There are high hopes that the natural gas extraction technique known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, will boost the economy and bring the United States closer to energy independence, but if the energy industry expects to break new ground and fulfill a growing demand anytime soon, they need to make friends with the people who reside near the drilling rigs.
Two new reports out last week point to the potential of how fracking, the process whereby a highly-pressured mixture of water, sand and chemicals is blasted through underground shale rock formations to release natural gas, could positively benefit our economy. One study projects that natural gas will account for nearly one-third of total U.S. energy produced by 2040, and the other one, a government commissioned report which the Obama administration is expected to partially base its shale gas policy on, shows natural gas exports providing revenue to the struggling economy under every condition considered.
The Obama administration has largely left regulation of private land up to the states, and for many landowners, the impacts of hydraulic fracturing don’t just hit close to home… they drill right into their backyards. Last month, voters in Longmont, Colo. became the latest in the country to ban fracking within town limits. The ballot initiative was passed via a bipartisan vote and the town will likely follow in the footsteps a handful of other municipalities, including the upstate New York towns of Dryden, Middlefield and Avon, that already passed bans or moratoriums and are in the midst of legal challenges to uphold them. While local ordinances may not typically make national news, the precedent set by these local governments cannot be overstated. At the most micro level, local residents came together and threw a wedge into the plans of private industry -- industry that by the way, already have allocated millions of dollars to harvest these towns’ natural resources.
In New York, the Department of Environmental Conservation estimates that shale gas development would not only create 50,000 new jobs in the state, but may also raise New York wages by nearly $2.5 billion. So why then, is there resistance to industry moving into the neighborhood? It seems that aside from landscape degradation -- think oil rigs and waste pits in the midst of green pastures – local residents aren’t sure this bright, green economic future prioritizes their health and safety.