operate solar panels to create their own electricity, who then went on to train communities in the same ways in Africa. Also commenting on the body politic as primarily reflecting moneyed interests, Arun stated “We have to take back our country. We want our country to be the image that we created, not the image that big money has created. We don’t want our country to be destroyed for profit. We want our country to remain for posterity. So I would urge governor Cuomo if he can hear me to take a lesson from these poor uneducated women in India and make the State of New York the first state to use solar energy in the United States, and if we make a loud enough voice, that will happen.” In the age of Citizens United, it is our responsibility to be informed citizens and the voices of the constituency that our government has the duty to serve and to petition it when it leans towards serving special interests at the expense of public health.
There is one major missing point that was not voiced at the rally nor by President Obama’s recent announcement to plan to reduce carbon emissions to counter global warming. The energy crisis in America demands a critique of the existing model of capitalism and consumerism, formed on the basis that continued growth is not only desirable but necessary in order to define economic, individual and national success. Not only is this expectation physically impossible, but it’s also destroying the home that we, and innumerable other species inhabit. It is well known to scientists across the board that our current trend of overusing our freshwater and other resources and failure to give adequate time for recovery, we are in on a road to creating environments that cannot sustain life. Thus, in order to have a conversation about sources of energy we should also realize that it is crucial that we simultaneously have a conversation about our consumption habits. As Americans and the largest consumers of global commodities, the lifestyle choices we make on a daily basis impact the amount of energy we need to produce, use and dispose of these goods. We are fooling ourselves if we think that even if somehow we converted to cleaner energy technologies tomorrow and didn’t alter our overconsumption habits that we can even begin to mediate global warming or merely provide for the rising population. Therefore dealing with issues of local and global energy and water, and of war and peace start first with the choices we make, in our cars, our homes and inside ourselves. In order to truly understand these issues every one of us on this earth has to admit that the problems we face cannot exist without our own hand in creating them, but more importantly, neither can the solutions. So then, maybe now more than ever, and in the truest sense of Gandhi’s saying, it is our duty to “Be the change we wish to see in the world”.
Vía M.K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence http://www.gandhiinstitute.org/2013/07/water-water-everywhere-to-frack-or-not-to-frack/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=water-water-everywhere-to-frack-or-not-to-frack