A Love Affair with Fear: The Campaign Against Hydraulic Fracturing
If Orson Welles and War of the Worlds taught us anything, it is that Americans have a love affair with the mysteries of the unknown. Generating hysteria regarding the unfamiliar just isn’t that difficult because we’re all vulnerable. It is, in fact, one of our favorite pastimes and even basic science such as hydraulic fracturing, that’s been around for 60 years, can serve as the fodder for fear mongering when people are unaware of the basic facts.
I’m sure cave men somehow communicated to their young their own fears of what was beyond beyond the cave entrance. That was wise back then, as we were not necessarily the top of the food chain. Our primordial ancestors probably used hand gestures, a primitive language of grunts and groans and crude wall paintings to instill a proper fear of the outside world. Plato even wrote about this.
Today, thousands of years later, we see the same tactics. Why? It worked then, and still works today. Books have been written exposing the ways of fear and how clever people incite it as a method of implementing their own agendas. Yet, fear is not all bad. As parents, we use stories from our past to teach lessons based on past mistakes and explain to others what to fear in the real world. We try to balance it, however, with the exercise of prudence and reason. One of the main lessons I was taught, for example, relies on just three words; verify,verify and verify. Get to the truth without causing alarm by verifying the facts. Don’t speculate, which only causes paralysis, but, rather, investigate and determine the facts.
I have spent the better part of the last five years researching and looking for the truth about harvesting our natural gas. I have accumulated full hard drives and boxes of information to fill volumes. I am going to sum up what I have learned to help you move forward on this issue. Hopefully, New York and other states can move forward also and we can safely produce our energy, using every method available, here on our own soil, under the strictest guidelines in the world, without fear of the unknown.
First, all products have been touched in some way by hydrocarbons. The very paper or computer from which you are reading this has a chain of custody that directly involves massive use of hydrocarbons. Neither you, me nor anyone is going to change that fact. If you want to go fossil fuel free then start dragging everything out of your house, including every plastic dish, every electronic item, much of your clothing, many of your cosmetics, your toothbrushes, your kids’ crayons, several medicines and vitamins, your floor coverings, every sports ball, your paints, all upholstered items, your kids’ toys, all the crayons and your telephones. Worse, if you like wearing a haz-mat suit to natural gas protests (see below) – well, sadly, that has to go, too, because it’s typically composed of fluoropolymers, rubbers or thermoplastics, all of which are hydrocarbons. It’s pretty ironic, isn’t it?
Second, we have been caught in the middle of a war of words. One side is adamantly opposed to natural gas development and is intent on raising fears based almost entirely on speculation about, not what IS happening, but what COULD happen under some bizarre set of circumstances demanding a thousand guesses in a row to be correct. Some on the other side, likewise, tell us it’s as safe dropping a glass on an air mattress. Somewhere in between is the truth.
Unfortunately, we seem to bounce back and forth between the extremes. At one time, our work force was brutal. My grandfather, for example, died at a very young age, leaving a wife and four children behind. This was before unions, when hours were long and inspections were few. On a late dark night, after very long hours, and groggy from exhaustion, he failed to negotiate a fork in the road and met his fate. Not long after that, unions formed in his industry and rules were changed such that the condition to which he was subjected no longer existed. Unfortunately, for a while, some unions pushed back so hard they went over the top, causing a reverse effect of too much power that constrained industry unnecessarily and hurt everyone. Today, all seems to be in check.
The EPA was formed in 1970, just after they flooded the last of 23 towns and villages that make up the New York City reservoir system in our region. We had some big environmental issues, industrial pollution that was out of control and other situations that demanded action. However, as in the story above, there was overkill and over regulation that started to happen. We need watchdogs, because, if left unchecked, history will repeat itself. But, at what point does a checks and balances system become more about control and less about the ultimate objective of maintaining a clean environment? It seems we’re well past it.
The pseudo-environmental groups that have formed today are not the groups that sought effective regulation in the beginning. Today, they are often little more than appendages of private special interests. They are well-funded by these interests to spread fear and cause the kind of panic that accompanied War of the Worlds when it was played on the radio. Why, because panic is the excuse for pursuing utopian visions and keeping the little people at bay while the very wealthy ensure nothing happens around them or their playgrounds. It’s NIMBYism on a collossal scale and too many of today’s environmental groups fall for it. They buy into the fear and then become purveyors of it themselves. It’s fear, not facts, all day, every day.
Here are the facts and I hope you will research them for yourself. Natural gas development is not new to the Southern Tier. Travel west to Chautauqua County, New York. This is what the New York State Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (SGEIS) says about it:
Well operators reported 6,732 producing natural gas wells in New York in 2010, approximately half of which (3,358) are in Chautauqua County. With 1,056 square miles of land in Chautauqua County, 3,358 reported producing wells equates to at least three producing wells per square mile. For the most part, these wells are at separate surface locations. Actual drilled density where the resource has been developed is somewhat greater than that, because not every well drilled is currently producing and some areas are not drilled. The Department issued 5,490 permits to drill in Chautauqua County between 1962 and June 30, 2011, or five permits per square mile. Of those permits, 62% (3,396) were issued during a 10-year period between 1975 and 1984, for an average rate of 340 permits per year in a single county. Again, most of these wells were drilled at separate surface locations, each with its own access road and attendant disturbance. Although the number of wells is lower, parts of Seneca and Cayuga County have also been densely drilled. Many areas in all three counties – Chautauqua, Seneca and Cayuga – have been developed with “conventional” gas wells on 40-acre spacing (i.e., 16 wells per square mile, at separate surface locations).
The SGEIS also says 90% of New York’s gas well have been fractured and provides the following map of natural gas development activity in Chautauqua County:
Remember, these are vertical wells at a spacing far more dense than anything proposed in the Marcellus Shale and, of course, the wells are located in the middle of vineyards and other farm fields so they are hardly noticeable on the ground. Nonetheless, one can quickly see this area, which surrounds Chautauqua Lake, the drinking water source for Jamestown, New York, is heavily developed with fracturing everywhere and, yet, there is no pollution. Marcellus Shale development will be far less intrusive with far fewer holes punched through groundwater aquifers and, therefore, even less chance of problems. The SGEIS further states “the use of friction reducers in slickwater fracturing procedures reduce the required pumping pressure at the surface” and notes “the inner production casing is the only casing string that will experience the high pressures associated with the fracturing treatment.” Therefore, the impacts on formations yielding water supplies are no different than with these Chautauqua wells.
There is a reason the fear mongers go to Pennsylvania and not Western New York to find stories. Simply put, New York has always done it better. The New York States Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) instituted new drilling and casing protocols in 1988. Pennsylvania instituted New York style casing requirement in February, 2011, and since has had ZERO issues. The New York SGEIS adds yet another string of casing to our requirements.
The anti-natural gas brigade, of course, is always looking for new angles and the latest speculation relates to supposed impacts on the food chain. If this concerns you, take a look at Seneca Lake region where there are hundreds of gas wells around the lake and yet the wine seems to still be good. How can this be and how is it that Chautauqua Lake has not be impacted? The answer is obvious – hydraulic fracturing is not negatively impacting water quality in New York because the state has a darned good set of regulations.
Water quality impacts are a non-issue with natural gas development. It is crystal clear to anyone reading the evidence. So why are we waiting when New York so desperately needs the jobs and the economic jolt development of the Marcellus Shale can provide? We need those jobs and the state needs real revenue . We can no longer accommodate the fear tactics. We can no longer abide by the “Not In My Back Yard” attitude of shutting minds to the facts. Anti-natural gas groups need to beat their swords into plowshares and join us in making safe and responsible Marcellus Shale development a reality in New York State. Will they do it? Somehow I doubt it. I suspect they’re more interested in donation-producing fear tactics, but I can dream, can’t I?