Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Breaking the Silence

I've been ducking the no fracking issue for too long. Today I went public, in a response to a friend who had asked me to sign a petition. I know that my stance will horrify most of my friends and family, but here goes.
Dear M—
I thought you deserved an explanation as to why I did not sign your DRAC petition last night. Since I remain somewhat soft on the issue, I’m copying some friends on the committee on the off chance that one of them might be able to change my mind.
Full disclosure: We leased mineral rights on a corner of our property several years ago, before the term “hydrofracking” entered the New York lexicon.

Like many Democrats, I believe that oil and gas companies are the scum of the earth. For that reason, we tried very hard to get at least partly off the grid when we first built our house. We looked into solar and wind energy sources, talked at length with NYSERDA and others, and determined that, in NYS at least, the system is stacked against individual homeowners. Yes, some incentives exist (and I believe that such incentives are a good and proper use of government). However, since the US really has no coherent energy policy, and NYS is basically corrupt, the incentives are not great enough to make solar or wind affordable to middle-income families, partly because NYS requires that homeowners deal exclusively with certain manufacturers and installers (which I think is NOT a good and proper use of government). The initial outlay, back when we looked into it, was so great that it would have taken 20-25 years to break even. We ended up going with a dual system of wood and heating oil.

I wish that we had known about geothermal heating when we built. That would have been a good alternative for us. If some unknown rich relative leaves us a legacy, we’ll rip up our back yard and convert to geothermal. Right now, that’s not an option.

If we heated our home geothermally, I would feel far more comfortable opposing gas drilling. I think it’s much better to use a renewable source for our energy than to use fossil fuels, no matter how much “cleaner” natural gas might supposedly be than oil. But we use oil, as do over 40 percent of New Yorkers, and that’s a serious problem for me. First of all, there is no way for me to know the source of the oil I use. I shop around each year, but whether I buy it from Agway or Ehrhart or Hewitt, it’s an unknown resource from an unknown source. Almost certainly, some percentage of it comes from overseas. Almost certainly, most or all of it is refined in the US. That’s about all I know.

In keeping drilling rigs out of Dryden, which I would love to do, I am condemning small towns in Texas and Oklahoma and Louisiana to lives of unsightliness, disease, and misery, just to provide me with the fuel oil I need. I am contributing to the economic segregation that plagues our country, a segregation that allows communities with money to draw their resources from communities without money. I am increasing the footprint of my fuel choice by ensuring that it is shipped thousands of miles before it reaches me. My own NIMBY attitude, if it is not accompanied by a refusal to use fossil fuels, is harmful to others. As someone who once lived in West Virginia, I’m pretty sensitive to this issue.

It seems to me that to oppose gas drilling logically, I need to offer a better option. Yet I live in a town that regulates against windmills of a certain size and in a state that insists that I purchase my solar panels from the most expensive sources around.

Here’s what I think are ugly: Power lines. Phone lines. That’s why we spent the extra dollars to bury ours underground. I also think cell towers are ugly. However, we’ve agreed to let Chuck B build a tower on our property, to the dismay of friends and family. Why? Because we feel that the town’s need for high-speed Internet service trumps our need to keep our woods pristine. Someday we’ll figure out a way to reduce the ugliness factor, but we’re not there yet. Right now, if we want 21st century communication, we have to have towers. (We are hoping to mitigate the ugliness by working with Chuck to find a way to tie wind power to the placement of towers. It remains to be seen whether this will succeed.)

I think most of Dryden’s apartment complexes are pretty ugly, as are its trailer parks and its Dollar Stores. The farms that keep rusted-out dead equipment next to the road are ugly, too. Zoning is used in many places to reduce ugliness. My guess is that we would all come up with different suggestions if the town decided to use zoning primarily for this purpose.

To oppose gas drilling merely on aesthetic grounds seems petty, and as I suggested above, that simply pushes the ugliness onto someone who can’t afford to oppose it. To oppose gas drilling on safety grounds seems much more reasonable.

I do not want unknown pollutants in my well water or groundwater. I support a moratorium and want to hear from the DEC and EPA on the safety issues. (Meanwhile, if we don’t trust the DEC, shouldn’t we disband it? If we don’t trust the EPA, ditto? What is the point of having regulatory agencies whose opinions we reject?) I’d like to know more about the form of fracking used in parts of Canada, a form which apparently uses no chemicals. I don’t want fracking to proceed until all safety questions are answered satisfactorily.

No, I don’t want big trucks and bright lights damaging my roads and nighttime sky. I’d much rather those trucks and bright lights were somewhere else where I didn’t have to see them. (See the Hypocrisy Issue, above.)

I know that the GOP notion that gas drilling is a job creator is specious. I know that the scum-of-the-earth gas and oil companies bring in experts from Texas and Oklahoma and Louisiana, temporary workers who buy their goods at the company store and return home to spend their sizeable paychecks. I think a reasonable use of government might be to insist that a certain percentage of jobs (good jobs, not just part-time truck driving) in the gas industry go to local citizens. I have yet to hear that proposal made.

Unfortunately, this latest petition isn’t up on the DRAC website. However, my initial reading of it last night did not gibe with the suggestion that it was about zoning to prevent gas drilling. It seemed much more definitive than that—completely preventative under any circumstances. Pulling the rug out from under hopeful landowners (not us, despite our little, soon-to-expire lease—the elderly farmers in our community that stand to lose their land) seems drastic to me. I understand the desperation of the DRAC supporters who fear that Cuomo will open the gates to drilling, but I still don’t see an alternative energy plan—from anyone at the town, county, state, or national level—that would help me support a “no fracking ever” stance.

Thanks for letting me ramble on.


Simon said...

This isn't easy to reply to in comments, so I wound up writing another blog post - http://livingindryden.org/2010/11/hard_questions_on_hydrofrackin.html

I signed pretty happily last night, but I don't think we're that hugely far apart.

Anonymous said...

The industrialization that comes with fracking unequivocally means endangering our water and poisoning our air. Those who live down wind of pipes, compressors, and rigs will be irrevocably exposed to carcinogens and endocrine disrupters and other pollutants. Moreover, we local taxpayers--many of us on fixed incomes--will have to subsidize the activities associated with "fracking" with no reimbursement. Here is a list of the items that our taxes will be raised to cover. The list is taken from the PA League of Women Voters study of the impacts of fracking in PA. This is why I am for banning fracking--its a ripoff!

* Roads clogged, roads destroyed, road accidents.
* Polluted air and water.
* Short- and long-term diseases from polluted air and water.
* Destruction of the outdoors for drilling pads, pipelines and access roads.
* Degradation of our traditional sources of income and taxes — tourism, wine-making and farming.
* Rents up and residential property values down.
* Overall reduction of local tax base.
* Prices for consumables such as groceries and gasoline way up.
* Accidents and industrial emergencies up, causing need for more equipment, training and hospital facilities.
* Crime up, causing need for additional law enforcement costs for officers, jail space, courts and police equipment.
* Polluted water and fracking fluids require expansion and retrofitting of water treatment facilities.

Anonymous said...

I use natural gas to heat my house, so it doesn't seem right for me to say no to drilling. But I want the drillers to pay the true cost of drilling in such an area, i.e., water tests in advance of all wells in the area, compensation to those whose water source is ruined, bonds to pay for damage to roads and for inevitable above-ground holding pond failures, salaries of all the state DEC inspectors that will be required, etc.

I know this will be expensive. I just want the true costs of drilling here to be reflected in the price of the natural gas produced, so that all who consume it will pay for its production, and these additional costs won't be "externalized" upon those who live in this area.

Anonymous said...

Great post.