My Hope That More Jews Will Engage on Energy Related Issues

I recently wrote an article for the Pace Environmental Law Review Blog that I have posted below. For this post on Jewcology, I wanted to expand on my Law Review post by expressing how I view these events from a Jewish standpoint. Hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," is a very hot topic these days in many different circles. This is an issue being debated by politicians, lawyers, community zoning boards, landowners, corporations, neighbors, and religious communities. In each of these situations the individuals involved are bringing different priorities to the table. Some view fracking as a great economic opportunity, others view the right to frack on their own land as a constitutional issue, some view fracking as an opportunity for the U.S. to achieve greater energy independence, others approach fracking from a purely environmental standpoint, and then others are worried most about potential health impacts those living in communities where fracking takes place. I think that all of these views have merit and there is rigorous debate taking place between these parties on a local, state, and national level.

As a Jewish environmentalist, my main concern with fracking relates to the potential danger posed to both the environment and the health of those living in communities where fracking takes place. While our society continues to have a strong demand for energy, the question is how far we are willing to go in order to meet those demands. As discussed in the post below, there are continuing questions about the safety related to fracking. We must ask if these risks are worth it and whether there are there better ways to achieve the same goal without the same potential for harm. It is important that we as Jews think about these questions and make our voices heard. Over the coming years these debates over energy will only grow more heated as nations search for new sources to meet the demand of their citizens, and I hope that more Jewish communities will engage in these issues.

New Claims of Danger Related to Hydraulic Fracturing

Dec 23rd, 2011 by Jesse Glickstein

Over the past few years hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” which is defined by Oxford Dictionary as “the forcing open of fissures in subterranean rocks by introducing liquid at high pressure, especially to extract oil or gas,”[1] has become an increasingly controversial subject. Several states, such as Pennsylvania and Arkansas have been allowing companies to use hydraulic fracturing for several years. However, as more states contemplate allowing the use of fracking, the process has come under greater scrutiny, and many citizens have voiced concerns about the potential consequences of allowing the use of this drilling technique. This backlash has resulted for several reasons, including the fact that claims have been made in states where fracking is legal about issues with water contamination, and claims by citizens in those state that they have suffered health related issues due to natural gas seeping into the water supplies. These claims were given nationwide exposure with the release of Gasland, a documentary film that showed faucets spewing flames and water samples with high levels of contaminants used in the fracking process.[2]

The situation has been further exacerbated by the poor economic climate, pitting neighbor against neighbor.[3] Those citizens who want to lease there property and allow companies to frack for gas are guaranteed to make money, and in some instances become instant millionaires.[4] Those citizens who do not want to lease their land due to safety concerns have been fighting on a national, state, and local level to prevent companies from being able to frack.[5] Others claim that landowners are not provided with enough information to truly understand the risks and costs associated with leasing their land for fracking.[6] Many people are also concerned about the secrecy that has surrounded the fracking process, including the fact that companies are exempt from regulation under The Safe Water Drinking Act.[7] Until recently, companies had refused to release the ingredients they used in the fracking process, which has now been reported to include over 750 different chemicals.[8] Although companies eventually disclosed this information, their initial secrecy and resistance to doing so has raised concerns and made many people wary of the process. In New York, for example, localities are attempting to ban the process by zoning hydraulic fracturing out of their specific municipality, even if the State decides to approve the fracking process. [9]

Over the past few months two important developments have taken place. The first was a major news story when the EPA recognized the possibility that chemicals used for fracking in central Wyoming were the likely cause of contaminated local water supplies.[10] This was the first admission by a government agency that hydraulic fracturing is potentially a source for water contamination. Another independent study conducted in northeastern Pennsylvania and upstate New York by scientist Robert Jackson of DukeUniversity stated that “methane concentrations in drinking water were much higher if the homeowner was near an active gas well.”[11] This study, along with the EPA’s finding in Wyoming, present opponents of fracking with strong support for their contention that citizens should be skeptical regarding the safety guarantees given by the natural gas industry.

The second major development in recent months has been reports that hydraulic fracturing may be connected to the increase of earthquakes occurring in Ohio,[12] Oklahoma,[13] and Arkansas.[14] Despite the fact that many scientists say the likelihood of that link is extremely remote, that thousands of fracking and disposal wells operate nationwide without causing earthquakes, and that the relatively shallow depths of these wells mean that any earthquakes that are triggered would be minor,[15] the mere news of this type of activity has stirred strong public reaction.

It is possible that these worries have been heightened by the recent events related to the nuclear reactor in Fukushima and the Horizon Oil Spill in the Gulf. Many citizens seem wary of the potential impacts that a natural disaster or that human error could have on the health of the environment and nearby citizens if hydraulic fracturing is allowed to continue. This news may also have triggered Colorado to pass the most stringent fracking rules in the United States just this past week.[16] It seems that the next few years will see increasing amounts of controversy between industry and citizens, states and municipalities, and landowners with their neighbors, over whether to allow hydraulic fracturing to take place in their states, cities, and backyards.

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