WASHINGTON — This year’s North American Goldman Environmental Prize winner used legal means to ban hydraulic fracturing in parts of central New York state.
Fracking, as it is known, is a controversial method to extract natural gas and other fossil fuels. Anti-fracking activists say the technique hurts the environment, while the petroleum industry maintains fracking is safe.
Goldman award winner Helen Slottje is a lawyer in a mostly rural area of New York with small towns. She’s against fracking, which involves deep drilling through shale rock and pumping down a pressurized mix of water and chemicals to release natural gas.
Slottje volunteered to build a case against an industrial complex being constructed by a fracking company. While the company won the case, Slottje learned that local laws could stop fracking and she used that as a weapon to help ban fracking in several towns. Today, more towns in New York state have passed local laws prohibiting fracking.
Slottje’s crusade began after attending a local meeting, where she saw photos of destruction caused by fracking in nearby Pennsylvania.
“The chemical pits, with the drill cuttings and the flowback water, cleared tree areas, swaths of forests that were just clear-cut for pipelines, for well pads,” she said.
But Steve Everley, a spokesman for the education arm of the Independent Petroleum Association of America, says, although there are risks, they are manageable.
“Everything is safely managed through the multiple layers of steel casing and cement that goes into creating a well. You’ve got anywhere between five and seven layers that protect what’s inside the pipe from what’s outside of it. I chiefly mean groundwater supplies,” he said.
But Slottje thinks fracking is harmful and says about one-third of the wells fail.
“These are our water supplies we’re talking about drilling through in large number. And in addition, there are methane emissions, and emitting all of this methane, such a powerful greenhouse gas into the atmosphere, is very disruptive,” she said.
But Everley points out that studies have shown that fracking actually helps reduce carbon dioxide emissions. He says fracking should also continue because it provides jobs and energy security. Slottje, however, says fracking should be stopped permanently.