The hydraulic fracturing decision in New York has been delayed yet again due to remaining uncertainty regarding the potential health risks of gas drilling. While the media has sensationalized the strong public anti-fracking response, an energy poll weighted using U.S. Census Bureau figures and conducted by the University of Texas at Austin revealed that 62 percent of survey participants did not even know what hydrofracking was.
Hydraulic fracturing is an advanced method of extracting natural gas from layers of shale rock buried up to 10,000 feet below the surface. The rock formations are blasted with water, sand and chemicals so that fissures are created and gas is released.
So what does this mean? Well, it means the most efficient domestic development of natural gas America has ever seen. It means a dramatic reduction in foreign fuel imports, which means more federal revenue. It means a significant decrease in dependency on foreign oil, which means more jobs in the United States. It means a cleaner alternative to coal and oil. It means cutting carbon dioxide emissions in the looming shadow of climate change. It means access to enough resources to heat homes in the United States for 857 years.
Given the information available to us, the benefits of fracking far outweigh public health concerns. While there has been evidence of water contamination, Syracuse University hydrology professor Donald Siegel agrees that accidents are a minimal risk.
“In every basin, there might be one or two accidents out of tens of thousands of wells,” he said.
Even the New York Health Department believes that human exposure to chemicals due to hydrofracking poses little or no danger. While these affirmations are vague, look toward Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper — such a firm believer in its safety that he actually drank fracking fluid.
Now, I’m not saying the health risks gas drilling poses are not legitimate or do not need to be addressed. In fact, I believe the best way to minimize environmental harm and make natural gas production safer is through more regulation. No more exemptions for gas and oil industries, as in the Energy Policy Act of 2005. No more loopholes and trade secrets. It’s time for comprehensive federal legislation on energy policy starting with the cleanest fossil fuel accessible to us: natural gas.
Hydrofracking has opened the door to the most effective natural gas development the world has ever realized. Stopping it is not the answer to a better environment. Sufficient regulation and safer procedures extended by the federal government on gas and oil companies are the next steps the United States should take in order to ensure economic growth and increased domestic energy production.
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, Feb. 19 print edition. Raquel Woodruff is deputy opinion editor. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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