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Fracklash

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A decades-old method for tapping ancient reserves of ­natural gas has become the big environmental flash point of the moment, as Governor Cuomo is well aware. Here, a survey of the forces that got conservationists and green-minded celebrities ­rallying against fracking.


1. Market Makers
Late 1940s
Standolind Oil, building on techniques from the 1800s, begins experimenting with a procedure that uses pressurized water and chemicals to release oil and natural gas trapped deep underground—the industry term is “hydraulic fracturing.” Because fossil fuels are more easily extractable with the technology of the day, the method is slow to be adopted.

2005
With greater emphasis on U.S. energy independence after 9/11, natural-gas exploration takes off. Citing a controversial EPA study, the Bush administration exempts fracking from the Safe Drinking Water Act.

June 2012
The Cuomo administration reveals that it’s considering lifting a New York State ban on the practice.


2. Giving Hydraulic Fracturing a Bad Name
1980s
Trade magazines like Oil & Gas Journal adopt a memorable shorthand for hydraulic fracturing, dubbing it “fracking.”

April 2012
LSU researchers find that the negative perception of fracking may owe in part to the word itself and its similarity to a “certain … four-letter word.”


3. Signal Fires
April 2010
blows a gasket in the Gulf. A year later, a gas well erupts in Pennsylvania owing to a similar failure and burps up thousands of gallons of toxic water.

September 2010
The documentary Gasland (which will earn an Oscar nomination) shows residents in heavily fracked neighborhoods lighting their tainted tap water on fire.

2011
A “remarkable increase” in Midwest earthquakes sparks an investigation of the correlation between fracking and tremors.


4. Not in Their Backyards
2008
Actor Mark Ruffalo worries that gas companies are scoping out his family’s land in Callicoon, N.Y. His subsequent fact-finding mission leads him to become anti-fracking’s first famous face.

April 2012
Focus Features announces Promised Land, a Matt Damon vehicle about a jaded natural-gas salesman and the rural town his company wants to exploit.

Early Summer 2012
Yoko Ono and son Sean Lennon (who have a family house near Ruffalo’s) decide to mobilize famous friends to the anti-fracking cause.

August 2012
Artists Against Fracking is launched with Ono, Lennon, and Ruffalo at the helm. Lady Gaga and Alec Baldwin are among its myriad attention-getting members.

Have good intel? Send tips to intel@nymag.com.


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