An opinion piece by Dr. Sander A. Diamond, professor of history
The debate among those who believe that hydrofracking is not only safe but will also give a much needed boost to the economy of the Southern Tier and those who believe that the damage it will cause in no way justifies placing both the environment and so many people at risk has been bitter, rising to a level of acrimony not seen in decades.
The objections raised by those opposed to fracking are focused on the massive amounts of water needed in the process, as well as the disposal of the toxic mix of water and chemicals, the waste or residue. However, there is another consideration. The draught conditions we have witnessed nationally and locally are a harbinger of the future, a much changed climate. Coastal regions are in harm’s way from the expected rise of the level of the oceans, but the interior will experience draught. Portions of the Mississippi are now closed to heavy shipping and the grain harvest has been nearly halved. Closer to home, the grape harvest is down 20 percent due to the draught conditions. In time, water may be more valuable than gas and oil. The water removed from local supplies to permit fracking will be hard to replace, and while some would argue that the waste water can be reprocessed and used, it is hardly an argument in support of fracking.
Moreover, the last thing that anyone would want is the use of water from the bucolic Finger Lakes region. It is a treasure not to be tampered with and will remain, for decades to come, a breadbasket reliant on water from rain and table water.
Those in favor of fracking argue that it will be a boom to a region that has been left behind. There is much to be said for this, but even if environmental and health concerns are alleviated, there are still reasons why fracking may not be the solution for the Southern Tier’s economic woes.
The price of processed gas has fallen dramatically and will for the foreseeable future, and major gas companies may cap production until the price rises. Massive deposits of gas are now being brought to the surface elsewhere and the Southern Tier would enter the world of gas production late. The wells in nearby Pennsylvania will be full throttle soon. The glut on the market could easily turn from boom to bust, and farmers who have abandoned their fields having found a pot of gold in fracking will be reduced to penury.
Ben Franklin once said, “Do not ask the price of water when the well runs dry.” By extension, those in the Southern Tier do not want to say years from now, “Do not ask the price of gas when the well runs dry.”
Rather than putting their faith in gas they should consider restoring the farming economy. With the current world population at 7.3 billion and perhaps reaching10 billion in the next 60 years, and U.S. population climbing to 350 million in a few decades, producing food is the future.
By an odd twist of history and need, the very region that was part of New York state’s breadbasket has before it the prospect of a revival that would benefit the state and the nation, especially dairy production now that factories are being built to produce yogurt in Central New York. Food is what everyone needs, human fuel so-to-speak. People in this region only have to look at what happened to the economy of the Finger Lakes—a virtual explosion of grape production with once abandoned farms brought back to life by the arrival of the Pennsylvania Dutch. To be sure, the money made by those who have signed leases with the gas companies is significant, but taking the long view, economic security will be found in the revival of the growing of products and in dairy, not gas production.
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