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What the Frack, Again?

March 3, 2017

And this three year-old debate continues moving toward spring of 2017. Rallies organized by nonprofit organizations and community activist groups send their out their cries to the residents of New Jersey and to the neighbors across the river in New York, Delaware and Pennsylvania to protest the controversial practice of hydro-fracking for petroleum fossil fuel sources.

A number of residents, nonprofit group leaders, community activist, and individuals that stand up for environmental justice organized in sharing their discontent for fracking, presented to the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC); at the Washington Crossing State Park, this past February 2017.

To date, it is one of the largest collaborative efforts by grass-roots organizations and residents to restate their position against the practice of fracking for petro dollars.

This argument and debate of fracking is still alive and well.  Head of one of the largest multinational oil and gas companies in the world, Exxon Mobil’s then CEO Rex Tillerson, who was one of the most outspoken industry leaders on the practice of hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, joined a lawsuit to stop construction of facilities that are commonplace to a fracking operation near his homestead in Texas.

It is interesting, since Exxon Mobil is one of the leading companies in the oil and gas industry who has adopted the practice of fracking which is a practice that most associate the recent resurgence and rise of the energy industry in America.  So I have to ask “what the frack?”

Fracking has become not just a hotbed topic pitting public policy against large oil and gas companies who look to capitalize on their investment into technology which has allowed fracking to be a viable way to mine oil and gas from deep underground in hard to extract places such as from shale, sandstones, and lime stones. The economic boom that fracking has driven even has had an effect on local communities, neighbor fighting with neighbor, over individuals who wish to cash in on their unearthed treasurer against those who value the importance of environmental preservation of the most precious natural resource that is used as a part of the practice and effected by the very practice—water. This practice is also responsible for the “oil boom” that has taken place in the Dakotas; another place of hot contention related to fracking.

As you drive through New York’s Sullivan County, beyond the stretch of road known as Hawk’s Nest, there are the visual reminders that the argument is alive and well.  Signs that read “No Fracking” inside a circle with a strike through it are present along the mouths of driveways of private properties which line Route 97, a major thoroughfare that runs along the Delaware River, just outside the Port Jervis, New York area. In opposite fashion, are the outpost and sight of testing rigs, survey teams, and oil and gas pipeline workers ready to make hay even when the sun is not shining.  This is also a common sight in Bainbridge, New York, in the county of Chenango, which is a town located along the Susquehanna River. Both regions are at the center of debate, for they contain two very valuable natural resources—natural gas energy deposits and fresh clean drinking water.

New York Governor Cuomo has come under fire for not taking a final position on the matter. New York State has been forced to address the issue, as pro-fracking landowners filed suit in February 2014 against the Governor’s office, requesting the state to wrap up its official study it began in 2008 under the supervision of the Department of Environmental Conservation. The Department of Health began its own study in 2012 and has not yet released its findings about concerns that address the practices effect on clean drinking water. The complaint named both departments accountable in their argument.

In 2013, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie vetoed legislation that was aimed to ban the processing and disposal of leftover fracking material in New Jersey.  Environmental activist gathered in protest before the statehouse to voice their displeasure of the governor’s action not to further protect New Jersey from the toxic material. This created a major outcry from environmental advocacy groups who have already seen New Jersey become a state who holds the record for having the most environmental superfund sites in the nation. Opponents of the fracking practice note that there are no current technologies which are currently available to refine the waste product that separates the chemicals from the fresh water base used as a part of the fracking process.

In 2011 and 2012, the New Jersey Legislature passed bills on the fracking practice, later conditionally vetoed by Governor Chris Christie who also shot down legislation that would ban the overall fracking practice on New Jersey soil citing that there is no available land to frack in New Jersey. This would face great debate again in 2013-2014.

Later, Larry Ragonese, spokesman for the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection would later share that, “there in fact might be minute areas where under the Utica shale that might contain significant deposits of natural gas. These deposits are to known to be found mainly under the land in Upper Passaic County, Sussex County and Warren County; counties which rely on agriculture tourism for the majority of their local seasonal revenue.” These are also counties that supply much of the basin that makes up the fresh water supply that is managed by the Newark Watershed Conservation and Development Corporation; an authority responsible for managing and delivering fresh drinking water to selected metro areas of the state.

On a national stage, land owners who wish to preserve the natural beauty and natural resources that either lie underground of their property and/or under neighboring properties have utilized every mechanism available to deter others from the practice.  From lawsuits and temporary injunctions and restraining orders to large protest and acts of civil disobedience, opponents to franking have made their voice well-known.

David Pringle, Campaign Director for the Clean Water Action, New Jersey Chapter, (formally the New Jersey Environmental Federation); has been on the forefront of this National Debate adding, “Fracking is not a bridge to the future, it’s a direction off the cliff. Most people think that fracking is a cleaner alternative than coal, when in fact studies show otherwise.”

“Fossil fuels harvested from fracking are massive contributors to climate change.  There is the heightened concern of how to handle and treat all of the waste water that is by-product of the fracking process. Sites in which fracking has occurred, have become hazmat waste sites, playing host to now-contaminated water, and introduces the new exposure of toxins to humans that may otherwise we would not have exposure to. The fracking process brings these toxins to the surface such as radon, carcinogens, heavy metals, and other materials which are radioactive in nature and mix with water around with these sites,” continued Pringle.

“Along with these concerns, the fracking process has shown to contribute to earthquake activity where it did not formally exist. We now have multiple issues to tackle with fracking: we have a drinking water issue, a public safety issue, and an issue that affects the weather, especially in the northeast where we experienced more super storm activity.”

And it is so, a riddle still unanswered, to frack or not to frack, is the question. Sometimes it is not all that hard to understand.  In many cases in the past in the energy and power industry, industry has won in many cases over the ideals of environmental preservation.

Many smaller companies have blossomed as a result of the practice becoming standard in states such as Ohio, Pennsylvania, and North Dakota, are aiding in local and regional job creation. The argument propels beyond just the debate about the production and effects underground but also how it will affect those who work above it.  It’s not just the boom of smaller energy and drilling firms that have found a niche in the new black gold rush, but also all of the supporting businesses that are necessary to support the practice. No one wants to lay claim to say that you have to put an end to job creation in an era when our nation faces some of its highest unemployment numbers in history.

Mr. Pringle offered this, “We need to recognize and execute renewables which are better for the economy, since they have been proven to create jobs and mitigate the climate crisis. Major moves such as the passing of S1041 which cites the ban on waste water disposal from fracking in New Jersey is a step in the right direction.  We are looking forward to its support and passing in the Assembly.”

The Bill, S1041, was passed in the New Jersey state senate, with a 33-5 vote, on May 12, 2014; which prohibits the disposal of fracking waste in the Garden State.  Hopes are high for the identical sister Bill in (Bill # A2108) to pass in the State Assembly.

No matter what side of the debate you are on, there is no denying that the issue of fracking will be a very contentious public debate for decades to come. I will keep my ear to the ground and eyes open to both sides of this public contest for its going to be a long time before it’s over.

Samuel K. Burlum is an investigative reporter who authors articles related to economic development, innovation, green technology, business strategy, and public policy concerns. He is also a career entrepreneur who currently is the CEO/President of Extreme Energy Solutions Inc. a green tech company located in Sparta, New Jersey. Samuel K. Burlum lends his expertise as a consultant to start-up companies, small businesses, and mid-size enterprises, providing advisement in a number of areas including strategic business planning, business development, supply chain management, and systems integration. He is the author of the books, The Race to Protect our Most Important Natural Resource, and Life in the Green Lane- in Pursuit of the American Dream.

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