October 5, 2011

Letter to the Editor: Discourse on hydrofracking is hyper-precautionary

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To the Editor:

Re: “Times’ Urbina Speaks About Covering Fracking,” News, Oct. 5

Ian Urbina’s controversial reporting in The New York Times on the drilling technique known as hydraulic fracturing to extract natural gas from shale has helped to foment an activist and media firestorm. The investigative reporter’s Kops Freedom of the Press Lecture at Goldwin Smith (ah, just saying the name puts me back in the Arts quad, circa 1965) offers us a good chance to re-examine the facts related to domestic natural gas production, especially concerning hydraulic fracturing.

Hydraulic fracturing — known more commonly as “fracking” — has been deployed safely throughout the U.S. since 1949. To date, cases of verified environmental contamination — of water, air or wildlife — are virtually non-existent. This fact is important to note, since fracking opponents are quick to use doomsday scenarios of chemicals poisoning drinking water across the country. In fact, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson, surely no friend of industry, has said herself that fracking is safe. This finding has been reaffirmed by numerous state regulators, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the Ground Water Protection Council and the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission, among others.

In fact, Urbina’s own coverage in The Times cites only one valid example: an EPA report from 1987. One previously identified incident among millions of wells developed in sixty years is hardly breaking news. The current “controversy” — whipped up by reporters like Mr. Urbina and agitprop such as the movie Gasland — ignores the safe use of fracking documented over past decades; but the campaigns really bloomed when the prospect of Marcellus shale exploration became more likely in New York State. “Not in my backyard” is, in essence, what the current agitation is really all about.

What’s lost in the baseless, hyper-precautionary hysteria: Natural gas has the potential to provide America with trillions of cubic feet of clean, safe energy, which will reduce our reliance on foreign energy sources — especially crucial since the same forces lining up against fracking also oppose oil, coal and nuclear energy. The country, the world, these days seems filled with people who are always standing in the way of progress out of fear of worst-case scenarios. Remember Chernobyl? Remember Big Tobacco in the 60s? But what came of the Gulf Oil spill, environmentally? And what about the Fukushima nuclear “disaster”? Despite an historic earthquake and tsunami, no one got radiation poisoning–the same number as Three-Mile Island, by the way. What about fracking — might some disastrous contamination occur? Anything is possible, but we must not let ourselves be paralyzed by one-in-a-billion odds. We must act now or retreat to the caves with solar and wind power.

Hopefully Urbina’s anti-fracking “investigations” will not put the exploitation of our abundant, clean and affordable natural gas reserves in hibernation while we await “sustainable” energy sources.

Dr. Gilbert Ross ‘68Medical Director, The American Council on Science and Health