IMHO: My Personal Opposition to Natural Gas

Hydraulic Fracturing, or fracking for short, has become a divisive issue for New Yorkers. The natural gas industry and its supporters have made promises of job growth, energy independence and a cleaner burning fossil fuel. The truth is many jobs created by fracking are sourced from out-of-state, natural gas supplies may only last around 20 years and fracking releases methane, which contributes more to global warming than carbon-dioxide emissions. These revelations should convert any hydrofracking sympathizer into an anti-fracking activist, but for most people a personal connection to the issue is needed. Although I have been a staunch anti-fracking advocate for a year, I only learned how close my work hit home this past weekend.

When my parents told me they were coming into Brooklyn to feed me, an unpaid intern working a restaurant job to pay rent and occasionally purchase food, the last thing I expected to talk about was fracking. We meandered to the topic of fracking and its byproducts after I asked my mother what her reaction was to watching “Gasland II,” the follow-up to Josh Fox’s award-winning documentary “Gasland.” My mother had been curious about what I’ve been doing at my internship at Food & Water Watch, so I suggested she watch this documentary as a way to learn more about fracking, the focus of my work. Her reaction was one of complete shock. She had heard President Barack Obama’s calls for more natural gas extraction and had even heard of fracking, but she had no idea about the realities of the practice. The most stunning reaction of hers was that she had a negative personal experience with natural gas.

She began by explaining to me that construction had begun on a natural gas compressor station, a facility that helps transport natural gas along a colossal east coast pipeline, in the small New Jersey suburb where she works. This site, like so many others across the country, was approved quietly and quickly. While teaching in mid-June she noticed a strong smell of natural gas wafting through her classroom. Alarmed because of this unfamiliar scent, and at the behest of her principal, all of the children in the school were evacuated to a safe distance from the school. At this point my mother thought she and her children were safe, but when they got outside they were confronted with an even stronger smell of gas. She now lives a safe distance away from her school, but there are still thousands of individuals that live in close proximity to the leaky compressor station.

The Spectra Pipeline is a high pressure natural gas pipeline, similar to the pipeline serviced by my mom’s malfunctioning compressor station, poised to run through the West Village and connect with another pipeline in the heart of Manhattan. The pipeline will bring the dangers of natural gas transportation, highlighted by my mother’s story, into the heart of Manhattan and to the doorsteps of countless New Yorkers. Brooklynites may scoff that the distance from the pipeline will keep them safe from possible explosions, but I believe gas leaks can and will affect the outer boroughs. Leaks will expose city residents to radon, a carcinogen that is found in proximity to natural gas deposits. My mother’s story may be an anecdotal indication of the lack of safety of pipelines, but New Yorkers should not stand aloof while dangerous projects such as the Spectra Pipeline are brought to their city. Brooklynites must join with their fellow New Yorkers in preventing the expansion of America’s natural gas infrastructure.

Clinton Hill resident Alex Miller is an intern with DUMBO-based Food & Water Watch, one of 150 New Yorkers Against Fracking coalition members.