Saturday, November 21, 2009

Farmers speak out about natural gas drilling via hydrofracking

With just a few weeks left for public comment on the NYS environmental impact statement for "horizontal drilling and high-volume hydraulic fracturing," some farmers are speaking out against the method.  The public comment period ends December 31. 

The Tompkins County Council of Governments (TCCOG) held a public hearing on natural gas last Thursday, drawing a crowd of about 1,000 people and approximately 100 commenters. During the 4-hour hearing, only 1 comment supported natural gas drilling.  The rest of the comments were either critical of the draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (dSGEIS) or hydrofracking itself.  Currently at least 37% of land in Tompkins County is leased to gas companies, and it is owned by about 6% of the adult population.

Several comments highlighted farming and agriculture concerns:

*One Ulysses resident mentioned that their neighbors grow produce and sell popular pickles and sauerkraut at the Trumansburg Farmers Market.  "Do you want glow in the dark pickles?" he asked, pointing out that drilling waste has tested positive for radioactivity.

*A forester from the region said the regulations were a "total affront" to the wine industry, dairy industry, and all agriculture in New York, and jeopardized rural lifestyle as a whole.

*A landowner in Hector noted that the dSGEIS says that well water should be residents last resort -- ignoring the fact that many rural residents have no other choice and want to be self-sufficient.

*"If we get benzene in our water, what will happen to my maple syrup?" asked a producer, adding that farmers are what made NYS great.

*A resident of Caroline said he can't even "pee in or cross" his own creek with a tractor, but gas companies have no such restrictions.

*One commenter, Peasant Dreams farmer Katie Quinn-Jacobs, shared her full comments about gas drilling and food with IFW:*

"Collectively, hundreds, if not thousands, of area residents have built a strong and growing foodshed.  Not just farmers, but local educators, food advocates, restaurants and retailers have dedicated their life's work to developing our region's foodshed.

"This collective effort is not just a good idea, but a way to feed ourselves.  It is also a sustainable local economy that is dependent upon the health and well-being of our water, air and soils.

"Untold hours of time and many dollars have been spent in this enterprise.  Yet, as far as I can tell, the impact of hydraulic fracturing on the  foodshed is absent from the DEC's SGEIS document.

"It is unimaginable that this thriving segment of our local economy, which operates in concert with our environment, might be a casualty of the international energy markets without being given so much as an acknowledgment from the agency charged with examining how land  is used in our region and protecting our environment.

"I urge DEC to include the impact of hydraulic fracturing on the area foodshed.  Thank you."

The concerns of farmers are not unfounded.  Well spacing is currently at a proposed one per 40 acres (previously it was one per 600+ acres).  Hydrofracking requires about 3 million gallons of water per well, mixed with undisclosed* chemicals and sand.  Sources of water, disposal of fracking fluid, and potential for water contamination are some of the major concerns brought by residents.  Many people fear that ongoing water testing --and proving the source of contamination-- will be an unfair and costly burden for landowners and small municipalities.

Events in other states point to problems with fracking:

*In what appeared to be acute poisoning, 16 cattle died on a Louisiana farm last April after drinking fluid next to a natural gas drilling rig.

*In Colorado, benzene, toluene, ethylbenzine and xylene have been found in drinking water from wells, there were 206 spills suspected in 48 cases of water contamination, and methane, the most common contaminant found in water wells, blew a pump house off its foundation, forced the evacuation of homes and turned tap water flammable. 

*Residents in PA are suing a gas company for contaminating drinking water, which led to health problems.

*In Wyoming, the EPA found elevated levels of carcinogenic chemicals  in 11 private water supplies and preliminary results found that fracking activities are a possible source.

*In April 2006, a gas well explosion in Texas killed a well service contractor. Five hundred people in the City of Forest Hill were evacuated. 

*In the following video, a farmer in Pennsylvania describes the contamination of his pond and loss of vegetation and wildlife.

*If you are a farmer, landowner, or lease-holder in New York State and want to contribute your experiences or opinions to Ithaca's Food Web, please comment below or email

**At least one company, Chesapeake Energy, has publicly listed the chemicals the company uses.


  1. Thanks so much for posting an a clear and well written synopsis of where we stand locally with this situation. We are doing our best to stay active and participate in any way we can to avoid any gas drilling here.

    It would be a travesty. I hope as a collective we can see the forest from the trees and not do anything that will be long regretted.

  2. Thanks, Flowers. You probably watched the hearing too -- it was so striking to hear all the negative comments about the document and hydrofracking in general.