I. Jewish Values
Jewish tradition emphasizes that human dominion over nature does not provide a license to abuse the environment; rather we are called to "till and tend" God's Earth (Genesis 2:15), and reminded in the Midrash that if we fail to do so, there will be nobody after us to repair our damage (Ecclesiastes Rabbah 7:13). The Talmudic law of Bal Tashchit, do not destroy, derived from Deuteronomy 20:19 paired with our "till and tend" mandate, emphasizes the need to act as guardians of our environment, ensuring a safe world for ourselves and a clean and productive future for our children.
For more than forty years, the Reform Movement has advocated in defense of our environment and all those species -- from the smallest creatures to humankind itself -- that rely on our shared natural habitat and resources for survival. It is our sacred duty as Jews to acknowledge our God-given responsibility to take action to alleviate environmental degradation and its negative impacts.
II. Hydraulic Fracturing
In 2007, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimated that the U.S. possesses 1,533 trillion cubic feet of natural gas that could be recovered using current technology, enough to supply the nation's needs at the 2008 rate of consumption for over 65 years. Many have looked at natural gas as a cleaner source of energy because it produces 43 percent less carbon emissions than coal for each unit of energy delivered, and 30 percent less emissions than oil.
Currently, ninety percent of new natural gas wells utilize hydraulic fracturing or fracking , a means of natural gas extraction employed in deep natural gas well drilling. Once a well is drilled, millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals are injected, under high pressure, into a well. The pressure fractures the shale and props open fissures that enable natural gas to flow more freely out of the well. On average, a well requires two million to four million gallons of water, as well as a variety of chemicals -- some of them toxic -- to reduce friction, prevent corrosion, and kill bacteria in the well.
The newest technique to reach previously unavailable areas is horizontal hydraulic fracturing in which, after a well has been used vertically, a new drill is sent horizontally out from the bottom with a mixture of chemicals and water. The water then becomes contaminated and must be cleaned and safely disposed. Contaminated water is held in above ground pools. Substandard construction and an abundance of rain have resulted in damage to the holding pools and flooding of local areas with contaminants. The water and chemical mix can seep into the local ecosystem and eventually into the local water sources.
New York State relies upon natural gas for 24% of its energy needs. Currently this gas comes from Canadian and Gulf Coast sources. The Marcellus and Utica shale formations, which underlay portions of New York, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, serve as a vast reservoir of natural gas.
Estimates vary on the precise size of the Marcellus Shale, which stretches from West Virginia across much of Pennsylvania and Eastern Ohio and into the Southern Tier of New York. By any estimate, the gas deposit is huge -- perhaps as much as 500 trillion cubic feet. (New York State uses a little over 1.1 trillion cubic feet of natural gas each year.)
Currently, natural gas companies are not required by law to disclose all the chemicals used during the fracturing process. Therefore, a company can gain approval to drill without indicating every chemical intended for use. The New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) is the agency that reviews and approves drilling permits. At this point, however, the DEC does not have enough resources to conduct on site monitoring after the permits have been issued. The approval process for drilling thus lacks two important check points, in the first stage - checking all the chemicals that will be used -- and in the final stage - on site checks to ensure the drilling is executed safely, in accordance with regulations.
Concerns about the safety of hydraulic fracturing center upon the safety of our clean water supply, radioactive chemicals present in the Marcellus Shale, and the chemicals used in natural gas extraction. Radioactivity from Radium - 226 and Radon (Radium's radioactive decay) occurs naturally in the Marcellus Shale. If exposed to these chemicals, individuals can suffer long-term health consequences that include lymphoma, bone cancer, and leukemia as well as cancer in tissues and organs. Hydraulic fracturing threatens to release these chemicals into the environment along with the sought after natural gases.
Risk for human and environmental exposure to the cocktail of hydraulic fracturing chemicals is also of great concern. These chemicals, injected into the ground to break up and release the natural gas formations, would pose the greatest danger in the case of a spill. Both the chemicals and the radioactive elements threaten to contaminate our clean water supply, which would prove disastrous for the millions of New Yorkers downstate who depend on watersheds near the Marcellus Shale.
While the Oil and Gas industry claim that hydrofracking is safe and has no, or minimal, harmful effects, events in other states and recent reports, including a House Energy and Commerce Committee report continue to raise red flags about the safety of this process.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is conducting a national study on the drinking water risks associated with hydrofracking.
III. Legislative Summary
In August of 2010, the New York State Senate voted 48-9 for Bill S8129-B, which places a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing in the Marcellus and Utica Shale formations until May 15, 2011. In November 2010, an identical bill (A11443-B) was passed 94-44 in the State Assembly. Upon signing the bill, Governor Paterson made New York the first state in the nation to impose a statewide moratorium on hydraulic fracturing.
In December 2010, Gov. Paterson gave state environmental officials until June 1, 2011 to publish a revised draft of their proposed standards for hydraulic fracturing. In his executive order, Paterson said the state Department of Environmental Conservation needs to review the environmental impacts of horizontal fracking before its "deployment" in New York. He also ordered environmental officials to accept public comments on the draft "for a period of no less than 30 days," meaning no drilling permits in the Marcellus Shale could be issued until July 1. An earlier draft proposal received more than 14,000 written comments, many of them criticizing the standards for not addressing the impact of multiple fracking sites, wastewater disposal, and drinking water protection.
On April 18, 2011, NYS Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced his intent to sue the federal body that oversees the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) if it does not conduct a full environmental assessment of hydrofracking. The DRBC which includes the Army Corps of Engineers, US Fish and Wildlife Service, National Parks Service, and Environmental Protection Agency proposed regulations for hydrofracking in December 2010 without a full environmental assessment on the river basin which includes parts of New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
IV. Reform Movement Policy
The URJ has no specific policy on natural gas, but does maintain explicit resolutions supporting clean water. The New North American Energy Strategy from 1991 recognizes, "that drilling in environmentally sensitive areas with its attendant economic and societal costs and its potential for long term environmental damage should not be the mainstay of a National Energy Strategy." The Climate Change and Energy resolution from 2009 supports, "U.S. and Canadian domestic climate and energy policies that... Explore additional sources of energy, including the benefits, safety and security concerns of nuclear power."
In addition, the Central Conference of American Rabbis, in its 2000 resolution on National Energy Policy asserts, "For 25 years, the organized American Jewish community has unanimously advocated action to reduce our nation's reliance on fossil fuels through energy conservation and the development of environmentally sound, non-nuclear energy technologies."
While acknowledging the urgent need to find alternative energy sources to reduce our nation's dependence on fossil fuels and curb the dangerous effects of global warming, RJV believes that the process of hydraulic fracturing must first be proven safe and a clear evaluation of "societal costs and potential long term environmental damage" concluded before a moratorium can be lifted. In addition, proper regulatory standards and monitoring protocols, wastewater disposal methods, and drinking water protection measures must be implemented in advance of further drilling.
Reform Jewish Voice resolves, therefore, to support the moratorium on hydraulic fracturing until the abovementioned conditions are met. Currently, the regulation standards in place are not rigorous enough to ensure that hydraulic fracturing and its attendant contaminated water disposal will be conducted safely and pose no risk to our communities. Such regulatory standards must be formulated and implemented before the moratorium is lifted.
- Gasland - Documentary showing the effects of hydraulic fracturing on local communities.
- "Fracking for Energy: Boon or Doom - A look at the current debate over fracking.
- Citizens Campaign for the Environment Hydraulic Fracturing Paper
VI. Talking Points
- As Jews, we are commanded to be stewards of our environment. Until we can confirm that hydraulic fracturing poses no danger to our communities, we must abstain from this form of energy extraction.
- Currently, the regulation standards in place are not rigorous enough to ensure that hydraulic fracturing and its attendant contaminated water disposal will be conducted safely and pose no risk to our communities. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation does not have the resources and personnel to effectively monitor hydraulic fracturing. Such regulatory standards must be formulated and implemented before the moratorium is lifted.
- Radioactivity from Radium - 226 and Radon occurs naturally in the Marcellus Shale. Long-term health effects from exposure to Radium and its radioactive decay, Radon, include lymphoma, bone cancer, leukemia and aplastic anemia, as well as cancer in tissues and organs. Hydraulic fracturing threatens to release these chemicals into the environment along with the sought after natural gases.
- Risk for human and environmental exposure to the cocktail of hydraulic fracturing chemicals --injected into the ground in order to release the natural gas -- would be greatest in a potential spill. We must have mechanisms in place to prevent exposure to such chemicals in the event of a spill or we must consider using safer chemicals for gas extraction.
- Clean water is essential to keep us healthy and ensure the flourishing of our communities and environment. We must ensure that radioactivity present in the rock and the chemicals used in gas extraction have absolutely no possibility of contaminating our clean water supply.
VII. Learn More
Interfaith Impact of New York State
Citizens Campaign for the Environment
Environmental Advocates of New York