In New York’s Southern Tier, the very heart of the Marcellus Shale region where natural gas lies locked in dense rock, new poll results show a strong majority of people are worried about the health and environmental impacts of the fracking process that’s proposed for unlocking it. Fully 60 percent of those polled think fracking fouls groundwater. And 51 percent said it's too dangerous because it could release methane gas. Those are some of our worries too.
The poll does show some of the results of the fracking industry’s often repeated but unsubstantiated claims of future economic benefit—with 55 percent of those polled saying they believe it holds economic promise. But taken as a whole, the poll shows tangible environmental fears trumping wispy economic dreams. And this from the people in the heart of would-be gas country.
That’s exactly what we have been saying all along: Until all the scientific evidence is in, the only safe way to proceed in New York is to follow the precautionary principle and block permitting for fracking.
Critically, though, it’s time for the industry – and pollsters – to stop putting the fracking issue in the hackneyed “jobs versus the environment” frame. First and foremost, no one should be asked to trade off a clean, healthy environment for economic development. Yes, parts of upstate New York are desperate for new development and jobs. But we can and should be presenting them with long-term economically and environmentally sustainable options—not selling them a dangerous snake oil cure.
Things like expanded renewable energy generation, new energy efficiency retrofits, and growth of our local foodshed are all options that have real promise, and that would provide the dual benefits of employment and a healthier environment. While the oil and gas industry laid off 10,000 workers during the recession, renewable energy companies added a half million jobs between 2003 and 2010. In fact, the renewable energy industry has grown at twice the rate of the overall economy, and green jobs employ 2.7 million Americans – that's more than the entire fossil fuels industry combined.
Moreover, the purported economic benefits industry keeps touting just aren’t what they are cracked up to be. Reported fracking job projections have repeatedly come under attack for being inflated and based on poor methodology. On top of that, a significant portion of the “new” jobs industry claims will be created are actually highly specialized positions that they fill with out-of-state workers – and these positions get the highest pay. Those that are created locally are subject to the boom-and-bust cycle that is inherent in oil and gas development. Already, parts of Pennsylvania are seeing this firsthand as some companies shut down operations or move to other kinds of resource extraction due to low gas prices.
Fortunately, poll after poll shows that – despite the continued false choice that industry keeps trying to sell us – New Yorkers understand that our health and natural resources aren’t worth throwing away on the word of the oil and gas industry. Instead, we want new jobs and state revenue to come from investments in clean energy that create economic and environmental benefits that can be sustained over the long haul.