Fracking—the process by which petroleum and natural gas are released from the earth's rock layer using high-pressure injections of water and chemicals, which creates "fractures" in the rock— was put into commercial use in 1949, but in 2004 the EPA declared fracking "posed little or no threat" to drinking water, which effectively skyrocketed the technology.
However, as Barry Estabrook's sobering May 2011 piece for Gilt Taste confirms, fracking poses dire consequences to the future of both sustainable agriculture and the livelihoods of thousands of small farmers around the country. The problem with fracking is that this "witch's brew of carcinogens, acutely poisonous heavy metals, and radioactive elements" can and does leak through to surface water, and into nearby streams and rivers. Last year 28 cattle on a farm in Pennsylvania were quarantined after drinking wastewater leaked from a nearby well, which was later confirmed to have high concentrations of chlorine, barium, magnesium, potassium, and radioactive strontium. (16 cows died.)
"The dangers of fracking to the food supply are not something that's been investigated very much," said Emily Wurgh of Food and Water Watch, an environmental group based in Washington, D.C. "We have been trying to get members of Congress to request studies into effects of fracking on agriculture, but we haven't gotten much traction."
New York passed a moratorium on gas drilling in 2010, but if it were to be lifted it could be disastrous for thousands of farms. Ken Jaffe, who owns a cattle farm in the Catskills, has a number of ponds and wells across his property for his animals. But given the geography of his land, "any chemical contamination seeping from the rock would go directly into Jaffe's water supply, poisoning his cattle." Plant life is also affected: according to Jaffe, "ozone is more lethal to crops than all other airborne pollutants combined, and of all crops, few are more susceptible to it than clover, a nutrient-rich feed that is critical to his method of sustainable cattle raising."
Read More: What Will Fracking Do To Your Food Supply? by Barry Estabrook, at Gilt Taste
Related: Does Your Tap Water Ignite?
(Image: Emily Ho)