Journal article Open Access
Eaton, Timothy T.
¬¬¬¬¬Complex scientific and non-scientific considerations are central to the pending decisions about "hydrofracking" or high volume hydraulic fracturing (HVHF) to exploit unconventional natural gas resources worldwide. While incipient plans are being made internationally for major shale reservoirs, production and technology are most advanced in the United States, particularly in Texas and Pennsylvania, with a pending decision in New York state whether to proceed. In contrast to the narrow scientific and technical debate to date, focused on either greenhouse gas emissions or water resources, toxicology and land use in the watersheds that supply drinking water to New York City (NYC), I review the scientific and technical aspects in combination with global climate change and other critical issues in energy tradeoffs, economics and political regulation to evaluate the major liabilities and benefits. Although potential benefits of Marcellus natural gas exploitation are large for transition to a clean energy economy, at present the regulatory framework in New York State is inadequate to prevent potentially irreversible threats to the local environment and New York City water supply. Major investments in state and federal regulatory enforcement will be required to avoid these environmental consequences, and a ban on drilling within the NYC water supply watersheds is appropriate, even if more highly regulated Marcellus gas production is eventually permitted elsewhere in New York state.