The remains of abandoned farm houses mark the rolling hills and woodlands of the Town of Oxford in the southern tier of upstate New York.
It is here, and in other rural communities in the state, that the most hard-fought regional environmental battle of this generation is playing out — whether to allow the contentious form of natural gas drilling, known as hydraulic fracturing or fracking.
Hydraulic fracturing entails the pressurized injection of hundreds of thousands of gallons of fresh water mixed with sand, lubricants and other chemicals deep below the surface of the earth, in order to “fracture” shale formations and release gas.
Because the shale is located below underground water sources, some scientists —including those affiliated with the City of New York — have questioned whether methane or drilling fluid could be inadvertently released and cause water contamination. Drilling proponents maintain that drilling technology and well construction continue to advance; they also say that fracked natural gas could help the U.S. obtain energy independence.