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Natural Gas Fracking: Ruining Your Lunch

 by Civil Eats

With the documentary movie Gasland
making its national debut on HBO just last week, the nation is now more
aware of the environmental issues natural gas fracking poses. What you
might not have heard is that many farmers in upstate New York fear the
impact that natural gas drilling will have on our grasslands and water,
and ultimately our livelihoods. It is an issue that could threaten New
York City's food shed but many do not realize what is at stake.

Ken Jaffe,
an upstate New York grass-fed beef farmer, is concerned about the
devastating impact gas fracking could have on his farm. He penned an
impassioned letter to the residents of New York City on the blog "Green State Fair"  and advised:

You should understand that the industrialization and
pollution of rural upstate New York will kill the production of organic
and sustainable food in this region.  The area of food production is
almost all outside the NYC Watershed, and vulnerable. Massive amounts
of toxins will be released into our aquifers and air. Many millions of
gallons of these hydrocarbons and volatile organic compounds, including
known carcinogens and endocrine disruptors, are pumped into the ground
during the drilling process, and released into the air from evaporation

The most frustrating part of all this is that upstate New York has
been economically depressed for decades. It is in trouble, and the
sectors that once supported us, like manufacturing and agriculture,
have left or are so consolidated that they employ too few people. Who
can begrudge communities for hoping that natural gas will give a
must-needed economic boost? Promises of jobs and investment are a
powerful lure in a place where young people flee, and the population
continues to plummet because there are no jobs.

Yet, there is one bright spot in all this gloom: we are seeing a
huge increase in our sustainable agriculture sector. We can thank local
demand but also our superior pastureland and clean water. New farmers,
both young and retired, are reclaiming fallow dairy pastures and
raising grass-fed meats and organic produce. This has all been made
possible by a passionate and renewed interest in local food and a
belief that it is safer. All this progress and hope could be threatened
by trusting our future to natural gas when the real future rests on our
best asset: our water and superior grasslands, three million acres of
which are currently unused. In fact, have so much pasture land we could
locally raise grass-fed beef for all of New York City.

The BP spill, in all its horror, should serve as a lesson.  Because
the federal government has dismantled safeguards that would protect us
from pollution, the risk seems to be at the expense of our land.
Alarmingly, gas drilling, or fracking, is now exempt from federal
pollution laws. As Jaffe explains:

Pollution of water, air and food from the gas drilling
industry is exempt from all federal pollution laws, thanks to Dick
Cheney's 2005 Energy Policy Act and its ‘Halliburton Exemption.'
Incredibly, gas drillers can pollute without regard to the basic
protections in Safe Drinking Water Act, the Clean Water Act, or the
Clear Air Act.  For instance, it is legal for gas drilling to cause
drinking water to contain high levels of carcinogens like benzene that
violate the Safe Drinking Water Act because that law simply does not
apply if gas drilling is the cause. The public and the environment have
been essentially defenseless against gas drillers (who are  often the
same companies as the oil drillers).  They have used the cover of this
exemption to ruin the air, water, and landscape of large swaths of
several western states, and are now moving east.

The gas companies have made sure to steer clear of New York City's
watershed because they know how powerful New York City is politically.
But what New York City has failed to see is that they are threatening
its foodshed. It is time for us to realize that local sustainable
farming is under attack and under great threat just when it has become
a positive economic force in our state. Jaffe says it best:

The gas and oil industry is relying on your silence so
that they will be unopposed. Their current plans are for 8-10 wells per
square mile, pumping billions of gallons of toxic water into the
ground. They will pollute the air and water of a large region that
represents most of New York State's food shed, directly threatening the
agricultural base that you rely upon for your food. This includes the
western Catskills, and across the Finger Lakes to western New York.
Most of Pennsylvania is also under the gun.

Watch the trailer for Gasland below, and then go here for a list of things you can do to make your voice heard.

© 2014 Civil Eats

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