A Big Fracking Mess

As someone who has long understood and appreciated the enormous potential of fracking, and not just in terms of what it means to American jobs but our competitiveness in the global arena, I stand front and center among those who feel that process’ upside is far too great to ignore. 

So while I may not be a fanatic, or shall I say a fracking idiot, I do know a potential difference maker (if not a downright game-changer) when I see it.

What’s more, given how much has been written about and invested in fracking, I have little doubt that as a country we’re moving headling toward a full-scale adoption of the process, come hell or high water.

But what continues to stick in my craw is what I see as a jobs-fueled and politically motivated rush to judgment abpit fracking.  And to that end, I see three incessant (and, frankly, rather easily avoidable) mistakes we’re making with respect to this suddenly sexy, suddenly white-hot  process of using millions of gallons of clean water to extract vast quantities of cheap gas and oil from the land beneath us. 

Let me briefly detail those three mistakes for you.

1.     Playing Politics and Pandering to the Cultural Divide
This week I read an editorial in the Baltimore Sun that championed fracking as a virtual God-send for American manufacturers like me. This rah-rah piece was written by a former congressman and governor of Maryland named Robert Ehrlich, who now generates millions representing a handful of corporate clients heavily invested in the fracking. The problem was Erlich’s essay, which time and time again drove home the obvious benefits of cheap shale oil and gas, never once mentioned the environmental toll fracking extracts.  The guy spent every character the Sun editors allotted to him trying to sell a new sports car, without even bothering to consider the possibility that the car might end up costing more than any one of us has the willingness, the ability, or even the stomach to pay.  

Ehrlich offered up the worst kind of Pollyannish, Beltway-style messaging; dumbing down the debate to one or two overly simplistic talking points, while not even addressing the real issues.   With trademark political bluster and stump speech hyperbolics, the former GOP congressman chose to hit the reader over the head with the giddy and the positive, while utterly ignoring some of the most salient facts, figures and truths which, if better known by the general public, would ultimately lead to a more rational, educated and balanced view of fracking.  

That’s why so many of today’s Republicans continue to swing and miss on the national stage; because so many of those business good/regulation bad ideologues from the far-right fringes of the political spectrum continue to underestimate our intellect as Americans, along with our growing sense that it has become essential for us to find a way to balance what’s best for our economy with a willingness and an ability to protect our dwindling pool of natural resources – the most precious of which is, without question, clean, potable and life-sustaining water.

You want mainstream Americans to support fracking?  Be straight with us.  Teach us.  Engage us. And above all, stop playing politics with us – especially when, like Erlich, you do it in a way that is not merely predictable, and to some extent even child-like, but downright dangerous.

2.     Closing the Tap on New Technology R&D
Look, hydraulic fracking is by no means new.  It has been around for well over 60 years.  And the process has not fundamentally changed since 1947, when it was first conceived.  Just as it did back then, it still requires millions of gallons of clean water to extract even a small amount of fuel; water that will be lost forever, much of it through radioactivity, and a good portion of it leeeched back into the groundwater. 

Yet despite that, I see little being done to try to improve fracking as we now know it – or as it has existed for eight decades.  Rather than investing in new and innovative forms of research (the pursuit of which would no doubt be a small growth industry in and of itself) and applying vast resources to find ways to minimize the environmental impact of fracking, we seem far more obsessed with using our grandfather’s version of the process – in all its wasteful, less-than-perfect glory – to immediately tap into all that lucrative oil and natural gas we’re apparently sitting on.

Like I said, I see the enormous potential of fracking. Heck, only a fool wouldn’t.   But as a guy whose children (and whose children’s children) will one day inherit this planet, I gotta be honest with you; I’d be far more excited if I knew our scientists and business leaders were exploring ways to make fracking as environmentally neutral and sustainable as I know it has the potenital to be.

3.     Making Green Mean Stop
You can sense it already.  It’s out there and it’s not going away – at least not any time soon.  As fracking continues to take hold of the American psyche, and as this country continues to fall in love yet again with another form of a carbon-emitting fuel, our on again/off again flirtation with low-cost renewable energy once again finds itself relegated to the shadows, dispatched to the fringes, and sent to the back alleys of mainstream life.

And what bothers me most is that these past few years turned out to be a golden opportunity for us to elevate renewable energy into some level of mainstream acceptance.  And I guess to some extent that’s exactly what we did.  Wind farms are now certainly far more prevalent than ever.  And the solar panel industry began to gain such a foothold in the U.S. over the course of the past five years that Chinese manufacturers actually tried to corner the market, just on spec. 

But what global warming deniers and all those anti-science yahoos who continue to try to marginalize climate change by making it somehow – I don’t know – unholy don’t realize is that, in trying to achieve their political ends, they are inflicting far more damage on this country’s economy than they’ll ever know.  In their dogged pursuit of what for many isclearly a financially driven agenda, one lobbyist and mouthpiece after another is making it a point to try to somehow demonize science. 

And in doing so, theyre making paraiahs out of so many of the fundamental building blocks of capitalism, not to mention some of the key drivers of this country’s growth and economic well-being – innovation, imagination, exploration, experimentation and, above all, the scientific method.  

Don’t kid yourself for a minute.  Such things are where economic prosperity lives in this country, and where growth takes root.  Not in the status quo that so many old-school pinheads and Neanderthal thinkers would have you believe is irreplaceable, and who fight like hell to presenve it – using among their weapons things like fear, in-your-face patriotism, and, my personal favorite, religion.

As a result, so many exciting, new and potentially game-changing technologies continue to be — at least among so many lemmings and Kool Aid drinkers — left to die on the roadside, placed on the ecoomic back burner, or dumped into this country’s version of the cut-out bin. 

Meanwhile, as a society we continue to mainline cheap fuel, continue to bask in our expanding carbon footprints, and continue to feed our gnawing addiction to one dying technology after another. 

And why?  Because it’s best for us?  Because doing so will safeguard our future, or open our doors to new waves of innovation, new product development and technological possibility? 

No.  It’s because – in the short term anyway – doing so will win a few votes and create a few American jobs. 

Doing so will be cheap and painless.

And because, above all, doing so will protect the interests of a privileged few at the expense of just about everyone else.




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