A welcome ban

Drilling image courtesy of Shutterstock
Drilling image courtesy of Shutterstock

Large-scale environmental issues are not always considered appropriate subject matter in the garden blogging world, but I’ve never been able to see the reason.  Going from discussing the use of chemical solutions in a domestic landscape to the use of chemical solutions injected at high pressure in a rural landscape does not seem an illogical progression to me. What we do to the land—at any level and in any amount—matters. Recently, the trend in gardening has been to do as little as possible.

Like many New Yorkers (not all, for sure), I was pleased and relieved when Governor Andrew Cuomo made a six-year moratorium on fracking into a permanent ban last Wednesday, citing the long-awaited results of the state’s public health review.

The report is lengthy, but, in a nutshell, the concerns include respiratory problems, drinking water issues, seismic activity, soil contamination, general noise and disturbance, and general health complaints.  There is much that is not conclusive, but that’s just it. There are too many unknowns and not enough comprehensive studies of the long-term effects of injecting water and chemicals into the Marcellus shale for natural gas extraction. While many other states seem more than happy to accept the unknowns and the risks, I’m glad that New York is not. And it’s already been banned at the local level in 63% of the communities where it’s possible.

I’ve seen plenty of images of what fracking looks like in a rural community, and I’ve read as many stories of fracking gone awry. The most recent incident caused an evacuation near Columbus, Ohio after a well exploded—residents still don’t know if they can come home for Christmas.

There are farmers who want the opportunity to lease to drilling operations. There are also farmers, winemakers, microbreweries, distilleries, and other small producers who rely on clean water. I visited winemakers in the Finger Lakes who were dreading the effect fracking could have on their scenery as much as their groundwater.

They, and many others, have extra reasons to raise their glasses this week.

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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 regular 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 yahoo.com


  1. I live in ohio where our governor is a “Drill, baby drill” type of guy. Local government regulations mean nothing.
    New York state’s ban on fracking really really pisses me off. New York is perfectly happy to benefit from the cheap natural gas they are getting from ohio and pa. I read an article how NYC buildings have converted from fuel oil to natural gas and their air is is much cleaner and they are saving so much money).
    So New York benefits at the expense of their rural neighbors to the west. But who cares about a bunch of Appalachian hill jacks as long as we get clean natural gas in New York? And don’t bring up acid rain because ohio’s coalfired power plants are closing or adding $$$ improvements. But we still get all the east coast garbage. Oh wait, I’m going off on a rant tangent, I just think if you don’t allow drilling you shouldn’t get any of the fracking products. Grrrr.

    • You make great points, but mine remains the same. We don’t know enough about the dangers of this method to allow it.

      What we do know isn’t great.

    • Tibs, if I knew 15 years ago what I know now, I wouldn’t have bought this house I love, along with its natural gas heating, water tank, and decorative fireplace. I’m looking for a local outfit that will replace my central heating with an electric one; the water heater is easy. The fireplace, well, if I can get the gas company to just shut of my line altogether, then I can probably replace it with one of those electric fake fires. Fossil fuels are killing us all, even if we export the source to China – or the American West.

      Wind and solar create local jobs – but they’re not very good at contributing to politicians’ campaigns.

      • Electricity is made in either coal or natural gas fired plants. Are you planning to go off grid? If not, don’t see any advantage to going all electric.

  2. Fine. So let’s outlaw fracking nationally. Then watch the price of energy triple while we send all our dollars to oppressive governments in oil producing countries that don’t give a rip about the environment. And while we are at it, watch the use of coal go back up because it is a lot cheaper to use than imported oil, or now less-available natural gas.
    But don’t add wind power because the turbines kill birds and don’t look so nice on the horizon. And don’t even think about nuclear power. Then there’s always solar, though have you seen the list of toxins used in those things….

    • Greg,

      You make a lot of good points.

      Yet, I don’t necessarily mind giving my “dollars to oppressive governments in oil producing countries that don’t give a rip about the environment.” In the lifeless desert of Saudi Arabia you can put your thumb in the sand and oil will come up. Not so here. It’s expensive and difficult. You see this now as wells are starting to close here because it only costs $10 a barrel to get oil out of the ground in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia is trying to kill U.S fracking by not lowering their output. It is starting to work. Yet, as shale oil extraction technology improves and becomes more efficient, the break-even point will decline further, making it that much harder for OPEC to wage economic war.

      Now, as a gardener, I dislike alternative fuels. Corn has decimated open space. Agricultural runoff is destroying our streams. For me, studying both sides of the hydraulic fracturing debate, I have to say that I hate corn as fuel more. Fracking is far safer than it was 30 years ago and is becoming safer as new technology comes on board.

      ( Green fracking: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/energy/2014/03/140319-5-technologies-for-greener-fracking/ )
      (Unfortunately, we are buying trucks and SUVs like they are milk and toilet paper in hurricane season. The market share of “light trucks” grew steadily from 9.7% in 1979 to 47% in 2001 and remained in 50% numbers up to 2011. Today, FINALLY, light trucks have new CAFE standards and thanks to Obama, heavy-duty trucks which represent only 4 percent of the vehicles on the road, yet account for 20 percent of carbon dioxide emissions from the transportation sector and consume 20 percent of on-road fuel will have CAFE standards in three years. You know it’s actually possible to get off mideast oil if people drove smaller fuel efficient cars? The on-road vehicle fleets in the United States and Canada have the lowest overall average fuel economy among first world nations: 25 miles per US gallon in the United States, versus 45 miles per US gallon in the European Union and higher in Japan . We hate the Saudis and drive Lincoln Navigators to go to the grocery store. Go figure.)

  3. Everything on this planet, including the gas and oil we are all so fond of, is fueled by the sun.
    Why are we still stuck on this issue? A giant battery literally glides across the sky over our heads every damn day.
    Fracking seems like a desperate act. Let’s pass it by and look up for a while.
    Gardeners may not possess all the answers, certainly, to these kind of issues but we spend a lot of time listening to the planet and our ears are keen. Maybe we are humanity’s canaries in the coal mine.

  4. As a resident of the Finger Lakes, I was delighted by the fracking ban. Speaking for this area of NYS, if we lose the water, there goes the wineries, there goes tourism (the only industry this part of NY has), there goes agriculture. We would end up with nothing. And anyone who thinks that fracking the daylights out of the Marcellus Shale (and other areas of the country) would solve all our energy problems needs to ask themselves why so many of these pipelines terminate in port cities. Much of this energy is going to be sold to places like China and India, who will pay a pretty penny for it. They’ll then gouge us for the remaining quantity. And as far as all the jobs that fracking creates – well, guess what/ They’re temporary jobs. Once the fracking operation is over, there go the jobs. It’s something where the risks far outweigh the benefits, and it’s nice that an elected official finally remembered who he’s supposed to be working for!

  5. That is great news! You know what they say: every environmental win is tentative but each loss can be permanent to every living thing on the planet. Congratulations. I do not know why environmental issues are so often avoided by gardening blogs. I would have thought they would have much in common.

    To Greg: if the price of energy triples it is merely a reflection of its true cost. Maybe then people will learn to conserve, show some restraint and be less wasteful. The planet needs people to stop biggering and biggering all the time.

    Maybe our school system failed us that we somehow as a society missed the lessons from The Lorax and the laws of thermodynamics? How else can we explain our fossil fuel madness.

  6. We now pause for this Public Service Announcement…..Can we shed the ridiculous argument about wind turbines being worse for birds than all the habitat destruction of coal mining, or the poisoning of air and water and climate disruption caused by coal and natural gas? On a per kilowatt basis (you know, an apples to apples basis) fossil fuels kill many, many times as many birds as wind or solar. Due to Actual Facts, we are all now hereby empowered to tell anyone to “just shut up” when they raise their Unfounded Opinion that “wind turbines are worse because they kill so many birds.” By any rational measure wind and solar cause so much less environmental damage than coal or natural gas it’s a no-brainer on that score……We now return you to our regularly scheduled Rant.

    • Hmm, the killing of a hundred thousand and more hawks, eagles, condors, other birds and bats is well documented. I wonder where you got the ‘information’ on fossil fuels killing more. It doesn’t seem logical or remotely true. Maybe you have a legitimate source?

  7. I have never been able to figure out how such operations as fracking are seen as econimically viable, while spending money into solar power is too expensive. Even in New England there is a lot of sun that would cut down substantially on other types of energy – until it is so efficient we don’t need oil or coal at all.

    • Solar is the world’s most expensive municipal power; it is also very unreliable requiring back-up power from less efficient fossil fuel plants that have to ramp power up and down quickly (about 15% less efficient). This means they use as much or more fossil fuel, they pollute as much or more they also (on a system basis) produce as much or more carbon dioxide.

      They last only 20 years and they require utilities to be forced to buy the power at several times that on conventional power. The only use for wind or solar is to provide slush funds for politicians to dole out to supporters and to get kickbacks to their campaign funds. It is unaffordable and unworkable for taxpayers and ratepayers.

  8. I live on Franklin mountain near Oneonta, NY, and was ecstatic to hear Cuomo’s announcement of the “permanent” ban on fracking in NY state. Unfortunately the DEC allows PA’s toxic fracking wastewater to be sprayed on NY roads and to be shipped to NY municipal wastewater treatment plants. And the un-Constitutional pipeline was just approved by FERC, to transport PA fracked gas to the ports of Boston and NYC, supposedly for northeastern households. Cabot and Williams, the companies behind the pipeline, have told their own shareholders that this will enable them to sell the gas overseas, but somehow FERC just gave them eminent domain powers to blaze a 50-foot wide path through the woods and fields of NY. It will come within a mile of our beautiful farm, with its heavy trucks, noise and dangers. So we would be most happy if Ohio and PA kept their frigging fracked gas and wastes all to themselves, thank you very much.

  9. Drinking water aquifers exist at about 500 feet deep. Fracking is done at depths of 6,000 to 10,000 feet well below any drinkable water. At these depths the 98% water fracking fluids are far milder than the toxic water that exists at these depths.

    I say fine, let NY forgo the revenues from developing their energy resources. They can always add some taxes to make up for the revenue they are passing up and there are many other states that have ample supplies to make up for New York where people such as yourself, who are afraid of something they know little about, gobble up energy and cling to myths and far-left propaganda. .

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