Can a few anti-frackers hold back the tide of progress?

147616481An article in today s New York Times discusses the situation regarding fracking in N.Y. State, with a focus on the small town of Dryden in the central finger lakes region. The 15,000 residents, via their town council, voted for a ban on the oil and gas drilling technique in 2011, but the issue is only now coming before the New York State Court of Appeals the state s highest court.

The issue is complex, controversial, and of major importance for the state if not for the country. Fracking, in which a mixture of water and certain chemicals is injected deep beneath the earth s surface into eons-old shale deposits containing entrapped fossil fuels, has been safely utilized for decades in the southwest and other areas. However, when the oil and gas companies started to seek drilling sites in New York, a very active and vocal activist community sprang up, led by Josh Fox (a filmmaker whose main achievement was the agit-prop Gasland,) abetted by a bunch of celebrities who happened to own estates in central New York.

The other major player in this debate is Governor Andrew Cuomo, whose initial expressed approval of fracking quickly turned to concern and then seemingly-endless equivocation. Some believe that he is feeling pressure from his ultra-environmental wing to delay or ban the technology, and his aspirations for higher office preclude an objective, science-based evaluation, which he has passed on to his appointees in various state fiefdoms. The issue is settled, in the main, around the rest of the country: fracking is supplying an abundance of natural gas (its main product) for energy and chemical synthetic uses. Fracking has been gleefully exploited in nearby Pennsylvania, which has seen a rebirth in manufacturing, employment, and annual income thanks to the fossil fuel developers, and which is looked upon jealously by New Yorkers whose aspirations are being blocked by activists and politicians. In fact, the Times article quotes an energy company spokesman whose business has, after the last few years of frustration, fled the state.

ACSH s Dr. Gilbert Ross had this comment: Despite the Don t Frack New York campaigners stridency, numbers, and name-recognition (I d just mention here, Yoko ), there is just no evidence that high-volume hydraulic fracturing, as the process is technically called, has led to any water contamination nor environmental degradation. Multiple investigations by governmental authorities have failed to detect any such. There are many sad aspects to this phony controversy: the continued rusting of central New York and its Southern Tier, the inability of landowners to decide how to exploit their property, and in small part the lack of NY s contribution to the shale gas revolution, as an op-ed in the same newspaper (written by a Nobel physics laureate) put it. And, ironically, that same op-ed highlights the climate benefits of natural gas as compared to coal yet the pseudo-environmentalists demonstrating against fracking would cut off their noses to spite their faces rather than admit to the manifold benefits of natural gas and go with the flow of shale-derived energy. They would rather stand on NIMBY, thanks to the waffling of Gov. Cuomo and the pull of wealthy entertainers and other dilettantes.