Hydrofracking talk in Albany

Capital District votes to oust drilling

At the Albany Common Council meeting on Monday, October 17, two ordinances were passed prohibiting hydrofracking in Albany County and the disposal of waste from hydrofracking in the county’s landfills. Although RPI is in Rensselaer County, hydrofracking is also a statewide issue; the state of New York will be deciding whether to allow hydrofracking in the state or not at the end of this year. A moratorium was passed prohibiting hydrofracking until that is decided upon.

Hydrofracking is a method of extracting natural gas. The shale surrounding the natural gas is hydraulically fractured, freeing the gas. Many of the chemicals in the fracking fluid remain undisclosed, and those that are known cause some concern among scientists and health experts familiar with the subject. The Independent Oil and Gas Association of New York State, however, has assured the people that hydrofracking is perfectly safe and does not contaminate water or anything else.

RPI students may be interested in issues like fracking, since use of this technique could potentially contaminate the water supply. RPI student Alice Theibault ’14 explained, “I feel as though hydrofracking is not a sustainable way of getting energy and shouldn’t be explored.” However, there are both possible benefits and consequences to hydrofracking.

Some people believe that hydrofracking will create jobs as well as bring economic benefits to municipal districts that allow fracking. Others argue that money will be lost through destruction of the water supply. One person, during the public comment period before the council voted, said, “Business comes from tourism … we’ll see a drop in tourism [if fracking is allowed].” Also, the jobs created by allowing hydrofracking may not necessarily go to locals, since they might not have the expertise needed.

Shobhan Burke, the cofounder of Capital District Against Fracking and the codirector of Water Equality, explained what the council meeting was about during a rally held before the meeting. Two ordinances were being voted upon by members of the council. All the council members passed the first one, Ordinance 42.62.11, which bans “natural gas exploration and productions wastes” from ending up in the landfills. After much discussion, the second one, Ordinance 43.62.11, which does not allow natural gas extraction as a land use in the county of Albany, also passed. Council members argued whether they had jurisdiction to be able to ban fracking and whether it was a useful bill at all; perhaps it was just “symbolic.” Some council members stated that currently there is no natural gas underneath Albany County and the population is possibly too dense for the fracking techniques in use today. Other council members pointed out that techniques for extracting natural gas could change; “We have to look to the future,” one of them suggested. Another issue that was discussed among the council was that Albany County could possibly be sued for not allowing fracking. Despite all the arguments, the ordinance was passed. The governor is expected to veto it, however.

According to Professor of Science and Technology Studies Abby Kinchy, local bans are an “immediate way for communities to gain control over gas fracking.” Kinchy also said that she believes that it is a good sign that local governments are “trying to gain control over their environmental resources.” Those against hydrofracking hope that the state will prohibit it outright, making local laws and ordinances unnecessary, but local governments taking a stand for environmental issue is a good thing in their eyes.