Hydrofracking is the extraction of natural gas from previously inaccessible gas shale deposits by fracturing a rock layer in order to release natural gas, petroleum, or other substances. The method of particular concern today involves drilling horizontally and pumping a pressurized mixture of water, sand and chemicals into the ground to propel natural gas from the shale rock. Hydrofracking has become a much discussed issue as the industry has rapidly expanded around the country and is already occurring in as many as 34 states.
With the potential to yield significant economic, national security and environmental benefits, hydrofracking increases our domestic supply of natural gas, which is considered a cleaner source of energy than coal or oil. Increased use of natural gas reduces our dependence on coal, while increased domestic oil and natural gas liquid production from shale can reduce our dependence on imported oil. Additionally, domestic production of natural gas and oil can reduce energy prices and are expected to create domestic jobs.
However, there are also serious concerns about the known and as yet unknown impacts of hydrofracking. Environmental and quality-of-life issues associated with hydrofracking include surface and ground water contamination, air pollution, human and environmental health effects, visual blight, noise pollution, earthquakes, and depletion of water sources. Moreover, the chemicals used in the hydrofracking process are not disclosed by drilling companies because of an exemption under the Federal Safe Water Drinking Act.
Hydrofracking is of special interest to the Jewish community. At the heart of our discussions is the ideological question of how to best protect the environment, continue and increase access to energy and reduce our reliance on fossil fuels. The Jewish faith prioritizes the importance of preserving the Earth’s resources for future generations and the Jewish community has been known to advocate for social justice and policies that advance tikkun olam or repair of the world. Many Jewish organizations and individuals prioritize decreasing our reliance on foreign oil, particularly from regimes that are hostile to the United States and Israel.
Jewish awareness of hydrofracking grew last summer when The Forward reported that four Jewish summer camps leased their land to energy companies for hydrofracking, and several Jewish organizations are voicing their perspectives on this issue. For example, the group of individual activists, Jews Against Hydrofracking, was formed to mobilize the Jewish community against hydrofracking. Reform Jewish Voice of New York State issued a statement against hydrofracking that references Jewish values including bal taschit, the Jewish prohibition against wasteful destruction. Other organizations prioritize energy independence when thinking about hydrofracking and other energy questions. For example, the American Jewish Committee’s Targeted Energy Plan to Reduce U.S. Oil Imports, approved by their National Energy Committee in May, 2011, states that “development of…the nation’s natural gas surplus, could be significantly slowed, or even stopped altogether, by proposals for far-reaching regulations of ‘fracking.’ As with off-shore drilling, both environmental and safety safeguards and development to meet our nation’s energy needs are crucial elements of energy policy.”
COEJL’s priorities include promoting stewardship and environmental justice, and combating climate change and energy dependence. As stated by COEJL’s director, Sybil Sanchez, in the Forward article, Fracking Comes to Jewish Summer Camp, “COEJL supports increasing our energy independence in ways that also protect the environment…Hydrofracking is of particular concern because of the number of unknown chemicals used, the impact it has on local residents and their access to clean water, and the overall destructive nature of the process.”
A balance of our political and environmental needs is built into our Judaism. COEJL believes that it is possible to advocate for both protection of our planet and protection of our security. In Hebrew, the words for Earth, adamah, and humankind, adam, are integrally connected. Our obligation to both runs deep and that is why an integrated approach is critical.
The Forward: Fracking Comes to Jewish Summer Camp
New Jersey Jewish News: Fracking a Wedge Issue Among Jews
Reform Jewish Voice of New York State: Hydrofracking
Jews Against Hydrofracking: http://jewsagainsthydrofracking.org/