Tone Down The Hysteria And Tune Up The Research On Hydrofracking

I recently received a survey from the Food and Water watch which I found to be an interesting example of loaded questions written from a degree of bias worthy of the NRA. It was obviously aimed at rousing opposition to the practice of deep well horizontal hydrofracking.

I fear that it is only another tool for promoting hysteria instead of thoughtful discussion. Instead of wasting my time answering obviously leading questions which are intended to elicit answers sympathetic to their cause, I sent them the following. This is a very important topic for our state and our nation, therefore I am weighing in on the topic.

1. The American citizen wants to be able to flip a switch and know that the lights will go on. As a nation, we are, unfortunately, not really into conservation. This is a serious problem.

2. Fossil fuels are not where we ideally want to be. Renewables are the responsible and viable goal for the health of our environment worldwide.

3. A recent MIT study on air pollution estimates that 52,000 Americans die prematurely due to power plant emissions each year. This is a here and now problem; people are dying each day because of our present reliance on dirty fossil fuels. Coal mining is, here and now, an environmental disaster.

4. Natural gas is a fossil fuel, and therefore dirty; however it is a far less dirty fuel than what are presently our main duel sources coal and petroleum. Recent studies have found that methane gas escaping from deep gas wells is not as serious a problem as at first thought. Still, concern over methane byproducts can be addressed by capturing these emissions and selling them for industrial use. The technology exists, and if there is a profit to be made from this, drilling companies will do it.

5. Our nation has been involved in a number of expensive and deadly overseas military operations intended to protect our access to foreign petroleum. This sacrifice of our sons and daughters for petroleum needs to end.

6. Horizontal hydrofracking has had its problems and needs to be closely regulated. However, those problems are few in number compared to the problems caused by the old shallow wells. Vigorous environmental protection rules on a state level can prevent many problems and has already been proven to do that. It has been demonstrated that, if strictly supervised and done with the best technology and respect for the environment, horizontal hydrofracking can be done with minimal risk. I would prefer to leave this up to the states, as our deeply divided Congress seems to have lost its collective ability to do anything.

7. Water brought back up after horizontal hydrofracking is not highly radioactive. It is, however, somewhat radioactive and municipal water treatment plants are not designed to deal with that. Drilling companies are capable of building water treatment plants which can deal with their wastewater and then reusing that water so as to minimize pressure on local water supplies, and some of these have been built already and are currently in use.

8. An informed landowner is an important part of the equation. Addenda to the standard lease go far to protect water supplies. It is my experience that landowners are not fools; they insist on liberal setbacks and protection of water sources by lease addendum if such protections are not already in the lease.

9. The infrastructure necessary for renewables to have a serious impact on our nation’s power supply is in its infancy and it will take decades to get to where it needs to be to replace fossil fuel if our politicians can get their acts together and underwrite the research and development.If they don’t, it will take longer.

10. Converting coal-burning power plants over to natural gas will take years, but not the decades it will take to get renewables up and running.

11. Since the Fukushima disaster, it is highly unlikely that there will be popular or political support for new nuclear power plants, and there is still the issue of transporting and disposing of waste materials. Even with popular support, it could take a decade to perform necessary studies and fight through the red tape on top of the four to five years to construct a new nuclear power plant.

12. The continental U.S. has sufficient supplies of natural gas in deep deposits to meet our needs until we can create the infrastructure necessary to provide environmentally responsible sources of energy sufficient to our needs.

13. We need to pressure our Congressional leaders to underwrite the development of renewable energy sources and leave political ideology out of the discussion. This is too important an issue to be controlled by extremists on either side of the issue.

14. If the anti-fracking groups want to gain my respect and support, they need to stop distributing false information and scare-rhetoric. I have seen too much of that and it only muddies the waters.

We need to expand our research and tone down the hysteria so that there can be a reasonable discussion of the matter.

I have made no mention of the economic issues faced by our economically distressed rural New York communities (and those in other rust belt states)as the agenda of Food and Water Watch seems to be purely environmental. I am, however, a bona fide tree-hugger. I do believe, contrary to the claims of the anti-fracking groups, that the damage we are presently doing to our environment and to our economy far outweighs any harm that is likely to come from well-regulated deep-well horizontal hydrofracking. I also believe that we can revitalize our rural New York economy without destroying our environmental treasures.

Thea Kester is an Ashville resident.