By: Michael Lynch
I often encourage petroleum executives to listen to and engage their political opponents, on the grounds that many are rational and can be reasoned with. (Also, they are sometimes right.) But the fracking debate threatens to descend into the worst type of demagoguery, to the exclusion of rationality.
Today’s New York Times has a full page ad opposing construction of a natural gas pipeline signed by Yoko Ono and endorsed by various anti-fracking groups which is so over the top as to be ridiculous. A more extreme straw person could not be constructed to embarrass environmentalists, even as some are attempting to address substantive concerns about the practice.
For example: “President Obama, you have two beautiful daughters. Do you want their health, environment and futures to be irreversibly destroyed by fracking, like the suffering children of Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio?” Perhaps Ms. Ono thinks “The Walking Dead” is a documentary. Or maybe she has never been to any of those states, which will no doubt be shocked to hear of their doom.
The truth is that finding environmental damage from fracking has been extremely difficult and consists primarily of anecdotal reports of subjective diagnoses. Stories of teenage girls suffering from nausea and headaches, or rough statistical correlations of health problems and fracking activity are exactly the type of reports that are rejected as unscientific in debates about vaccines or fluoride. The children of Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio are far more at risk from riding bicycles than fracking.
The argument that gas pipelines create “a scar that never heals” is also absurd. New York now has 5,000 miles of natural gas pipelines crisscrossing the state, and the impact is marginal. Pathways for new pipelines do involve tree clearance, for example, but so do ski runs and organic farms and even, yes, solar power projects.
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