For New York City residents, fracking may seem like a distant problem — a hazard facing those living in regions where there are more trees than people. But fracking is a risk to anyone who drinks water, eats food and breathes air — that is, all 8 million who reside in our city’s five boroughs.
Fracking is a highly dangerous method of drilling for natural gas that involves blasting a toxic soup of chemicals, sand and water underground to release gas that is trapped in shale rock formations. The toxic chemicals that remain underground, and those brought back to the surface in the wastewater, along with hazardous air emissions, are a threat to public health and the environment. Further, the release of methane, which occurs during this process, accelerates climate change.
But while there is growing awareness of fracking’s threats to our water, its potentially disastrous impacts on food and agriculture are less recognized. If Governor Andrew Cuomo allows fracking in New York, it could greatly damage our state’s vibrant agricultural sector, while risking the safety of our food.
New York is an agricultural state — as difficult as that is to believe for concrete jungle inhabitants — where one-quarter of land area is used for farming. The production of apples, dairy products, wine and other fruits and vegetables provide jobs to thousands of New Yorkers.
Of course, food is a crucial part of our city’s identity, with famous chefs, bagels, pizza and cuisines from every corner of the planet. A growing movement of Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs), community gardens and Slow Food activists is fueling both the demand and availability of locally produced, healthy food.
Fracking puts all of this at risk, a point that producers, sellers and advocates of healthy food have recognized. Chefs for the Marcellus, the Northeast Organic Farming Association: New York, Slow Food NYC, the Brooklyn Food Coalition, the Park Slope Food Co-op and Food & Water Watch are among those calling on Gov. Cuomo and the state legislature to ban fracking in New York to help protect the state’s farms and food.
As Dr. Sandra Steingraber, an environmental studies professor at Ithaca College, explains, “Upstate New York is a national hot spot for organic agriculture. Cows, wheat fields, vineyards, maple syrup and apple orchards, all of this is part of our public health system. They’re part of a healthy chain. And each of these crops requires clean water. They’re all affected badly by exposure to air pollution.”
Steingraber is the chair of New Yorkers Against Fracking, a coalition that is working to ban fracking in New York. A core element of the coalition’s strategy is to engage diverse constituencies in the fight against fracking, and to bring that influence to bear on Gov. Cuomo and the state legislature. To that end, the coalition is reaching out — from Long Island to Buffalo and everywhere in between — to farmers and other food producers, faith leaders, business owners, health professionals and others who would be impacted by fracking’s threats to our health, economy and communities.
Eric Weltman is senior organizer for Food & Water Watch in New York. To learn more about anti-fracking
efforts, visit FoodandWaterWatch.org. and