Saturday, April 16, 2011


As a business columnist for The New York Times, Joe Nocera wrote some good, angry columns about the financial meltdown and its unpunished perpetrators. Since moving over to the op-ed page of the Times, he's regrettably been a publicist for the natural gas industry, urging Americans to drill, baby, drill -- or frack, baby, frack, "fracking" being the shorthand name for hydrofracturing, a method of obtaining natural gas that's been criticized, with good reason, as hostile to the environment.

Nocera, in today's column, insists that's just silly NIMBYism:

In Texas and Oklahoma, [fracking] has been used for decades, with nobody complaining much about environmental degradation. It must be a coincidence that these worries surfaced when a natural gas field called the Marcellus Shale was discovered in the Northeast, primarily under Pennsylvania and New York. Surely, East Coast residents wouldn't object to having the country use more natural gas just because it's going to be drilled in their own backyard instead of, say, downtown Fort Worth. Would they?

(Isn't expressing environmental concerns -- about anything -- illegal in Texas and Oklahoma, or at least so contrary to regional mores that it marks the complainer as a pariah and a treasonous commie?)

...The truth is, every problem associated with drilling for natural gas is solvable. The technology exists to prevent most methane from escaping, for instance. Strong state regulation will help ensure environmentally safe wells. And so on. Somewhat to my surprise, this view was seconded by Abrahm Lustgarten, a reporter for ProPublica who has probably written more stories about the dangers of fracking than anyone. In a comment posted online to my Tuesday column, he wrote that while the environmental issues were real, they "can be readily addressed by the employment of best drilling practices, technological investment, and rigorous regulatory oversight."

Um, even if that is true, why the hell should we trust that "employment of best drilling practices ... and rigorous regulatory oversight" are even possible in modern America? This isn't some utopia where everyone sings "Kumbaya" and holds hands while agreeing on what's best for the populace. This is the America made by Reagan and Murdoch and Limbaugh and the Kochs. The front page of the very newspaper in which Nocera's column appears tells us how that America works, especially now:

Weeks after he was sworn in as governor of Maine, Paul LePage, a Tea Party favorite, announced a 63-point plan to cut environmental regulations, including opening three million acres of the North Woods for development and suspending a law meant to monitor toxic chemicals that could be found in children's products.

Another Tea Party ally, Gov. Rick Scott of Florida, has proposed eliminating millions of dollars in annual outlays for land conservation as well as cutting to $17 million the $50 million allocated in last year's budget for the restoration of the dwindling Everglades.

And in North Carolina, where Republicans won control of both houses of the Legislature for the first time in 140 years, leaders recently proposed a budget that would cut operating funds to the state’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources by 22 percent.

In the past month, the nation's focus has been on the budget battle in Washington, where Republicans in Congress aligned with the Tea Party have fought hard for rollbacks to the Environmental Protection Agency, clean air and water regulations, renewable energy and other conservation programs.

But similar efforts to make historically large cuts to environmental programs are also in play at the state level as legislatures and governors take aim at conservation and regulations they see as too burdensome to business interests....

Oh, yeah, Joe -- let's embrace fracking and just, um, cross our fingers and hope all these teabaggers will just disappear off the face of the earth. Then I'm sure we'll have nothing but "employment of best drilling practices ... and rigorous regulatory oversight."

Y'know, the way we did in the Bush years, as another reporter at your paper reminds us:

Oil and gas companies injected hundreds of millions of gallons of hazardous or carcinogenic chemicals into wells in more than 13 states from 2005 to 2009, according to an investigation by Congressional Democrats....

Companies injected large amounts of other hazardous chemicals including 11.4 million gallons of fluids containing at least one of the toxic or carcinogenic B.T.E.X. chemicals -- benzene, toluene, xylene and ethylbenzene. The companies used the highest volume of fluids containing one or more carcinogens in Colorado, Oklahoma and Texas....

Gosh, Joe, I thought the fact that no one ever seemed to complain in Oklahoma in Texas meant that everything was okey-dokey there. Whoops!

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