New York farmers appear to be caught in the crossfire of an intense debate over the future of fracking in the state, with the agricultural community split down the middle regarding whether to view the process as a welcome source of cash or as irreparably destructive to agricultural production.
Hydraulic fracturing, better known as fracking, is a technique used to extract oil or natural gas from underground rock formations. The process involves injecting tens of thousands of gallons of water into bedrock to gain access to fossil fuel deposits that would otherwise remain buried. Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York, all sitting atop vast Marcellus Shale deposits, have become the epicenters of the fracking debate.
Some farmers see fracking as a way to make some badly needed cash, particularly debt ridden New York dairy farmers. Selling the mineral rights on farmland overlooking Shale deposits can be remarkably lucrative, enabling farmers to pay off debts, buy new machinery, and reinvest in their land.
Other farmers, however, see fracking as fundamentally destructive and a critical threat to farmland. Pennsylvania dairy farmers Carol French and Carolyn Knapp, for example, are involved in cross-country tours where they speak to farmers about their experiences with fracking. Selling the mineral rights to their land, they reported, led to widespread pollution of water wells, the destruction of valuable timber during the construction of roads, the erection of pipelines that made valuable cropland inaccessible, and wide scale industrialization that led to years of lost agricultural production.
Other states, like Colorado, have also reported a downside to fracking, mainly to loss of valuable water rights. This year, for the first time in Colorado history, gas companies participated in water auctions, easily outbidding local farmers for rights to excess water from major Colorado rivers. In arid states like Colorado, the loss of this water (not only in an immediate sense, but in its long-term removal from the water cycle) can be devastating.
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Written by: Justin Ellison / Farm Plus Staff Writer