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In Discerning Frack From Fiction, What's Relevant?

Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA Read Comments - 11
Publish Date: 
Thu, 03/14/2013

 

Last week political, media and celebrity worlds converged to produce headlines worthy of “News of the Weird.” Sean Penn eulogized anti-American strongman Hugo Chavez as “a friend [America] never knew it had,” while Dennis Rodman declared North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un “an awesome guy.” Upon returning from the starving gulag-state, Rodman scored a coveted Sunday interview with George Stephanopoulos and CNN declared him a “diplomatic triumph.”

 

But perhaps the most captivating cause célèbre -- likely to transform advocates into media and campus darlings -- is the crusade to halt the drilling innovation called hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”). However, if you expect those aspiring to star in the next “China Syndrome” to possess more scruples than Rodman or Penn, Think Again. Though fracking has opened up vast reserves of clean, cheap, and reliable natural gas in shale-rock deep underground, making America the world’s largest natural gas producer, it’s a bête noire to enviro-stars like Matt Damon.

 

In his new movie “Promised Land,” Damon doubled down on alarming claims made in Josh Fox’s Oscar-nominated documentary “Gasland,” even copying the signature scene of a man lighting tap water on fire. Wanting another environmental blockbuster like “The China Syndrome” -- whose release days before Three Mile Island’s near meltdown devastated the nuclear power industry -- Damon aimed to stoke natural gas fears. However, not only has mass hysteria not materialized, his film is a box-office and financial bust for investors, including oil-rich United Arab Emirates.

 

Damon’s conceit derives from the frenzy generated by “Gasland’s” Fox, who claims fracking causes “toxic streams, ruined aquifers, dying livestock, shocking illnesses and tap water that bursts into flames.” Media jumped on the anti-natural gas bandwagon, including the New York Times, prompting its ombudsman to twice rebuke Times’ editors and staff for biased reporting and questionable ethics.

 

Meanwhile, aware that “natural” gas occurs naturally in water where there’s methane-rich soil (like Burning Springs, New York) and of stories about George Washington lighting water on fire, former Financial Times reporter Phelim McAleer started an 18-month investigation to uncover the truth about fracking and “Gasland’s” startling allegations.

 

His just released documentary ”Fracknation” was financed on-line with donations averaging $64 and has won plaudits for exposing enviro-hucksters while championing their victims: Variety called it “a well-reasoned film…. [that] makes a good case against Fox’s movie,” and the New York Times said it’s “no tossed-off, pro-business pamphlet” but “methodically researched and assembled.” 

 

Its pivotal scene is of McAleer questioning Fox at a 2011 screening of “Gasland”  about his famous flaming faucets. “Isn’t it true,” McAleer asks, “there’s reports, decades before fracking started, that there was methane in the water there?” Aware of these scientific studies, and galled by the question’s ethical implications, Fox declares contradictory evidence “not relevant,” as if documentarians enjoy the same dramatic license as fictional filmmakers.

 

But if facts and scientific proof aren’t relevant, what is?  Are Fox and Damon intent on reverse-engineering arguments from pre-ordained conclusions, or informing the public? As with all types of energy production, fracking involves legitimate risks; why not focus on assuring regulatory best practices?

                     

The truth is technological innovations like fracking have spawned an energy boom, enabling both economic and environmental improvements including: the substitution of low-carbon gas for coal; cheaper energy (a rebate for the poor); cleaner air; new energy jobs; increased governmental revenues; greater energy independence; a drop in U.S. carbon-dioxide emissions to a 20-year low, outpacing Europe whose expensive renewable-energy strategies have underperformed; and improved energy efficiency -- it takes 50 percent less energy to produce one dollar of economic output than it did in 1980.

 

Anti-frackers should learn John Meynard Keynes' lesson: “When my information changes, I alter my conclusions.” What’s irrefutably relevant is that fracking has succeeded where renewable-energy subsidies, government stimulus, and climate treaties have failed, potentially enabling cheap American energy to eventually offset China’s cheap labor advantage.

 

These upside surprises come when entrepreneurial thinkers “dream things that never were and say ‘why not’,” as Robert Kennedy famously said.  One dreamer, biologist Allan Savory, spoke at TED2013 of his odyssey to reverse global desertification, which degrades the land’s ability to absorb water and carbon causing famine, war and climate change. Savory described how he challenged his assumptions – ones that led him to mistakenly recommend killing 40,000 African elephants -- and centuries of conventional wisdom, deriving a counter-intuitive low-tech strategy to use grazing livestock to reclaim the land. At first he met bruising academic scorn, then astonishing and indisputable success.

 

Savory predicts his soil restoration strategy, if employed on half the available land, will enable enough carbon absorption to return to pre-industrial carbon-dioxide levels. Drawing a standing ovation he said, “I can think of almost nothing that offers more hope for our planet, for our children, for their children, and for all of humanity.”

 

Think Again – Aren’t the real celebrities innovators who solve seemingly intractable problems, not eco-stars who peddle fiction?

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Great article! Two points- I

Great article! Two points- I watched the Savory TED talk and it was so inspiring! I appreciate you directing me to this particular talk. Big fan of some of the TED stuff! (I even learned how to tie my shoes properly on TED!)

Point two: Fracking is a process that nature uses to create oil pools and 'fields'. My father was one of the first geologists to propose that oil can migrate from source rock. It happens when hydrological pressures from heating causes cracking (fracking) to happen without aid of man. It is a fact of nature, just as plate shifting and planet temperature change have always happened, well before mankind got into the oil finding or using business.

As long as caution is used to preserve ground water sources, the energy and job benefits are huge.

Your Think Again column on

Your Think Again column on hydraulic fracturing was astute, well written, well researched and a breath of fresh air. I wish more people would get past the politics of the matter and understand the tremendous benefit it has and will continue to provide our nation.

Thank you again.

Enjoyed this article; but

Enjoyed this article; but hopefully, you can focus on Allan Savory in another column..

I have been taking the current Hillsdale course .. week 3 was about Franklin; IF there was one point i wish the country understood was NOT that he was a great man, but that he tried EVERY DAY to BE a great man.. I honestly believe what separates the founding generation from all others and especially ours, is the quest to be great; NOT some mythical belief that you already are.. The evolution of Franklin's skill in becoming "temperate"; listening to his "foe" and letting the facts convince them in an environment of good will is glaringly the skill that we have most destroyed.. So, how about you use your charm to represent Allan Savory's story.. Accept the notion of Carbon as evil.. it is irrelevant.. and instead present the ways that we can lower carbon while building the health of the world (and it's economy).. More trees? would'a thought??.. Let the Left take credit, if it directs them toward your goal .. Imagine how fun it would be if you could finally get Matt D. to take credit for proposing NG as the way to drastically clean up our CO2 emissions from autos (while boosting the US economy).. and there is a way to make them think it's their idea... What about an "electric car" that uses NG as it's fuel to power the "generator" on the car

(Sorry.. NG means Natural Gas, in case)..

Just read your column and I

Just read your column and I wanted to tell you thanks for a reasonable article. Your question of “Fracking involves legitimate risks; why not focus on assuring regulatory best practices?” hits the nail on the head. It amazes me that folks who earn millions of bucks by being travelling minstrels or dressing up and playing make believe in front of the camera are so dead set against anything to do with others making an honest living. Your right, there are dangers involved, as with any process, but let’s look at the real problems and work for solutions.

I am in the business, so my opinion doesn’t count. (You’ve heard it, we’re “paid shrills” for the big oil companies). But I do appreciate your writing this. I also respect the fact that you wrote it in Aspen, in that anything construed as pro-fracking there could get you run out of town.

Thanks again.

PS- I found your article through a Facebook link on the “Fracpride” page. The elite NY protester types might be surprised to find that most guys and gals, (er, men and women) that work in the oil and gas production business are very proud of what they do and what they accomplish. Might make a good story…

we disagree on substantial

we disagree on substantial political thought but i agree with you on the energy issue. Having access to abundant clean and cost effective natural gas is our good fortune. There are always costs to extraction of resources but the benefits vastly outweigh them. That is what is missing from the debate. Would we forego the enormous benefits to the human condition of the steam age because of its undeniable costs to the environment? Good work on this one.

Your article lacks balance

Your article lacks balance and information regarding the threat and issues around fracking - including what it does to communities and land and the issues that the gas companies have yet to effectively address regarding extraction and waste disposal/treatment. Furthermore, if it was in your backyard and threatened to impact the largest natural water reserve in the world, I am not sure you would have presented such a view. You fail to address why the NYT's is anti-fracking as are the bast majority of people who own land and live in NY state. The way the gas companies have handled pushing their way around is disgusting - and disheartening. They have yet to have developed a way to safely handle toxic waste by products - confirmed by the engineering companies that stand to actually benefit from the waste clean up contracts . By the way, although the state believes it has protected the water reservoir - we don't know for sure that this is a sufficient boundary. If you impact the water supply to NYC, can you imagine the economic calamity?

Fracking would be a great thing when and if gas companies effectively address extraction and elimination - and require gas companies to take responsibility for how they conduct themselves in small communities among many other issues.

Anyway, think again.

"I guess relevant to me is

"I guess relevant to me is wondering what someone has to gain by seeing this issue a certain way. When I did some research on Burning Springs, for example, I found that it was a methane seep that was unusual enough that it was a tourist attraction. When I think about what's relevant here, I like to look at things like how mining for silica sand and earthquakes caused by disposal of fracking fluids impact communities.I like to think about the relevance of a place like the Bayou Corne sink hole and what that should tell us about using salt caverns to store LNG. It's relevant to me to listen to toxicologists try to sort out the chemical exposures caused by air emissions from gas drilling and it's relevant to me as a nurse especially to listen to people who are telling us that they are getting headaches, nosebleeds, rashes, and asthma attacks. How am I supposed to feel when I hear that 1/3 of the state land in Pennsylvania has been leased to gas companies? In the last two days, I've read about an accident involving a water truck where two children died, a tugboat that hit an unmarked gas pipeline and a drilling accident in Pa. causing people to evacuate their homes in the middle of the night............I just want to hear someone say that this is an acceptable level of loss if that is how they feel about making money from gas."

drilling technique called

drilling technique called hydraulic fracturing

For the record, it is not a drilling technique. It is a post-drilling activity. Hydraulic Fracturing begins after the drilling is done.

It is a well completion technique. It is not done with a drilling rig.

bad timing Melanie. I suspect

bad timing Melanie. I suspect the eco-nuts are already in the checkout lines at Home Depot with their purchases, just in time to celebrate Easter the old fashioned way, by crucifying you.

Another good one. As someone

Another good one. As someone who's in the oil industry (peripherally but still) it is amazing people just hear "fracking" and immediately assume the worst possible scenario. Kind of like saying "fire" in a movie theatre: everyone panics and goes bezerk before actually knowing IF there is a fire. Useful idiots like Matt Damon and Sean penn (and their private jet lifestyle) supported by the media is yet another example of the media fawning over celebrities instead of doing their jobs

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