Fracking or Coal? None of the Above, Please.

J. Mijin Cha

A few months ago, I wrote about the fracked up logic used by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to outsource reviewing the health impacts of fracking to the Health Commissioner. The ramifications of this decision are now becoming clear. The Wall Street Journal quotes one of the appointed experts, Lynn Goldman, as saying that burning coal is bad for health and therefore, “A decision to not frack is a decision to use more coal.” Her statement is not only wrong, it is more dangerous than any coal fired power plant could be.

Goldman falsely posits that the only two choices we have are burning coal or fracking. We do not have to choose between coal or fracking. We can choose neither. There is no doubt about the health impacts of burning coal. However, New York State only gets about 10 percent of its electricity from coal-fired power plants. This is not to say that we should continue to burn coal. Rather, it points out how false Golman’s perceived choice is. We don’t have to choose between coal and fracking because we can instead begin to ramp up renewable energy production to replace the electricity generated by coal.

In fact, New York State already gets more electricity from renewables than from coal. According to the DEC, renewable sources provide about 11 percent of the state’s electricity and could come close to 40 percent by 2020. There is absolutely no need to introduce fracking into New York State to meet our electricity needs.

If fracking is allowed in New York State, we will sacrifice the health and wellbeing of a few communities to provide cheap gas for the rest of the state. As we’ve stated continuously, the damage fracking does to the health of communities and their environments is not hypothetical. Polluted water supplies, mysterious health problems, increased earthquake activity—these are all consequences that fracking communities are currently enduring. We would inflict these harms on upstate communities for what will likely be just a six-year supply of natural gas.

The real choice is not between coal or fracking. The real choice is between a future fueled by a finite energy source that will permanently damage the health and environment of upstate communities or a clean energy future fueled by renewables. Lynn Goldman and the rest of the committee should take note.