To those who support the idea, hydrofracking is the next (and possibly only) real alternative to the U.S.'s continued dependence on the world's oil supply (Energy Vision, n.d:1). To those who doubt the viability of this claim -- or to those who worry about the accuracy about what is being claimed -- hydrofracking is really more the setting up of the next great asbestos industry -- or the establishment of an endless serious of public health and benefit legal fights over what is likely a dangerous or even deadly misstatement of opportunities (Pericorn, et al., 2012).
Hydrofracking is the pressurized use of liquid (mostly water) within the horizontal drilling sites of natural gas fields to help separate and force out the captured reserves of the gases for refinement. A contemporary White Paper produced by Energy Vision defines it as: "High-volume hydraulic fracturing, or "Hydrofracking," is a method of extracting natural gas from shale rock formations buried up to 10,000 feet under 30 or more states. It involves blasting these formations horizontally with water, sand and chemicals and creating fissures so the gas is released" (Energy Vision, n.d.:3). The pressure impact comes about because a "gun" of sorts is lowered into the well to the point where it faces across the 7,000-mile horizontal hole. "When fired, the gun produces micro-fractures in the shale, releasing the trapped gas, which flows under natural pressure up the well pipe to the surface" (Pericorn, 2012:39).
What is so big about the Marcellus Shale deposits?
The Marcellus Shale is possibly the largest U.S.-based natural gas field. It is thought to be 5,000 below the surface (within the range for hydrofracking), and covers and estimated 150,000 square miles that incorporates five states (New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Maryland and West Virginia). "In New York, Marcellus Shale underlies much of the Southern Tier, stretching from Chautauqua and Erie Counties in the west to the counties of Sullivan, Ulster, Greene and Albany in the east, to the approximate location of the east-west portion of the New York State Thruway between Schenectady and Auburn" (Lee et al., 2011:5). What may be just as important is the assumption that below this gas bed lies Utica Shale, which is thought to be even larger and the next target for tapping should Marcellus pan out. It has been estimated that this location contains between 168 and 516 trillion cubic feet of potential product (Energy Vision, n.d.: 7). This amount of resource is thought to be sufficient to bring about a viable alternative to oil-based fuels since, in addition to being cleaner, it is less expensive and easier to handle, assuming that one believes what opponents or proponents of the process say.
Pros and cons of corporate development of Marcellus?
Those who favor the use of hydrofracking often do so because they believe it is practical and worth the return on the investments, even if some of the costs may be high in terms of health and environmental concerns (Reinhart, 2011:2). Natural gas has a much lower carbon footprint than does coil or oil, and the supply seems to be much greater. "Natural gas is the only fuel that can make a major dent in this country's dangerous reliance on foreign oil and that can, in fact, put a major sector of transportation on the path to a fully sustainable fuel: the renewable form of natural gas made from waste" (Energy Vision, n.d.:1).
In addition, it is assumed that the harvesting of this resource will also bring about immediate jobs on several fronts. The process is easily integrated into what is already done and thus can be operationalized quickly. It is a taxable commodity too, so the government (and thus the public) benefits readily in the budget discussions, which may not always be the case with other alternatives such as solar and wind energy (Reinhard, 2011:2). It has been estimated that as a good share of the major trucks and other commercial vehicles on the road could be converted to natural gas usage easily, thus helping to immediately respond to the gasoline and energy crises. This could have major impact on issues such as global warming if undertaken and sustained for the future:
Just 7% of current natural gas use (2009) could power all the buses and trucks (6.7 million) serving cities and towns across the U.S. with routes taking them 50 miles or less from home base.4 Since these vehicles account for more than 1/3 of the diesel fuel consumed by trucks and buses, this fuel shift would eliminate 13.6 billion5 out of the 38 billion gallons of diesel used a year and do so where the clean air gains will mean most (Energy Vision, n.d.:2).
Those who do not favor hydrofracking have many other concerns. The most significant of these issues involved just what fracking itself does and how it might impact the public's health and wellness. It has been estimated that there may be as many as 200 chemicals associated with the fluid that is used to cause the ruptures. "While these make up just a fraction of the total materials in the fluid, they include recognized carcinogens (benzene, arsenic and polycyclic aromatics). Other substances are associated with endocrine disruption, damage to reproductive health, immune suppression, and genetic mutations" (Lee et al., 2011:5). A New York Times investigation uncovered that only about 60% of these liquids are recovered. The EPA has indicated that as much as 50 million gallons of this dangerous substance is already unaccounted for (Energy Vision, n.d.: 6).
A professional legal journal has contributed to the concerns in its own way, even though they presented their information presumably to help attorneys get ready for the business that might head their way (Pernicorn, 2012). Issues such as negligence, nuisance, fraud, strict liability and statutory violations are all areas where legal challenges will likely arise. In an opening paragraph, Preliminary Insights into hydrofracking at Marcellus alone suggests the breadth of legal avenues:
Among the many potential defendants in Marcellus Shale litigation are energy and drilling companies; landowners; designers and manufacturers of drilling- and well-related equipment, including well pads; waste transporters and waste-storage companies; states, counties, and municipalities; insurance companies, subject to direct action under the New York Navigation Law; and various federal, state, and county agencies (Pernicord, 2012: 40).
New York impact on government and its people.
The reason for so many concerns is because the potential impact may be so widespread. The Nature Conservancy has undertaken a major assessment of the concerns with a focus on many of the implications for the New York region (Nature Conservancy, 2012). They identify four specific areas of major importance:
• Hydrofracking can directly impact streams, lakes, rivers and entire groundwater supplies;
• The Marcellus Shale is under NY's watershed and the Delaware River Basin which supports the drinking water for some 16 million residents;
• Hydrofracking can require up to 9 million gallons of water for each effort, which is sufficient to bring about serious water shortages even without pollution considerations; and, • Expanding the production fields to achieve the measurable amounts of products would do much damage to the NY forest lands that would bear the brunt of the required exploration and likely feel the impact of the pollutions that escape.
Legal action has already begun in relation to the impact on NY as well as elsewhere. A 2011 suit alleges that the U.S. government has failed to undertake a proper environmental review of these issues, listing the damaging impact of fracking on the Delaware River Basin in particular. The NY Attorney General's office has also filed suit claiming that federal agencies have failed to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act -- each early actions that are virtually certain to be costly for local residents who…