Appalachian Basin

Natural Gas and Food Production Can Coexist

Sander Diamond makes the assertion farmers in upstate New York can experience a revival without natural gas development in a recent letter to the editor.  Steuben County organic dairy farmer, Neil Vitale, takes a look at his misconcieved notions of farming in the state.

Sander Diamond, in “Food Production, Not Fracking (Nov., 2012),” offers a litany of unsupported assertions in arguing New York should pass on natural gas. While what he says on paper is a beautiful idea–farmers pulling themselves up by their bootstraps and revitalizing the New York farming industry–the reality of this concept is far from a possibility given New York’s current economic state. Unfortunately, farming is not an endeavor for those short on savings. It takes money to make a farm run smoothly, and the ability to make it through falling prices for your products with rising costs of feed, equipment, and taxes.

Given his assertions, it appears Mr. Diamond may not be as knowledgeable about history as we might expect from someone who teaches the subject. If he was, he would know hydraulic fracturing has been existing alongside food production for decades. Let us look at a few facts.

Twenty-eight states have been implementing the combination of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing for over fifteen years, and have strong and thriving agricultural communities. Not one governor of any of these states have ever asked the petroleum industry to leave.  In fact, New York State has even had a harmonious relationship between agriculture and the petroleum industry for over one-hundred years.

Yet, because former Governor Patterson’s moratorium has now lasted five years, New York has lost more farmers than any state in America!


Decline of New York Farms


Recent history also shows that making a living off farming isn’t as easy as Diamond espouses.  In fact, the rising costs of farming, New York’s nation leading property taxes, and recent floods have created a perfect storm for Empire State farmers.

It is a hard business to maintain when the cost for production is greater than the amount recieved from selling your product–when the revenue at the end of the day hardly makes ends meet, let alone compensates fairly for the time and energy spent ensuring the country has needed food and dairy products.

Casual observers like Mr. Diamond are working overtime, using nothing more than personal opinion and speculation, even as farmers struggle, to keep them from earning a living on the land they’ve owned for generations. We deserve better

In any other business, owners would jump ship with odds like those. but this is farming and we love our land so we continue despite the hardwork and struggle to stay afloat. If it were easy everyone would do it, right?

Mr. Diamond and I agree on one point, portions of our nation are facing serious drought conditions. That said, pinning the fate of our water supply on the approval of hydraulic fracturing is beyond a misguided leap of logic.

Need proof? Look to the arid west. In September, the New York Times reported, “Oil and gas companies estimate that they will use about 6.5 billion gallons of water in Colorado this year, and that figure makes up only 0.1 percent of overall water use, according to state data.”  In Pennsylvania, natural gas production used 5.6 billion gallons over 5 years; for comparison the Susquehanna River moves nearly 20 billion gallons per day.

If someone is concerned about conserving water resources they need to look at the amount of water used in golf course maintenance. The amount of water used to irrigate crops that produce ethanol fuel would surprise most people. There are far greater consumers of water than the natural gas industry.

Look at the history of the American Dust Bowl. In the 1930’s, the bread basket of America that helped feed the world during World War I, became a desert. This was caused by a climate pattern change that lasted a decade and poor soil conservation practices, not hydraulic fracturing. Hydraulic fracturing wasn’t even perfected and used in a widespread manner until the late 1940’s.

Today, this area is the bread basket of the world with hundreds of thousands of hydraulically fractured wells in the same area as plentiful food production.

Regardless, natural gas companies are now recycling upwards of 90 percent of their wastewater in the Marcellus – a trend that will be continued here. This means even less water is needed from our streams and rivers. Further, when the natural gas is burned to produce the energy we all depend on, only half of the CO2 is produced than burning coal, but H2O (water) is produced at many times the amount used to hydraulic fracture the well!

It is easy to look from the outside in and place judgment on the farmers of Upstate New York–to think you know what’s best for the rural population, because you’ve been successful in your own life. But the reality is, we need something to help us out of this economic depression we’re facing. Can we hold onto the farms? Sure some of us can or we’ll retire and sell, but the rate of decline in New York farms will continue unless we get some kind of a solution. And, natural gas is the only thing being put on the table.

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