Hydrofracking: The Perfect Protest

Hydrofracking (hydraulic fracturing) is a method for extracting natural gas from deep underground. (Apparently it can also be used to get oil that conventional wells can’t pull up.) It’s the cause du jour in New York State because we have big gas fracking opportunities in the Marcellus Shale region. The issue is a perfect protest trifecta:

1. Business Bashing. Fits beautifully with the trope that corporations are dastardly monsters caring only for profit and heedless of the destruction they wreak in their relentless greed for the filthy dollar.

2. Environmentalist Misanthropy. Foolishly sinful humanity yet again raping the natural world. The inevitable disasters will be well-deserved punishment for the human hubris of imagining mastery over nature.

3. Good Old-Time Luddism. Distrust of all things technological and industrial. Again that foolhardy hubris of Mankind, deluded that we’ve figured this stuff out. We’re too smart for own good.

4. (OK, a trifecta needs only three, this is a bonus point) Health Fear. They’re poisoning us!

The very word itself – hydrofracking (what public relations genius came up with that?) – with all those harsh clacking consonants – sounds scary and inhumane. Our brains respond to such cues. (My late friend Dana Roberts observed that plans for a power plant on Dead Mule Ridge encountered scant public protest until the place was rechristened “Storm King Mountain.”) I suspect hydrofracking would seem much less scary if it were called, say, flubblyblubbing.

So this was all just made to order for the protest set. Gosh, it was so much fun back in the sixties protesting Vietnam. Too bad that ended. Iraq was a grand opportunity to relive those splendid days of yesteryear. But that’s done too. But now hydrofracking – once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more . . . summon up the blood!

 That’s what this is mainly about. There is a certain mentality that wants to be against. A basic stance of disaffection – the feeling that “all’s wrong with the world,” and protest is the modus of psychic comfort. And, of course, a sense of moral superiority.

My humanist group hosted a talk by Dr. Taury Smith, a state-employed geologist, about climate change. On that he was politically correct, but when asked at the end about fracking, which he’d also studied, he scandalized some listeners by saying the objections to fracking are really bogus, and we have got to do this to get much-needed energy. Since then, anti-fracking groups have pilloried Dr. Smith, saying his views are inadmissible because he eats babies – no, worse, he’s done consulting work for energy companies. (How could any geologist do such a thing?)

A really huge amount of fracking has already taken place in the U.S. Opponents point to some bad episodes – flaming drinking water, etc. – which the industry says actually had nothing to do with fracking. But even if the critics are right in everything they allege, all their horror stories don’t amount to a hill of beans in the perspective of the vastness of the fracking industry and of the economic benefits from the energy produced.

I have made this point before. There’s no free lunch. The quest for total safety is a fool’s errand. All technologies have trade-offs and risks. Life itself is inherently risky. Indeed, invariably fatal.

Protesters scream about the risk that gas fracking might cause some drinking water or other environmental problems. Well, it might. But they are silent about electricity generation from coal and oil that does cause air pollution that kills at least TWENTY THOUSAND Americans annually.

And they probably drove to those protests in cars that kill even more.

4 Responses to “Hydrofracking: The Perfect Protest”

  1. Alfredo De La Fe Says:

    The reports I have read indicate that “hydrofracking” can directly and indirectly (through the chemicals they pump into the “voids” once they have drilled) contaminate the local water table. I dont have it at my fingertips but I recall at least two towns and a persons private land where well water became undrinkable or had very high levels of dangerous compounds in it. Hiding behind the veil of “trade secrets” they refused to provide the ingredients used in the procedure.

    I am all for finding cleaner, more local fuel sources, but not at the expense of an entire region. Air pollution kills slowly, drinking contaminated water, not as much…

    Perhaps these tales are exagerated for the purpose of making a big score via tort, but if I lived near a region where they want to set up shop I would sleep a lot better at night if I were given some assurances and some real, independent research on the issues.

  2. Lee Says:

    I wish I knew more about this issue. One aspect that makes it a little different is that rather than affecting us all more-or-less equally, e.g., as does fossil fuel pollution, or affecting the workers especially, e.g., as does coal dust, this burning water thing appears to affect a subset of us. So, there is a subpopulation that is bearing the brunt of the cost, but not getting a proportional amount of benefit, in terms of either power consumed or salary received.

    [FSR COMMENT: That’s life. Fossil fuel pollution most certainly does not affect us all equally. Some get lung cancer and die; some don’t. If the standard were that nobody could ever be harmed, then nothing would ever be done. There are always risks, and it’s rare that their operation affects all people the same.]

  3. Lee Says:

    Absolutely there are always risks, and I am with you on that 100%. But perhaps those that have better net benefit (get natural gas but not burning water) could help out those who get the short end of the stick. People whose entire fortunes are wrapped up in their properties that are now worth much, much less due to the nearness of these natural gas plants, have a pretty good reason to gripe. Yes, I’d pay more now for gas, but if they open one of these plants down the block from me, I’ll be glad I won’t find myself near destitution.

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