Appalachian Basin

My Stein Runneth Over

Friday night in Vestal, N.Y.,I had the opportunity to hear firsthand a presentation by Sandra Steingraber, Ph.D, who came to town to pitch her book and see if she couldn’t use the occasion to rally up some opposition to the responsible development of natural gas in New York.

For those who do not know, Dr. Steingraber is a cancer survivor from Illinois with a background in the sciences. Steingraber has, in recent years, traded the microscope for a pen, focusing mostly on the notion of living in “chemically infested” world — and then scaring audiences to whom she speaks into thinking that anyone and everyone may get cancer because of it. Not because actual pathways of exposure exist. Just because our world is one that relies on chemicals to make it better. She doesn’t like chemicals, I learned. She likes makeup, though. One wonders how much she knows about what that’s made of.

Anyway:  She describes herself as an “acclaimed ecologist and author” as well as a poet and film star.  You can read some of her sophist views here, which essentially revolvesaround the precautionary principle of taking absolutely no risk, no matter how inconsequential or how costly compared to benefits- a policy prescription for return to the Dark Ages.

This presentation focused on air quality – don’t worry, she will be back in three weeks for a water quality discussion – and how people all over the world are exposed to carcinogens daily. However, her scientific presentation focused almost exclusively on symbolism and choreographed routines and wasn’t all that compelling (especially compared to this far different perspective on the issues).

The event, which was slated to start at 7 pm, was delayed by a number of “technical difficulties,” including a large power point screen ominously suspended from the ceiling. This sparked some curiosity, as did much of the presentation.

At 7:30 pm the announcer came on the stage to introduce Dr. Steingraber, pay homage to the sponsors, and announce that signed copies of her book were available for $25 (pretty steep price for a book currently ranked #24,316 on He then dutifully noted these signed books were not tax deductible, but any donations would be greatly appreciated. Then he brought two young girls up on the stage for a special announcement. The girls politely requested a future clean and safe from environmental risk, as if the rest of us hadn’t thought about that and needed to be educated on the point.

As the girls left the stage, the lights dimmed and a short clip of a young boy advocating organic farming started playing. A mixture of stand up comedy and sarcasm fomented the audience into a state of laughter and applause. This clip was followed immediately by a movie trailer for Dr. Stiengarber’s recent documentary (an adaptation of an earlier book) which came out last year. This self-indulgent little piece of film might be described as a dark and stylized photographic exhibit, which immediately brought the audience down from the highs created by the first clip.


Following the showing of the trailer, which included an advertisement to buy the film directed at not-for-profit groups, the screen raised up with Dr. Steingraber, standing behind it — which explains why the show was a half hour behind schedule. She then proceeded with the actual presentation, which included a history lesson on shale, then a science lesson on oxygen creation combined with a strange story about the failure of markets.

Approximately 35 minutes into the presentation, we finally heard the first actual mention of shale development. She explained to the audience her understanding of the hydraulic fracturing process and suggested 600 hundred chemicals were used, but made no connection between this and air quality. Instead she quickly diverted attention to diesel fuel from trucks and compressor stations.  This use of “fracking” as a code word to suggest something nefarious and create an opening for discussion of unrelated things seems to plague all anti-gas “experts.”  See my earlier post on Tony the Tiger for another example.

Finishing up her presentation, Dr. Steingraber read a section from her book on hydraulic fracturing. This passage was a cartoonish representation of the process involving an alcoholic going through withdrawal — with the only alcohol in the house being locked in the basement. The alcoholic needs to break the door down or break the basement window but the people inside the house can help him by keeping the door locked. The night ended with her son, Elijha, coming up on the stage and reading the last part of the passage, drawing out the intended “oohs and aahs” from the crowd and completing the circle of emotions.

This type of presentation is all too typical of the opposition to natural gas in our region – all emotion and no facts.  It is why EID Marcellus is determined to get the truth out.  Please contact us whenever you come across this type of stuff so we can monitor it and report on it!

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