Last Tuesday, a state judge struck down the two-year moratorium on natural gas drilling that Binghamton adopted in December. Binghamton’s mayor, Matthew Ryan, has expressed his desire to pass another ban on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. We sincerely hope he succeeds in this endeavor, though it may be complicated by the presence of a new city council, more conservative than the one that helped pass the initial ban.
Controversy has surrounded fracking locally since energy companies began expressing interest in using the method to extract natural gas from land in the Southern Tier. The process releases natural gas from subsurface rock formations by drilling into the ground and pumping water and chemicals down to fracture the bedrock. While not yet substantiated, there is significant evidence that fracking may contaminate water sources around drilling sites.
It’s fair to ask for more time to study the effects of fracking, and conversely unfair to condemn the practice until more is understood about its effects, both short and long-term. The financial benefits of hydraulic fracturing to both the county and the state are numerous, and could be a potential panacea to the long-foundering economy of the area.
Drilling is inherently dangerous. Whether through human error or mechanical failure, things go wrong. And when they go wrong near substances as volatile and toxic as oil and natural gas, the direct and indirect effects can be disastrous.
And energy companies are notorious for downplaying the risks of their endeavors while exaggerating their benefits. Think the Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010, a tragedy that was caused and whose cleanup was exacerbated by the location of the drilling rig — though the companies involved promised the risks were next to none.
The dangers of drilling are compounded by the cocktail of chemicals that fracking employs to extract resources from the ground. We don’t know that the chemicals necessarily contaminate water supplies — but we also don’t know that they do not. New York state has not yet come to a conclusion on the matter.
But the natural gas reserves that energy companies hope to take advantage of in Binghamton aren’t going anywhere. If one company isn’t getting the reserves, none of them are.
We know this much: It’s a lot easier to begin drilling then it is to decontaminate water and reverese any other potential negative consequences. If companies need to wait a while before they begin drilling, so be it. Given the national focus on fracking and the consequent flurry of studies on the practice, it can’t be long before there is a definitive answer on whether or not it is dangerous.
Everyone wants to see this county and our city thrive. If fracking can be a step to rebuilding the area’s economy, so be it. But that should not come at the expense of residents’ health. It is an avaricious and short-sighted move to push ahead with drilling until we have more evidence averring or disproving its safety.
We commend Mayor Ryan for his long, hard-fought fight against hydraulic fracturing and we hope that the new city council sees that for all the benefits drilling may bring, lifting the ban risks lining the city’s pockets at the expense of the residents’ health.