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An Enormous Opportunity Missed
An Enormous Opportunity Missed

Pennsylvania: The site of the first-ever U.S. oil strike, is now home to 2,000 natural gas wells (jobs, jobs, and more jobs).

Wednesday, January 30, 2013  Rochester, NY - Could people without college degrees or government jobs find work in the Rustbelt again? If greens have their way, no. A recently-leaked report from New York State’s Health Department indicated that, within the state’s regulatory rubric, hydraulic fracturing would pose no serious health risks. Unless the governor has some serious reason to believe that the report is inaccurate, this means that he has been caving to green pressure for a year and denying work to upstate New Yorkers who badly need it.

Exactly how bad are things? Well, if the Department of Labor’s statistics are at all to be trusted, in New York it is quite an exciting time to be an employer. You have more than 8% of the population to choose from. This is especially bad in hollowed-out manufacturing centers like Buffalo and Binghamton. And all this while New Yorkers are standing on buried treasure.

Drilling for natural gas is almost non-existent in New York, while across the southern border in Pennsylvania, drilling in the Marcellus Shale has expanded from just under 30 wells to over 2000. Farmers and landowners in the region can earn thousands of dollars per acre for drilling rights before a well even breaks ground.

But landowners and energy companies wouldn’t be the only ones to benefit from a New York natural gas boom. Working people—welders, drillers, mechanics and chemists—would all be able to find decent work in the industry as well.

Anti-fracking activists often claim that “green” jobs are the future of the working-class. Quite frankly, this is ridiculous. In a struggling economy, businesses and homeowners aren’t going to place a high premium on insulating their walls a little better when they are already warm enough, and green manufacturing tends to benefit people with bachelor’s and master’s degrees significantly more than people with GED’s. If you don’t believe it, take a look at the employment page of this stimulus beneficiary.

[RELATED: Peak Oil be Damned! Our Haphazard Foray into Hydrofracking]

This isn’t to say that New York politicians are opposed to creating more brown-collared energy jobs. Senator Chuck Schumer has been a formidable advocate. It is just that the oil drilling jobs he advocates would be located in Saudi Arabia. This is an odd position for someone who considers himself a friend of the environment to hold. Natural gas burns cleaner than either petroleum oil or coal.

Democrats won big in New York in the November election, but the one faction of the party that lost hands-down were the anti-fracking extremists. The people spoke, but Albany is still slow to listen. This is because, for too long, New York’s political class has been guided by a singular ideology which says, when it comes to job creation, “Not in my backyard.”

-James Banks is a Brighton-based writer and graduate student at the University of Rochester. He writes the "Gulliver's Dispatch" blog for PolicyMic and previously wrote for "The American Interest" online. His reviews have appeared in "The Weekly Standard" and "The Intercollegiate Review" among other publications.

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By: admin on 1/31/13
The economics of Mr. Banks' argument, and pro-fracking arguments in general, may be reasonable, as far as it goes, but they miss the main point.

As with the tar sands oil pipeline, the public conversation tends to focus on economics, water contamination, truck traffic, etc, which are irrelevant quibbles, and miss the point. The present argument is about how to get our hands on even more carbon to burn and dump into the atmosphere. The clock is ticking on climate change, and it may well be too late already.

It's an elephant in the living room. WE SHOULDN'T BE BURNING THE STUFF ANYWAY.

Mike Williams
Rochester, NY

By: admin on 2/1/13
I have read James Banks article on the enormous economic opportunity that fracking presents to NY State. It is good to see that the U of R still has some rational graduate students!

I also read Mr. George Payne's article against fracking ("Peak Oil Be Damned....")and it is nothing but words of fear and lack. He believes that petroleum reserves are running out. Nothing could be farther from the truth. I have been a chemist for over forty years- and forty years ago the known untapped petroleum reserves were 40 years. The current known petroleum reserves are still 40 years worth into the future. (Man's vision is somewhat limited).

With natural gas reserves that have now been discovered, our known total reserves exceed many times this amount. Mr. Payne also stated that the "quality" of our new petroleum finds is lower than what we have mined before. BS. ALL petroleum is refined before it becomes used. All hydrocarbons from methane (natural gas) to No.2 oil can be processed and burned for its energy content; albeit under the correct conditions of use.

I am getting tired of all the scientifically-illiterate blowhards spewing fear and condemnation onto the energy marketplace. The engineering and scientific communities in New York State have helped raise everyone's standard of living to being bountiful; let's not allow a few fearmongers derail our progress.

Peter Neddermeyer
Webster, NY

By: admin on 2/4/13
Setting aside Mr. Neddermeyer’s rancorous tone, I am thankful that he took time to read my article. I will surely benefit from his expertise if his goal is to educate rather than to scorn.

Yet, in a remarkably short collection of sentences Mr. Neddermeyer has somehow managed to commit several fallacies of argumentation. He introduces a “Straw Man” into the conversation by attacking an exaggerated or caricatured version of my position. Rather than dwell on the crisis of peak oil, I mainly concentrated on the depletion of usable drinking water, the overall contribution fracking makes to global warming, and the wasteful destruction of natural habitats. Mr. Neddermeyer focuses only on the abundance of petroleum reserves.

Very well then, let's talk more about peak oil. James Schlesinger, the former U.S. Energy Secretary has stated: "We are not good at recognizing distant threats even if their probability is 100%. Society ignoring [peak oil] is like the people of Pompeii ignoring the rumblings below Vesuvius." Energy expert and former Halliburton adviser Matthew Simmons has stated: "Saudi Arabian oil production is at or very near its peak sustainable volume (if it did not, in fact peak almost 25 years ago), and is likely to go into decline in the very foreseeable future. There is only a small probability that Saudi Arabia will ever deliver the quantities of petroleum that are assigned to it in all the major forecasts of world oil production and consumption."

And according to a L.B. Magoon report for the U.S. Geological Survey, "Technology is great, but it can't find what's not there. In the last five years, we consumed 27 billion barrels of oil a year, but the oil industry discovered only three billion barrels a year. So only one barrel was replaced for every nine we used.” Even if we consider the newfound shale plays in the United States, oil and natural gas is going away faster than scientists predicted 40 years ago.

The second fallacy Mr. Neddermeyer commits is the citation of outdated information on the subject. Predictions 40 years ago are not relevant to what is known about climate change, the industrial rise of China and India, and the rapid disappearance of fresh drinking water today. Hoping that petroleum reserves will last 40 years into the future (his math) is not a cause for optimism. When I talk about the sustainability of our planet, I am referring to a seven generation sustainability. This concept originated with the Iroquois (i.e., Great Law of the Iroquois) which charges people to think seven generations ahead (about 140 years into the future). The Constitution of the Iroquois Nations refers to this as the Great Binding Law: "In every deliberation, we must consider the impact on the seventh generation... even if it requires having skin as thick as the bark of a pine."

Even if natural gas production can propel us to the year 2153, we still need an energy plan that will sustain us in the year 2293. Is this the future that hydrofracking promises? Mr. Neddermeyer also commits the fallacy of appealing to authority. I can learn a great deal about the connection between hydrofracking and chemicals by speaking with such a learned scientist. But does he really know what chemicals are being used in the water? Unless he has been given this data from energy executives at the highest levels, it is unlikely that he knows what he is talking about when it comes to the toxic ingredient list on hydrofracking’s invisible label. Mr. Neddermeyer has clearly not studied the Halliburton Loophole, which grants energy companies immunity from EPA regulations pertaining to hydrofracking. This dubious provision in the 2005 energy bill was inserted by then Vice President Dick Cheney.

Lastly, Mr. Neddermeyer argues with emotive language. Calling his opponents “blowhards” and "fearmongers" may have moved the sentiments of colleagues in the past, but this language does not introduce anything useful to the debate. What some call “words of fear and lack” others call sober warnings of compassion. If some people are tired of “scientifically- illiterate” activists trying to conserve Earth's resources, then I am tired of pride, greed and laziness trying to accelerate its collapse.

George Payne
Rochester, NY

By: admin on 2/4/13
Being born and raised an Pennsylvania, I've seen natural gas production first hand. Until something better comes along, we who live here in NYS, where the temperature can drop below zero, need the cleanest available fuel. That's natural gas.

What's more, in addition to warming us, it can create jobs, increase tax revenue, and protect the environment compared to oil or coal. We should "hug" our trees... but that doesn't mean we shouldn't be smart by heating our homes, making electricity, and running factories with the safest dependable fuel that's available: natural gas.

David Lum
Perinton, NY

By: dew4794 on 2/4/13
The Harry Sherer broadcast for Feb. 3 reported that the water waste from Marcellus Shale Pennsylvania wells contain some 300%+ radium content than what is allowed by the government for other discharged wastes. The water discharge waste also contains uranium. What the frack? Dwight Wascom, Rochester

By: admin on 2/11/13
I am as pro-natural gas as the next guy, which is to say I use it to heat my home, and believe it is the cleanest burning fuel available. But I am not deluded into believing it is the cleanest, most beneficial fuel in the aggregate.

The energy used to extract it is enormous, and the waste it leaves behind is problematic. Like the tar sands issue, geologists are finding the stuff readily enough, but it costs us more and more (money and energy) to extract and put these natural resources into usable fuel.

I really appreciate George Payne's reminder of the Iroquois 7-generations approach. It is a very sond way of looking at what we might be quick to call progress.

Honorable Willa Powell
Rochester, NY

By: admin on 2/14/13
Mr. Payne, my comments about "peak oil" were simply intended to show that man's ability to predict the future is simply wishful thinking.

My comment simply was to show that the "technocrats" of forty years ago came up with known oil reserves forty years into the future. And now that we are here, today's known oil reserves (instead of being depleted, as predicted, are still forty years into our future. In addition, the technological gains of that time span now allow us to add the known frackable methane (natural gas) reserves to the petroleum forecast; that will take us much farther into the future.

You are right, I did not comment at all about "the rapid disappearance of fresh drinking water today" (your quote). Let me point out to you that New York State sits right next to 18% of the world's known fresh water reserves (the Great Lakes). In addition, each year, on average, NYS receives at least 24+ inches of fresh rainfall (over every square foot) per year. If you can speak of lack and fear with those numbers; you are saying that we cannot properly manage our resources. I do not think that way; I believe that our scientists and engineers can overcome unforseen problems if and when they come.

I loved your comments about the "(Great Law of the Iroquois) which charges people to think seven generations ahead (about 140 years into the future)". It truly SOUNDS like a wonderful principle and a good way to live. In practical terms it is an ABSURD concept. You and I disagree about the accuracies of 40 year predictions above, yet, you want to consider a time span of 140 years, or roughly 7 human generations. I have to admit that I have not personally read one "7-Generation Environmental Impact Report" published by the Iroquois. Have you?. If you have, I would appreciate either a copy or a citation for it. (Did the Iroquois even have a written language?).

Our US Senate hasn't even come up with an annual budget over the last four years with which to manage the fiscal affairs of this country for the next YEAR. And you want a 140 year plan? Let me point out to you that had your parents followed the Iroquoia mandate in determining the potential impact of your birth, they would still be exploring the pros and cons of whether or not to have you. Life is about practicalities and real issues. Yes, we do make some mistakes, but we solve those as they come along. In this manner, we make steady progress and advance our human potential and humanity. We don't get frozen in fear.

Such course does require having some faith in our fellow professional people who have learned the most current science and engineering knowledge and can apply their principles in the real world to benefit us all. And, it takes away our individual proclivity to wish to dictate to others how they should behave.

Peter Neddermeyer
Webster, NY

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