September 15, 2013

HENRIE: Fracking: Well, Why Shouldn’t It Be You?

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I will probably irritate many of my readers if I say that anti-fracking sentiments are starting to annoy me. Before you begin to list the many negative impacts of fracking, let me say that I don’t support fracking in New York or anywhere else.  However, it seems to me that there is an awful lot of public dialogue about banning fracking and not a lot about what we we’re going to do without natural gas.  No matter how angry people are about fracking, it doesn’t matter so long as they still rely on natural gas to heat their homes and cook their food.  Complain all you want; someone’s getting fracked. Why shouldn’t it be you?

There are alternatives, of course.  Energy reduction for one: Building with more home insulation and turning the thermostat lower in the winter.  But you’ll still be burning something.  That being said, it is perfectly possible to produce natural gas via the anaerobic breakdown of organic materials.  Electricity is being generated by decomposing garbage in Seneca County as we speak.  Any organic waste will do: manure, lawn clippings, human waste, food scraps.  If we lived in an Upstate New York where waste from our farms and homes were being transformed into all the “biogas” that we needed, then fracking would seem not only as awful as it is, but utterly unnecessary.

I would not insult my readers’ intelligence by implying that you’ve never thought of this; that it has never crossed your mind that you’re being a tad hypocritical as you sit in a gas-heated room here at Cornell and glance outside at a “Don’t Frack With My Water” sign.  Perhaps you’ve even heard of biogas, perhaps you’ve been eagerly awaiting its debut in your furnace.  Even if you’re pro-fracking, surely biogas seems like a good idea; indefinite production of gas from waste products with no risk to our water supply. Seems like a great idea, right?  It solves many environmental problems and would be great for our economy as well (more so than fracking, by far).  The real problem, however, is: How will we get to that point?  The infrastructure simply doesn’t exist yet. But perhaps you believe that there is some government official with the word “engineer” in his or her title who is figuring that out; the only fuel you need provide is your fiery indignation.

However, I will bet you everything I own that the state government will do one thing to free us from our dependence on natural gas: Nothing. Actually, worse than nothing. They will help the gas companies exploit us. Perhaps I am a pessimist, but it seems to me that our government, both state and federal, has a nasty habit of being much more effective at addressing the needs of large businesses than those of the people. Success stories in the fight against pollution or economic woe are generally local, on a city or county level. It is possible to safely heat one’s home and cook one’s food without fracking, but you (yes, you!) are going to have to take the initiative. Investing in the construction of anaerobic digesters to produce natural gas or replacing your furnace with a wood fired masonry stove are far more effective means of fighting gas companies than going to protests or signing petitions. They are, I admit, more expensive, but no one said this was going to be easy.

I will confess that I have only the foggiest notion of how to start actually doing what I’m suggesting. I am a poor college student and know comparatively little about how to apply leverage to the institutions of the world.  But something must be done (we could, I suppose, begin by pushing Cornell to go further than it has in this direction. Carbon-neutral by 2050 is not good enough). I have become convinced that the reason there are some many stories of failure, of states and communities succumbing to the demands of industry — paper companies polluting rivers with bleach-like chemicals, coal companies removing mountains — is because you can’t rebel against a system that you rely on. You must break free from it first.  Fracking protestors may put as many posters up as they like, they may sign petitions until their hands are weary, they may froth at the mouth at the indignity of it all; but if they can’t learn to heat their homes with their anger, the inexorable march of the gas companies shall not stop.

Liam Henrie is a sophomore in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. He may be reached at [email protected]. Out of the Mouths of Goats appears alternate Mondays this semester.