Monday, July 30, 2012

Towards a more realistic baseline for sound actions on Fracking


ourwaterAs the deadline for lifting the New York State moratorium on Fracking (horizontal Hydraulic fracturing) looms, the news, rallies, and articles are getting more strident. There’s a hullabaloo over a recent study on Fracking that has critics questioning the motives of the study Local watchdog group blasts Texas university fracking study - The Buffalo News and there’s criticism on the other side that the anti-fracking groups are cherry-picking the science to push their agenda Some experts fault fracking critics’ science. Bringing everything to a fevered pitch is the Stop the Frack Attack rally this weekend at the capital: Fracking protesters to storm national Capitol Saturday - MPNnow

Hard to imagine that anyone in New York State doesn’t know about the Fracking controversy by now, but I suppose there are. And, I’ll bet there are many who still don’t care. As long as the quiet majority in our state think they might get a job, free our energy security from other nations, get a windfall by signing a lease on their property for drilling rights, or not get sidetracked from the fun stuff they’re doing by this issue, they will remain mum. As our species tends to do, far too many will sit back and think this environmental issue has nothing to do with them.

One person at least who isn’t remaining quiet is NYS Senator Avella-- , Ranking Minority Member, Standing Committee on Environmental Conservation. Hold on to your hat and listen to Senator Avella speak about Fracking on this 11 minute video: Sen. Avella on Fracking Forum.

Regardless of where you stand on this issue, it does threaten to be the biggest environmental story in our state since Love Canal. If Fracking comes there will be change, which brings up many questions. Are local moratoriums, like the one just passed in Rochester, NY, going to hold or will Home Rule be gutted by the gas industry, making us second class citizens in our own state? (In Pennsylvania, their weaker home rule law was upheld: Court Rejects a Ban on Local Fracking Limits - Is the New York State Department of Conservation going to have enough employees to monitor the new Fracking wells: Regulation: How many wells per inspector? In some states, answer is elusive -- 07/25/2012 --

But the question that all of us, no matter where we stand on this issue, should be asking is whether we have a realistic baseline for sound actions on Fracking at all? In other words, do we know the state of our water and our public health well enough so that when there is a drilling accident, we’ll be able to identify damage due to gas drilling? One group is not waiting for the state to chase their tails over this issue and is on it:

Water monitors prepare for fracking in New York | Innovation Trail On a humid Wednesday in July, Kathy Cronin crouched in Pierce Creek in the City of Binghamton. The creek empties into the Susquehanna River just upstream from the city's water treatment plant. Houses line the creek banks and the sounds of the freeway drown out the urban waterway's churn. Cronin, who lives in Binghamton, dipped a small, electronic meter into the water. Another local resident, Scott Lauffer, stands just downstream, waiting to hear Cronin read off results. (July 24, 2012) Innovation Trail

Over the last 10 millennia, as humans developed agriculture, burned forests, killed top predators, or decimated and brought to extinction many other species, it never occurred to our brainy species to assess whether or not our actions would irrevocably change our environment—maybe even cause it to collapse. Now, in the twenty-first century, we are supposedly smart enough to do that before we chase headlong into some fantastic venture. Our scientific discoveries for the last hundred years have given us a great wealth of knowledge about our environment and revealed many of the repercussions of our actions on our environment. For example, our agricultural practices contributed to the greatest man-made environmental disaster to date on this continent, the Dust Bowl of the 1930’s.

What’s the point of finding all that out, educating all those environmental experts, if we aren’t going to use that knowledge before we do something crazy—instead of after? There is no getting around this fact: we can and do change our environment, our climate, our water quality, and much, much more—and usually not in a good way.

Here’s a great quote by Steve Nicholls, author of Paradise Found – Nature in America at the Time of Discovery:

“Part of the reason for writing this book is to illustrate the sheer abundance of nature just a few centuries ago, to give a more realistic baseline against which to judge our current actions.” (Page 42)

It’s worth pausing and thinking about this statement before we rush off and radically change our New York State environment with Fracking. Do we know the state of our environment well enough before we start Fracking, or are we so blinded by our immediate wants that we’ll continue to act the way we have in the past?

Too often we evaluate the impact of our solutions for on the shifting baseline of our own experiences, our religious views, whatever constitutes conventional wisdom at any given time, our prejudices, on the lack of research, and our notion of economics—which by the way has always treated our environment as an externality, a magical resources generator and our collective toilet. We’ve been irresponsible stewards of our environment for a long time and much of it is due to an economic theory that is oblivious to Nature. Why not start thinking about our environment (our very life support system) as an intelligent species would do—look before you leap.

An analogy: Before you start downloading and installing a beta program that tells you it has not been completely tested and is probably full of bugs, wouldn’t you create a restore point on your computer’s hard drive? A restore point is a spot along a continuum of your operating system’s history, that point just before you start downloading that iffy program, so when everything goes haywire, you can just bring your operating system back to the place before you tried installing that program.

In other words, because Fracking includes an industry reluctant to divulge what chemicals it’s using, and a state reluctant to make them divulge that information, shouldn’t we find out for ourselves what the place looked like before they meddled in it?

Shouldn’t New York State do a comprehensive monitoring of our environment and find out how it is behaving before we launch thousands of Fracking sites? Why is the state sitting on its butt while concerned citizens have to go out and do their job? Why isn’t the state monitoring our water now so we’ll know what we are risking? Because once we allow Fracking, we’ll be another state than the one we are now.

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