Is fracking threatening our food supply?

Is fracking threatening our food supply?

Toxins from fracking wells are already sickening people and livestock in several states. Will our environmentally costly hunt for natural gas end up threatening the vibrant local-food movement in the Northeast and beyond? 

When I think about fracking, I think about water—the chemical–laced water that’s shot into wells to fracture shale and release fossil fuels, and which reappears both above and below ground, where it’s been linked to environmental contamination and health problems in humans and animals.

But increasingly, fracking activity is affecting neighboring farms and ranches and the foods they produce—foods we may be eating—reports a recent cover story in The Nation magazine. In the densely populated area around New York State, science writer Elizabeth Royte reports, the burgeoning local food movement is growing anxious about how fracking may affect their foodshed, which coincides with the natural gas–rich Marcellus Shale formation.

Food independence vs. energy independence?

In the Northeast, competition for “natural resources” is heating up, according to the article. “Only recently has the Northeast’s local-foods movement reached a critical mass, to the point where colleges and caterers trip over themselves in the quest for locally sourced and sustainably grown products. (New York has the fourth-highest number of organic farms in the nation.)

But the movement’s lofty ideals could turn out to be, in shale-gas areas, a double-edged sword. “People at the farmers’ market are starting to ask exactly where this food comes from,” says Stephen Cleghorn, a Pennsylvania goat farmer.

Unfortunately, it appears that deep-pocket energy companies already may be gaining the upper hand. On Nov. 30, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and the state Department of Environmental Conservation released draft regulations for hydrofrackingbefore a review of potential impacts on human health was completed. The 30-day comment period runs over the holiday season, and regulations are set to become final in 90 days.

Along with doctors, scientists, and other citizens concerned about fracking’s toxic trickle-down—already documented in communities in Texas, Pennsylvania, Wyoming, North Dakota, Colorado, Louisiana and other states—New York’s local food groups are calling foul.

In the article, Joe Holtz, general manager of the 16,200-member Park Slope Food Co-op in Brooklyn, warns, “If hydrofracking is allowed in New York State, our co-op will have to stop buying from farms anywhere near the drilling because of fears of contamination. That’s $4 million in direct sales, with economic multipliers up and down the local food chain, affecting seed houses, creameries, equipment manufacturers and so on.”

To see two great infographics—Where Fracking Meets Organic Food and Why Not Frack Farmland—go the article and scroll down.

In my home state of Colorado, fracking is being fingered for putting unsustainable demands on our already severely drought-diminished water supply, recent earthquakes, and more. Grassroots community efforts are gaining traction, as evidenced by Longmont voters' November decision to ban fracking, as profiled by the New York Times.

Are you concerned about how fracking toxins may affect our food producers—and our food supply? Please share in comments below or send me a message on Twitter @susan_enfield

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