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Fracking Worries Some Farmers, Sustains Others

As controversial drilling method gains momentum, it stirs up a variety of responses

By Jazmine Woodberry

The jury is still out on fracking’s impact on water, both in groundwater aquifers and oceanic fishing yards, and suppliers’ feelings about this heated topic are not escaping the thoughts of retailers and restaurateurs.

Hydraulic fracturing, more popularly known as fracking, is a drilling process that has been used commercially for nearly 65 years. Using a highly pressurized liquid mixed with water, sand and chemicals, rock fracturing is induced thousands of feet below ground. Sand is employed to hold open fractures in order to extract oil and gas from the well. However, there are many holes in popular understanding of fracking, the most dramatic of which surround public health and fracking’s effect on food supplies.

Across the United States, critics of fracking have pointed to reports of animals dependent on the groundwater supply falling ill and being affected (their meat possibly tainted) by chemicals found deep in the earth that are introduced in the fracking process. These chemicals include arsenic, barium, bromide, chloride, sodium, radon and uranium. Famed chefs and restaurateurs Mario Batali and Bill Telepan point to this as one of the main reasons they are against fracking in the state of New York.

“New York’s agricultural economy is strong and vast, and is an important economic driver for our state. We have the second-largest number of farmers’ markets in the country and the fourth-highest number of organic farms—and [we] are the third-largest dairy-producing state. New York is second only to California in its wine production,” Batali and Telepan wrote in an op-ed in the New York Daily News. “As more states pump natural gas from beneath the earth, the negative effects fracking poses to agriculture are more clearly emerging—and we believe they would be devastating for New York.”

Batali and Telepan continued: “Such destructive forces could not only harm our state’s agricultural businesses and tourism, but would also affect consumer confidence in our local food sources, truly creating a negative impact across the state—from upstate farms to the restaurants across the state that serve their food.”

For many fracking critics, the issue of top concern is that of the long term impacts of fracking on one precious and already scarce natural resource: water. “Everyone in the food business…is in the water business,” said The Food Journal’s Phil Lempert. Fracking is not considered in the regulations set forth by the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Clear Water Act, the CLEAR Act and Environmental Protection Agency regulations. However, the EPA is currently studying the affects of fracking on water.

Not everyone involved in New York agriculture is critical of fracking’s impact on the state. New York-based organic dairy farmer Neil Vitale feels that these drilling operations could in fact be a good thing for his industry. “If I thought it was going to hurt the environment, hurt our animals, hurt our farms, I wouldn’t want it,” Vitale said. “It doesn’t.”

Vitale points out that natural gas powers everything from tractors on farms to ovens in gourmet restaurants and that regulatory agencies have seen the fracking business happen for decades, never finding a reason to step in and stop it. Vitale feels that these are strong reasons to continue fracking. “That kind of activity has gone on all around [my farm] and there’s been no problem,” Vitale said.

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