Last Thanksgiving, my family and I traveled out to Ithaca, NY to visit my sister at Cornell. We stayed in a rented cabin outside of town surrounded by dairy farms. Driving between the cabin and Ithaca, I was a bit surprised to see that many of those farms – some of which proudly billed themselves as organic – had “Friends of Natural Gas NY” signs out by the road.
According to documentaries like Gasland, these farmers were the very people most threatened by natural gas exploration and exploitation (including the controversial practice of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”). Weren’t they concerned about the wanton environmental destruction that accompanied natural gas extraction? What about those flaming faucets?
It wasn’t until we made it into Ithaca that I understood where the opposition to fracking really comes from. Ithaca is a bit like Ann Arbor, only smaller and weirder – as if Ann Arbor was stripped of everything not directly related to U-M, leaving only rusty Volvos, crusty college professors, and guys who look like crusty college professors. Ithaca’s neighborhoods had about as many “Stop Fracking” signs as the surrounding farms had pro-fracking signs.There was a small but noisy anti-fracking protest taking place near campus.
As with so many national debates today, the controversy over natural gas seemed to break down along predictable urban-left/rural-right lines. And opponents of exploration make a compelling case: if fracking is contaminating groundwater sources and causing earthquakes, then perhaps natural gas isn’t the cheap and safe fuel of the future.
But their arguments don’t stand up to scrutiny. As Ronald Bailey notes at Reason, new evidence suggests that groundwater contamination associated with fracking is attributable to other causes:
Notoriously, activists like Josh Fox, producer of the disinformation docudrama Gasland, claim that the process of blasting open cracks in deep shale deposits to release trapped natural gas, a.k.a. fracking, has contaminated water wells. Not so, concluded a report released last month at the annual conference of the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences. Now it seems that at least one environmental group now recognizes that these claims are false.
The natural gas development issue is not an abstract debate between defenders of a pristine environment and advocates of economic progress. As with arguments over the Keystone XL pipeline or untapped domestic oil resources, genuine energy security and real, sustainable jobs are on the line.
Often, the left – just like those college-town protesters I saw in Ithaca – refuses see the real-world consequences of the policies it supports; those living and working outside liberal enclaves pay the price of the left’s misguided advocacy. But just as new evidence is beginning to overturn the misinformation surrounding fracking, so to do facts undermine the basis of harmful progressive policies. We might never be able to convince the left’s true believers, but we can now make a pretty strong case to those lured in by generations of false promises.