Beer vs. Fracking

05/23/2012 4:00 AM |

By now, if you have access to the internet, you’ve probably seen the YouTube video of the man who can light his tap water on fire. The danger that unregulated fracking poses to drinking water is well-covered territory: in worst-case scenarios, fracking fluid, laced with all sorts of toxic chemicals, gets pumped into the earth (so we can get more fossil fuels!) and contaminates the drinking water supply. But now that New York State is drafting its own fracking regulations, another kind of stakeholder in clean water has begun to voice its opposition—New York brewers.

Last month, the Brooklyn Brewery, in conjunction with the Environmental Advocates of New York, hosted its first “Save Our Beer” event in Williamsburg. In front of more than 100 people, Brooklyn Brewery founder Steve Hindy made his position on fracking clear. “The idea that we would allow a practice like hydro-fracking, which could possibly destroy [the New York City water] system, is criminal,” Hindy said. “Of course we need good water to make beer.”

Brooklyn Brewery isn’t the only beer producer unsatisfied with New York State’s drafted fracking regulations. The folks at Brewery Ommegang, which pumps its water from three wells in the Catskills, started a petition when they found out that a company called Cooperstown Holstein Corp. had leased local land to drillers. Not only that—Cooperstown Holstein was fighting to overturn a law that forbids fracking in the area. If Ommegang’s water were to be contaminated by fracking fluid, the brewer would have to import water from elsewhere, move, or close.

While New York State has vowed to ban fracking in areas that provide New York City water, critics and environmental organizations say there are still some glaring loopholes. “We are not at all satisfied with the proposals that the state has put out,” Katherine Nadeau, water and natural resources program director for Environmental Advocates of New York, said. “It would still be perfectly allowable for drillers to send their water to sewage treatment plants in the water supply area, even though these treatment plants were never designed to handle toxic waste.”

The wastewater Nadeau speaks of is the type of stuff that, for example, caused a dozen earthquakes in northeastern Ohio last year when largely unregulated gas companies pumped it back into the ground. In Pennsylvania, increased amounts of bromides have been found in rivers used for wastewater disposal. (In some studies, bromides, when combined with chlorine in the wastewater treatment process, have been found to be carcinogenic.) And, so far, New York has not addressed the monitoring or disposal of the millions of gallons of wastewater that could be produced, Nadeau says. Moreover, the disposal and reporting of waste would be left up to the gas companies.

All of this is why the Environmental Advocates and breweries are teaming up to host awareness events, like the one at Brooklyn Brewery, across upstate New York. Tommy Keegan, 41, of Keegan Ales in Kingston, will be hosting a “Save Our Beer!” event at his own brewery next month. A contaminated water supply, he said, would devastate his business. “I have two main reasons I’m concerned,” Keegan said. “My business, and then myself and my family. I have two young boys who drink water everyday.”