Gas and land


East Pond, at Gateway National Refuge Area. Photo courtesy of NPS.

U.S. athletes triumphed during the recent Olympiad—loved watching it! I wish I could say the same about our triumphant leadership in other fields, especially when it comes to breaking away from dependence on fossil fuels. Where I live, this issue has acquired new urgency—New York hovers on the brink of allowing shale gas drilling in parts of the state. (A refresher—shale gas drilling/hydrofracking is the high-pressure injection of water, sand, and chemicals in order to extract natural gas from underground shale formations.)

As in neighboring Pennsylvania, the fracking fields will mainly be in the rural countryside; so far, it looks like an area in central NY (Broome, Chemung, Chenango, Steuben and Tioga counties) will host the first permitted wells. The issues are many, and include possible watershed contamination, the problem of wastewater and its treatment, radically increased road use, and how the practice will change the look of the rural countryside. A recent letter to the Buffalo News from a former resident of a “fracking” area of PA described the mise en scene of fracking this way:

Fracking wells are not small; they are huge and can take up an acre or more (look up “Fracking Hollenbeck Gas Site” on youtube).
They are very loud, lit all night, stink and run 24/7. They are everywhere. The ground shakes. Traffic has increased. Water transport trucks are on the roads at all hours. Small-town county roads weren’t made for these constant heavy loads and have quickly worn down, resulting in continuous construction and increased traffic problems.

Judging from the images of fracking fields I’ve seen, this description is not out of bounds. Hard to imagine this being the scene in any part of the Finger Lakes I’ve visited. And this is not even to discuss the deeper environmental impacts.

Does any of this have to do with gardening? Sure. My gardening takes place in a larger context of the parks, reserves, and other natural areas that exist in my area of the world. By creating a garden in my little urban corner, I’m basically trying to emulate, in some small way, the natural beauty I seek in such unspoiled countryside that remains.

Although Western New York does not, as of yet, stand in much risk of being a shale gas source, we all potentially stand to be affected by some sort of fuel development. Recently, I received an email from a community gardener in New York City who is fighting a natural gas pipeline  and accompanying facilities scheduled to be installed under the Gateway National Recreation Area and Jacob Riis Beach. It’s not fracking but it is opening up a national park to industrial use. Like me, Karen Orlando—the gardener who, among many others, opposes this project—is an urbanite who cherishes such wild sites that can exist in densely populated areas. The precedent of allowing pipelines and industrial facilities in New York’s Gateway opens the door to the same in a refuge like Tifft Nature Preserve in Buffalo.

It’s all connected. And as much as I rejoice in our superiority in water polo, I could wish that we showed a similar determination to excel in finding energy alternatives. For the sake of gardens everywhere—in all the different forms a garden can take.

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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regularly radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world,and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at


  1. Elizabeth, I’m completely with you on this issue. The very idea that it would be considered at all here in the Finger Lakes borders on insanity. My two sisters live in Western PA, one of them surrounded by fracking wells, and she says it’s awful. Fracking supporters claim that oh, we’d have cheap energy that would last for at least 20 years, etc., etc. and the gas companies are saying, “Trust us – it’s perfectly safe”. Well, first of all, I don’t trust the gas companies as far as I could throw them. Secondly, anyone who thinks that we’d be given that gas at low cost to ease our burdens by a civic-minded gas company is dreaming. That gas will go to energy-hungry countries like China and India, where it will fetch a pretty penny. They’ll then pack up and leave a ruined landscape and undrinkable water behind them. The biggest industries. here in the Finger Lakes are wine and tourism – that would be ruined forever if fracking is allowed. And a whole 20 years worth of gas – even if it did stay here, what happens when that runs out? It’s ludicrous!

    If you haven’t seen the documentary “Gasland”, you should. Fracking supporters decry it as shameless propaganda, but it’s not. The guy who made it lives down in PA near the NY border, and he was approached about leasing his land. He decided that before he signed on the dotted line, he’d like to know more about it. “Gasland” is the result of his research, and it’s frightening.

  2. I live in rural, central PA and I totally agree with you about this. You do not want this in your state. That video was a real eye-opener. I had no idea it was such a big, noisy operation. Although I am not really effected by the gas fracking here, it isn’t far from where I live and it’s very controversial. Our state governor literally sold us out to the gas companies and I don’t trust their assurances that this won’t result in environmental problems.

  3. Sometimes it seems we will not be satisfied until every quiet, beautiful place has been wrecked. I get the sense these fracking fields are vulnerable because they are not seen by many urban people. There will be no fracking in the Hamptons. To stop fracking, urbanites and suburbanites will have to convince policy makers that they care deeply about the countryside.

  4. Until we are ready to take out our gas/oil furnaces or abandon the northern areas of the country for residences then we will simply have to put up with some form of hydrocarbon production and distribution. Until our scientists come up with a better way to generate heat then we are stuck with this mode of living. Complaining about production/distribution methods will do nothing. Just think what it would be like in Buffalo this winter without a viable form of energy…

  5. Hey Mark, that gas powers electrical plants that make the air condidioning so people can live in the southern states. Where I live we are just on the brink of the big drilling to begin. Since natural gas price is down, things have slowed a little. Nothing new here, we were stripped mined for coal. Ohio had the strongest coal mining reclamation rules in the country, the feds fashioned theris after ours. Don’t think that is going to be the case with the fracking. Too many jobs being created and an R governor.

  6. Every day I wake up and understand the world less. How can we allow a process that threatens our water supply? We can live without gas – especially if we think about the power of the sun – but we cannot live without clean water!

  7. I think the real reason that this country refuses to get serious about alternative energy is that, especially in the case of wind or solar, no one can own the wind. No one can own the sun. Therefore, no one will be able to become a gazillionaire by price-gouging consumers out of existence. The best they can do is sell or rent us the necessary equipment, and by a utility company’s reckoning, that’s only chump change. Nobody will do anything in America unless they can make an ungodly profit on it.

  8. Just stumbled on your blog/newsletter and I love it!! I wish I had the energy to write about subjects like this. I think you are right on about everything and I especially agree with your above comment about why solar/wind has not been developed. I recall the gas lines of the early and mid ’70’s. It was as plain as day what needed to happen back then. It didn’t and the reason was $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$

  9. I’m a resident of Northeast PA where the gas industry is very actively drilling right now. I’m not going to go into the pros and cons or even my feelings about the process because truthfully I’m conflicted and a little overwhelmed by the impact (positive and negative).

    What I would like to do is clear something up right away. While it’s true that an active drilling site is very large and noisy, once the well is complete it is reduced to about the size of a dog kennel and the above ground equipment is about the size of a large tractor. There are pipeline switching stations here and there and they are similar to electrical substations.

    And you know what I really notice? A thriving small business community and increased jobs in an otherwise high-poverty depressed area. Life is about compromises.

  10. MiSchelle, some of your points are well-taken, but in general, I feel that some things come at too high a cost – and compromising should extend to the gas companies as well. So far, we the people are the only ones doing any compromising. The corporations and our local governments are forcing fracking down our throats, whether we want it or not.

  11. Susan, NO ONE in this county was forced to sign a well contract. Every land owner was contacted and given a CHOICE to sign (or not). We chose against, by the way, as did many of our friends.

  12. MiSchelle, unfortunately I wasn’t clear in what I meant to say. My problem with local governments is what it always is – instead of earning their money by crafting laws that control things like drilling and development (to give another example), they do nothing. Then, when someone wants to do something major, they simply whine that if they don’t go along with what that entity wants to do, they might get sued! And so we get things that the majority of citizens don’t really want. That isn’t to say, of course, that the gas companies or developers don’t try to bring pressure to bear on individual land owners. But you are correct in saying that it’s generally a matter of free choice for the leasing. My point is that signing that contract may have consequences that reach far beyond the owner’s property – and that could be a very bad thing. However, I appreciate you pointing out my lack of clarity, and giving me a chance to explain further.

  13. Fracking is impacting parts of Wisconsin due to the state having the right type sand required for the fracking process. This has been creating an uproar to the neighbors that would be affected by the noise from the trucks hauling all hours of the day.

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