The Beer and Yogurt Contradiction: Protecting the Future from Hydrofracking

by Joan Hoffman, Professor, Department of Economics 10/16/2012

We may not think of beer and yogurt as being similar, but, in fact, they do share one important trait. Both of them require a lot of water! Whether used directly in their manufacture or indirectly for the cows and grains that provide their ingredients, good clean water is vital to their production. New York State is proud of its Chobani Yogurt and Brooklyn Lager beer. In fact, governor Cuomo has just declared yogurt to be the official New York State snack (Governor 10/15/2016) However, promoting those businesses and hydrofracking at the same time is contradictory.

The New York economy has a wide variety of important and growing food and beverage industries for which clean water is critical. As awareness of the dangers of hydrofracking to water supplies and crops has grown, businesses have become increasingly alarmed about the potential damages to their future. One result of this concern was a protest at the recent “Yogurt Summit” in Albany in between dairy farmers and the governor about farmer problems in supplying the New York’s growing yogurt industry. One protester, who came from a third generation dairy farming family, explained the danger to the industry if local water supplies became contaminated by hydrofracking chemicals, “Dairy cows require 30 to 40 gallons of water a day to stay healthy and produce good quality milk.” (Lorsen 2012, Times Union 2012).

John Jay College participates in a community supported agriculture project, Merchants Gate, that brings locally grown fruits and vegetables to the College for the students to buy. Present and future students and their families would surely wish to be assured that their purchases are free of fracking chemicals.

Reports of damages to water supplies, health problems, and declines in agricultural productivity from regions already experiencing hydrofracking have given New Yorkers pause. Adding to these concerns have been reports casting doubt about New York State’s capacity to regulate natural gas production and protect the populace. A recent report exploring the State’s past record of inspection of gas and oil wells found a growth in wells and a decline of inspections (Nearing 2012). The worries about the State’s future have lead people to act. Over 1000 New York businesses have signed on to a petition to ban fracking across the state (NYagainstfracking.) Towns have begun to use home rule powers to rule against fracking in their towns, and the courts have upheld their power to do so.

Hydrofracking is an “outsider” industry that involves many outside owners and workers who do not have a long term stake in the New York environment, while for the local food, farming, and beverage industries among others, a healthy New York environment is a critical input. Hydrofracking’s danger to the State’s environmental base is occurring just as the value of the State’s environmental riches appear to be growing. Recent evidence supports the likelihood of increasing warming and extreme temperatures that have harmed crops in the breadbasket of the US.(Hansen, 2012) One farmer could see that our farmlands were likely to become increasingly important. The argument of Art Hunt of Hunt County Vineyards was:

“Within a generation, western New York will be the major breadbasket for the Northeast. We have abundant clean water, clean air and fertile soil. We cannot afford to lose precious acres to development that can harm our water and other natural resources if we hope to continue to feed this country in the future. New York City restaurateurs who use water and products from all over the state have also begun to see that the future quality of their supplies is threatened.”(NYagainst fracking, 8/2012 )

Natural gas is being touted as a low cost fuel and replacement for oil with higher carbon emissions. However, there is growing evidence of infrastructure development to facilitate export of natural gas to other parts of the world, outside of New York and the United States (The Economist 6/14/2012). Wherever it is burned, it is still a fossil fuel. New York has a great environmental base of growing national importance. It can best protect its beer, its yogurt, its citizens, communities and businesses by preserving its environmental wealth and concentrating on enhancing its energy future through energy efficiency and alternatives to fossil fuels. If Governor Cuomo wants Yogurt to continue to be a healthy New York State healthy snack, then he should agree to extend the current time limited moratorium on hydrofracking in New York State to a permanent ban.

Websites of organizations following hydrofracking issues in NY:

Hakim, D. and Confessore, N. June 30, 2012. Cuomo Will Seek to Lift Ban on Hydraulic Fracturing. New York Times.

Hansen, J. et al. — August 2012.The New Climate Dice: Public Perception of Climate Change. National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

Nearing Brian, July 17, 2012. “Report from anti-fracking group says state can’t take on more well work.” Times Union

__ NYagainstfracking. 8/23/2012. Over a Thousand business Across the State Call on Governor Cuomo to reject Fracking.

__(The Economist). Jul 14th 2012. “A liquid market.” The Economist.

__(Midhudson News). 7/25/2012. Lawsuit over new gas development regulations argued in federal court. Mid Hudson News.


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