Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Fracking Water in Niagara Falls

With New York State looking into potentially allowing hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, as a means of obtaining natural gas, Niagara Falls is attempting to position itself as a town on the cutting edge of this new industry. Fracking involves pushing millions of gallons of water deep into the bed rock where there is shale. This water fractures the shale, allowing the natural gas that is trapped underneath to exit via the well. The water that was used comes out extremely salty and laced with poisonous elements including barium, strontium, and radium. This water needs to meet EPA standards, which are currently being reworked, before it can be sent to municipal water treatment plants to be released back into regular water supplies. Niagara Falls has a water treatment plant, which was originally designed for the area’s chemical industry, that can handle the waste water, and clean it to where it meets EPA standards. Since the chemical industry has pulled out of Niagara Falls, the plant has been operating at a fraction of what it can handle, prompting the plant owner and local government to look into the economic possibility of using the plant as a site to clean fracking water.

Currently Niagara Falls is a city of only 50,000 residents, which has been, and is continuing to decline. Also, the current per capita income of the city is only $19,000 compared to the rest of New York's average of $30,000 income. These factors have led to a push for the use of Niagara Falls’s plant. Opponents point to the Love Canal incident of the 1970s, when the Hooker Chemicals and Plastics Corp. dumped waste chemicals into the abandoned Love Canal. These chemicals were found seeping into backyards and basements throughout Niagara Falls. The situation got so bad that President Jimmy Carter declared the area a federal emergency in 1978, and the Superfund Cleanup Act was passed in 1980. This recent environmental disaster is the reason why many are uneasy about bringing in more potentially dangerous waste products.

The problem in Niagara Falls is an interesting one. On one side we have a city that was once a popular destination for honeymoons and family vacations declining at a staggering rate. And on the other side, we have the potential for another environmental disaster that could rock a town already struck by one in recent memory. Personally, I too have mixed feelings about it for the same reasons that are listed above; however, I do believe that the situation is much safer now than it was with the Hooker Corp. The EPA has already begun legislation to prevent toxic waste water from re-entering the water supply. The major downfall of this proposal that I see is the current condition of the Niagara Falls plant. It does not say how new the plant is and how much, if any, retrofitting the plant will cost. This is the major unknown. If the plant is up to code, or perhaps even above standards, I think that this would be a good idea; though, if the plant needed extensive retrofitting, or if the plant just barely met standards, I would think that the plan should be scrapped.
--Colin Alban

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