Saturday, April 24, 2010

Hydro-Fracking Update: NYS Imposing Stricter Regulations

According to today's New York Times, New York State in imposing stricter regulations on hydro-fracking in our watershed. This is good news as far as New York City's water supply is concerned, but does not by any means close the door on the environmental problems of natural gas mining, which is still in the works. The National Resources Defense Council does not consider greater regulation a victory, claiming that nothing short of a ban will protect our water source. The Independent oil and Gas Association of new York says the regulations are excessive, but claims that the watershed is not really the spot they care about right now anyway compared to prospects in surrounding areas.

Natural gas is considered "clean" energy because using it releases fewer C02 emissions. But natural gas is itself a greenhouse gas, and extraction can be brutal on the environment. Needless to say, our relationship to energy and the environment is frustrating. Constant nay-saying without alternative solutions does not get us very far. Energy on earth comes from the sun, but in order to concentrate that energy into electricity and fuel, material from the earth is required--whether that's natural gas, petroleum, and coal or the silicone and other minerals needed to make photovoltaic panels. Identifying and extracting resources is one problem. Cultural norms, the calcification of urban forms, and systematic reliance on energy-intensive systems of distribution for food and water are another.

An alternative energy future is going to have to focus on a diversity of means to productively recoup waste rather than resigning ourselves to an unworkable duality of ecological mess on one side and a return to primitivism on the other. It will mean changes to lifestyle, but that's a bigger cultural question about maturing as human society and not one to beat ourselves up about as individuals--though we should always remain conscientious of our decisions. As far as today is concerned, I'm glad our government is prioritizing the watershed and hope that policies affecting the sustenance of vast numbers of people will continue to be ecologically sound and scientifically considered.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Hydro-Fracking: Sounds Gross Because it Is

Dr. Theo Colborn presenting Hydro-Fracking for Natural Gas at the Cooper Union Institute for Sustainable Design, 4/15/10. Photo of pollution-filled evaporation ponds in Colorado. In New York it is too humid for evaporation to be effective, so polluted water will be reinjected into the ground or tranported somewhere else.

Hopefully you've heard of hydro-fracking by now. This is a process of natural gas extraction that involves drilling down into shale and shaking things up to release gas. They are planning on doing this to the Marcellus Shale, creating the nation's largest gas field across four states, including the Catskill/Delaware Watershed where New York City gets its fresh drinking water from.

My original reaction without knowing too much about it was that futzing with our water supply is probably a bad idea. Last night I went to a very detailed lecture on the subject which enumerated many reasons why this is an environmentally disastrous procedure. This includes the numerous dangerous chemicals that get pumped into the ground in the process, the huge quantities of water required to run the operation, and the serious air pollution that forms when diesel fumes from the trucks and machines at the surface interact with volatile organic compounds released from underground, forming ground-level ozone. 

Drinking water is fundamental, more important to sustaining life then concentrated energy. Let's keep our eyes on this issue. For information see: