Fracking beneath the farm

Activists protest fracking outside Gov. Cuomo's office, New York

Photo by CREDO.fracking via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license (CC BY 2.0)

Earlier this year, scores of New York chefs urged Governor Andrew Cuomo to oppose hydraulic fracturing (AKA “fracking”), a controversial technique for releasing natural gas from underground deposits, like the Marcellus Shale Formation that spans parts of New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia.

More recently, two of the Chefs for the Marcellus penned an editorial featured in The New York Daily News. In it, Mario Batali and Bill Telepan write that

New York’s agricultural economy is strong and vast, and is an important economic driver for our state. We have the second-largest number of farmers’ markets in the country and the fourth-highest number of organic farms — and are the third-largest dairy-producing state. New York is second only to California in its wine production.

As more states pump natural gas from beneath the earth, the negative effects fracking poses to agriculture are more clearly emerging — and we believe they would be devastating for New York.

Across the country, water contamination from toxic fracking chemicals has sickened and killed livestock. Accidents have ruined cropland. Gas companies are not required to disclose the chemicals used in fracking. And there are no conventional procedures for isolating livestock exposed to chemicals from the food chain.

Find their full piece here.

The Marcellus isn’t the only area of the country where this issue is getting attention. Some of California’s fertile agricultural land sits above the so-called Monterey Shale. As Norimitsu Onishi reported recently in The New York Times,

By all accounts, oilmen and farmers — often shortened to “oil and ag” here — have coexisted peacefully for decades in this conservative, business friendly part of California about 110 miles northwest of Los Angeles. But oil’s push into new areas and its increasing reliance on fracking, which uses vast amounts of water and chemicals that critics say could contaminate groundwater, are testing that relationship and complicating the continuing debate over how to regulate fracking in California.

“As farmers, we’re very aware of the first 1,000 feet beneath us and the groundwater that is our lifeblood,” said Tom Frantz, a fourth-generation farmer here and a retired high school math teacher who now cultivates almonds. “We look to the future, and we really do want to keep our land and soil and water in good condition.”

Check out Onishi’s article here. For more, head to this piece by Lauren Somner for KQED Public Radio.

Finally, for more on fracking and our food supply, head to my earlier post on Elizabeth Royte’s great cover story several months ago in The Nation.

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