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.
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.