by Ulla Kjarval
The battle over gas drilling has made its way to upstate New York and many farmers, especially those that rely on grasslands, are alarmed at the possible impact fracking – the relatively new technology for gas drilling – could have on their livelihoods. Dick Cheney’s 2005 Energy Policy Act, with its “Halliburton Exemption” significantly deregulated fracking, making it exempt from the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Clean Water Act and the Clear Air Act. Alarmingly if not surprisingly, the dismantling of these most basic safeguards to protect us from pollution seems to have not caused our lawmakers any concern.
Fracking allows drillers to tap gas reserves deep in the ground. To do so they rely on a high pressure mix of water, sand and undisclosed chemicals pumped into the ground to collapse and crack into horizontal deposits trapped in rock. Sadly, in areas where fracking has already happened there has been widespread pollution and ruined drinking water.
Already, the USDA quarantined 28 cattle in Pennsylvania who grazed on a pasture that was contaminated by fracking leaks. The state agriculture department said that the toxic water which included chloride, magnesium, potassium, and strontium, a heavy metal toxic to humans(especially to young children), has contaminated the cows’ meat (via Reuters). Propublica reported last year that 16 cattle dropped dead after being exposed to fracking run- off. Farmers across Pennsylvania, which has seen heavy gas drilling, have spoken about birth deformities and sickness in their grazing cattle. As the prospect of natural gas fracking looms on the horizon for New York State, many area farmers are alarmed and concerned that it could put them out of business.
Vanity Fair conducted a thorough investigation of how devastating fracking has been on well water for Pennsylvania home owners. A compelling video shows how powerless the residents are against gas companies because regulations exempt them from the most basic of environmental protections. Thousands of complaints have been filed regarding environmental degradation, severe illness and property damages.
Ken Jaffe, a grass-fed beef farmer from Meredith, NY who supplies the Brooklyn Food Coop, explains what fracking might mean for New York State:
“You should understand that the industrialization and pollution of rural upstate New York will kill the production of organic and sustainable food in this region. The area of food production is almost all outside the NYC Watershed, and vulnerable. Massive amounts of toxins will be released into our aquifers and air. Many millions of gallons of these hydrocarbons and volatile organic compounds, including known carcinogens and endocrine disruptors, are pumped into the ground during the drilling process, and released into the air from evaporation tanks.”
Jaffe goes on to explain: “Contamination of our drinking water by hydrofracking is currently permitted under federal pollution law. So this story reminds us of the risks to drinking water and the powerlessness of government to act when humans, rather than livestock, are drinking contaminated water. In Tioga County the USDA, because they are required to protect against contaminated meat entering the marketplace, has acted. Yet humans are drinking contaminated water in the case of dozens of homeowners in Pennsylvania, Colorado, and Wyoming, while the EPA stands silent. So when cattle drink contaminated water, the UDSA will act to protect the food supply. But when farmers drink contaminated water the EPA does nothing.”
All farming, both conventional and organic, relies heavily on clean water, and if our water and pastures become polluted, which they most assuredly will, it is safe to say that farming as we know it is under threat. Alarmingly, just when NYC’s foodshed has been making inroads by creating a vibrant local food system, we are faced with this grave threat. NYC has been instrumental in supporting my family’s farm and others throughout the region. It would be a disgrace for all this work to be ruined because we are foolish enough to trust our future to a technology that is a proven environmental polluter.