Agricultural Impact

Impact of Oil/Gas Drilling on Agriculture

Food Production

Soil Impacts

 Air Pollution Impacts on Agriculture

After a brief description of the fracking process, this article notes that Finger Lakes wine producers have two concerns. One is “aesthetic pollution” as “scenic rural and farm lands give way to industrial 200’ drillling rigs, five-acre well pads, and hazardous waste holding ponds spaced as closely as one for every forty acres!” (Sheldrake Point Vineyard’s Chuck Tauck). Another is the possibility of polluted groundwater from injected chemicals. Opponents fear that a ruptured well could infect groundwater and wipe out vineyards; even a single problem could do catastrophic damage. Environmental regulators, however, contend [this is December 2009, before the permitting moratorium] that the safety record is extremely sound and there is a “very low risk” of polluting groundwater.  The article notes that NY State recently considered adding 30 workers to the DEC, but budget problems made it impossible. A Cornell Law study found that the DEC is currently not equipped to handle the new regulations and oversight that the draft supplemental generic environmental impact statement recommended. The article ends by noting that people trying to make up their minds agree that more information is needed, but that the DEC contends that hydrofracking plans were not moving too quickly.

  • Second, a short USDA article on ozone damage to plants; grapes are mentioned in passing in the article, but not in my synopsis: “Effects of Ozone Air Pollution on Plants.” Agricultural Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture. Article last modified November 6, 2010.

This is a brief, heavily illustrated, easy-to-understand account of how ozone harms crops. “Ground-level ozone causes more damage to plants than all other air pollutants combined.” After describing the sources of ozone, the article explains when and where (with a map) it is most likely to occur in the U.S. Symptoms of leaf damage by ozone include stippling, flecking, bronzing, and reddening. Yield losses due to ozone are greatest on dicot plants such as cotton, peanuts, and soybeans, and lower on monocot species such as winter wheat, field corn, and sorghum. Research papers are cited in the references.

  • Third, a highly technical journal article on ozone damage to crops; grapes are discussed briefly on p. 345, and other references dealing specifically with grapes are cited in the references:

High Ozone Levels Harm Grapes and Other Crops (2009)

“The Ozone Component of Global Change: Potential Effects on Agricultural and Horticultural Plant.  Yield, Product Quality, and Interactions with Invasive Species.” Fitzgerald Booker, Russell Muntifering, Margaret McGrath, Kent Burkey, Dennis Decoteau, Edwin Fiscus, William Manning, Sagar Krupa, Arthur Chappelka, and David Grantz. Journal of Integrative Plant Biology 51(4): 337–351. 2009.

This scientific journal article documents that many agricultural and horticultural crops are harmed by  ground-level ozone [such as that produced by hydraulic fracturing–ed.]. It typically reduces photosynthesis, speeds aging, decreases growth, and lowers yields. Although ozone’s effects vary in different crops, in different varieties of the same crop, and from year to year, the research shows that in sensitive plants, yield losses range from 5% to 15%. In grapes, it can injure leaves, reduce fruit size, and increase acidity. Other sensitive species include alfalfa, beans, clover and other forage crops, cotton, lettuce, oats, peanuts, potatoes, rape, rice, soybeans, spinach, tobacco, tomatoes, watermelons, and wheat. Climate models suggest that episodes of high ground-level ozone will become more common during the growing season in regions such as the northeast US.

  • Lastly, readers might ask, does hydrofracking really increase ozone? Read this hair-raising petition from Sublette County, WY (area: 4000 square miles; population: 6000) to the EPA. Includes 2 follow-up links: “Citizen Petition to Designate the Sublette County Area of Wyoming as Nonattainment for the 8-Hour Ozone National Ambient Air Quality Standard.” Jeremy Nichols, Rocky Mountain Clean Air Action, on behalf of a number of organizations and citizens. June 14, 2008.

This petition asks the EPA to designate Sublette County in Wyoming as violating the air quality standard for ozone. This rural county has higher levels of ozone than those in highly polluted cities such as Los Angeles and Houston, due to “unprecedented levels of oil and gas drilling.” The petition notes that ozone causes an assortment of health problems. The National Academies of Science have confirmed the link between ozone pollution and premature death. The petition cites 10 studies from the American Lung Association indicating that ozone harms public health; many of these studies showed damage at ozone levels below the current US standard, and far below the top levels and even the average levels seen in Wyoming.

Ozone derives from the interaction between sunlight and ozone precurser chemicals, mainly nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds. Oil and gas drilling produce 97% of the nitrogen oxides and 99% of the volatile organic compounds in the county. The problem is expected to get worse–at the time of the petition, there were 3,436 oil and gas wells in the county, and the BLM had proposed 4,399 more. Under the Clean Air act, when an area violates a standard,  ozone levels must be reduced. Cost-effective means exist, and some companies have implemented them, but others have not. “This petition simply asks that the Administrator [of the EPA] act to safeguard public health and welfare in the Sublette County area of Wyoming.”


It’s interesting to observe how these things play out. Here are a few elements to the follow-up.  June 29, 2009. This article says that for failing to manage ozone precursor chemicals, Ultra Petroleum must pay a $200,000 fine and complete two environmental projects. The first project will reduce air pollutants by eliminating certain gas production equipment and reducing truck traffic; they must spend at least $25 million on the project. For the second project, they must donate $116,250 to an environmental engineering internship program. Environmentalists note that agreeing to perform these environmental projects did not discourage repeat violations. The Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality currently has one employee based in Sublette County.

July 9, 2009. This article says that the EPA and other government programs are providing $1.84 million to upgrade “qualifying equipment” owned by 11 different companies. If I interpret this correctly, taxpayers are paying cleanup of pollution caused by an astonishingly profitable private industry.

That’s all for now–too much, I realize. But at the very least, these articles show that winemakers have reason to be concerned, and we can find better articles, too. Please let me know what else I can do to help in this effort.  Dan

 Marketing Concerns

  • A statement from the Park Slope Food Coop— a large wholesale buyer of NY State agricultural products—-that their purchases of food will shift away from areas with gas drilling. Below and attached is their statement.
    December 8, 2010
    Open letter to Members of the New York State Senate, Members of the New York State Assembly, Governor Patterson and Governor-Elect Cuomo:
    We are a retail food cooperative that is owned by our 15,800 members. Last year we purchased millions of dollars of New York State produced agricultural products.
    Earlier this year we voted to support a statewide ban on hydrofracking. Our mission statement includes a strong commitment to being a good environmental citizen.
    But today I want to alert you to a less obvious effect that hydrofracking will have on us and on the NYS farms whose products we make a great effort to buy. We are very responsive to the needs of our shoppers. If hydrofracking is allowed to go forward our shoppers are certain to be asking us if the fruits, vegetables, dairy products, eggs and meats from New York State are produced in areas whe re hydrofracking is taking place. It will not take many inquiries for us to start researching alternatives to NYS products.
    In regard to animals raised in New York State, last year (and we have grown another 6% this year) we purchased the following: over $500,000 of chickens and over $400,000 of beef, lamb, and pork.
    In regard to f ruits and vegetables grown in New York State, we purchased over $1,500,000 last year. It’s too difficult for us to calculate the yogurt, cheese, eggs, cider and milk that we source from New York State.
    As members of the Pride of New York program we have taken our responsibility to buy New York State produced food very seriously. But no one thinking clearly would think for a minute that hyfrofracking will not quickly destroy that commitment.
    As New Yorkers, yes even though we are urban New Yorkers, we want to preserve New York State farms. Please insure that we are not wondering about whether the grass fed cows we buy were drinking contaminated water and breathing the air fouled by numerous enormous trucks that will support the hydrofracking process and the process itself. I guarantee that our members will not want the fruits and veggies that come from farms in an industrial area. They will ask their employees to look elsewhere and we will.
    Joe Holtz
    General Manager
    Park Slope Food Coop Inc, Brooklyn, New York

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