COMMENTARY | Sometime before last Tuesday, the world started fracking, and no one wanted to talk about it. As of this Tuesday, in a blow to traditional morays, fracking has become front-page news, most notably in my home state of Pennsylvania where the practice is well underway in various rural areas.
Now even the Amish are getting into the act.
The process of fracking, technically referred to as hydraulic fracturing, has been around for decades as a method for extracting natural gas from oil shale. It involves pumping fluid into vertical and horizontal wells in order to fracture the shale and release valuable fuel reserves. The method is highly effective and highly profitable.
Economically, the process has been a boon to local economies. The burgeoning industry has created thousands of quality, skilled jobs in areas like high-value trucking, engineering and logistics. Add to that the retail, professional, real estate and health care support for the surrounding communities, and you have the makings of an economic resurgence in a state that has remained only about 1.5 percent below the U.S. national unemployment rate.
According to data from the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry, the Keystone State is trending better than the national averages in unemployment and job growth, primarily due to a 16.9 percent increase in mining and logging jobs from October 2010 to October 2011.
Great news, right? Well, not to everyone. When the Environmental Protection Agency issued a report last week stating that Wyoming wells may have been polluted by waste water generated by nearby hydraulic fracturing, the usual fossil-fuel skeptics pounced. But this time, they brought some surly friends along.
Enter, the Amish. Recently in the news due to a rogue, beard-cutting gang terrorizing local communities, the Amish have found a new friend in activist environmentalists, who have commandeered the normally apolitical sect to bolster their claim that fracking is detrimental to the environment, and apparently their otherwise virtuous womanfolk.
Yes, you read that correctly. According to witf.org, Lancaster County Democrat Rep. Mike Sturla recently wrote in an e-mail that drilling operations are now “spreading sexually transmitted disease amongst the womanfolk.”
Thus is the new culture of energy politics in America. President Obama has no energy plan or policy, which leaves both sensible and radical environmentalists, businesses and the people (remember them?) serving at the whim of the EPA and other yet-to-be-defined regulatory mandates or moratoriums.
Obama continues to defend taxpayer funding for companies like Solyndra in order to push technologies that simply are not ready for prime time while inexplicably blocking shovel-ready projects like the Keystone Pipeline. Is a moratorium on hydo-fracking on the horizon?
With all of the uncertainty come arbitrary lines and unlikely bedfellows, opening a political fissure flooded with a toxic cocktail of activism, capitalism and counter-culture reformationalism (a fancy word for the Amish and the Occupy Wall Street protestors). The resulting pressure creates a frack of its own, producing a wellspring of hot air, distrust and vitriol while squandering barrels of economic opportunity.
Energy leadership is needed to help everyone operate with consistent rules and practical accountability, or the chaos will worsen. Once the horse-and-buggies show up in Zuccotti Park, it’s all over.
As far as the increase in Sexually Transmitted Diseases is concerned, perhaps the term fracking itself is to blame. Maybe some Orwellian Newspeak is in order to change public perception–may I suggest cracking gas, or consensual domestic production, or possibly trollin’ for fissures. Feel free to contact me with your own suggestions. In the mean time, let us Pennsylvanians continue to frack without shame or ridicule. We promise to do it safely.
Scott Meckley and Dennis Marsh, “Pennsylvania’s Employment Briefing: November 2011”, PA Department of Labor and Industry.
Mary Wilson, “Lawmaker defends comments pinning higher rates of STDs on gas drillers”, witf.org