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Concerns for Hydrofracking on World Water Day

March 21, 2011

By Sister Mary P.

Today we are celebrating World Water Day, so I took a moment to look up this year’s theme, “Water for Cities: Responding to the Urban Challenge.” As hydraulic fracturing, also known as hydrofracking, is currently practiced in 34 states and currently threatening to move into New York and throughout the Northeast, I think we should become familiar with the issue and its threat to water.

Fracking involves injecting frack fluid, a mixture of huge volumes of water, sand and tons of chemicals, at high pressure into shale, a sedimentary rock, in order to fracture it and release trapped natural gas. One problem is that the methane released also leaks into groundwater. Another is that 20 to 40 percent of the chemicals remain in the ground where they can contaminate drinking water, soil, and plants that both humans and animals need. A third problem is wastewater from the drilling is sent to treatment plants that are not equipped to remove many of the toxic materials and they then discharge partially treated waste into rivers, lakes and streams. The wastewater also contains dangerously high levels of radiation.

Josh Fox and his award-winning documentary, “Gasland,” demonstrated that companies using this method are polluting freshwater supplies across America. He sees fracking as one of the biggest environmental and public health challenges in U.S. history. It should also be noted that the 2005 Energy Bill enacted under President George W. Bush exempted hydraulic fracking from the Safe Drinking Water Act, so the natural gas industry is free to unleash massive drilling operations, even though Americans get half of their drinking water from underground sources.

The New York Times recently did its own investigation and produced a series of articles on fracking. The dangers are greater than previously understood. Residents of a small town in Wyoming with extensive gas development can no longer drink their own water, and they’ve been advised to use fans while showering to reduce the risk of explosion. Needless to say, although there have been more than a thousand reports of contamination of water wells related to drilling, the official word is: “It remains unclear whether the actual fracturing process has contaminated drinking water.”

Sisters of Mercy have contacted their legislators and demonstrated against hydrofracking in both New York State and Pennsylvania and signed petitions calling for a moratorium. The former governor of New York signed a moratorium for that state in December.

A group of Sisters will participate in a rally at the New York State Capitol this Thursday, to call upon current Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to expand the scope of the Marcellus Shale Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (SGEIS), which is the best way to continue the de facto moratorium that has prevented a single horizontal hydrofracturing gas well from being drilled in NYS’s Marcellus Shale for more than 2 ½ years.

Take a look for yourself at a Gaslands trailer and then decide if you should contact your senators and representatives to support the Frac Act (S 1215/ HR 2766) to repeal the exemption for hydraulic fracturing in the Safe Drinking Water Act.

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