Hydraulic fracturing (fracking) for natural gas has most often been framed as an environmental issue, but Grace Wildermuth says people stand to lose much more than our natural resources do. Real stakeholders don’t speak of “the” environment; rather, they focus on their environment, their interests and their rights. It’s personal for them, not some abstract concept.
A quick look at some of the headlines in our local newspapers would make one think northeastern Pennsylvania is turning into a wasteland and swimming in a local stream requires a hazmat suit. Headlines such as “Drilling Killing Water” and “Tracking Fracking Foul-ups” would have readers believe science has proven fracking causes water contamination, while the the stories themselves reveal a majority of contamination claims have been false.
Fortunately, scientific research has made it possible to more accurately identify pollution sources and dispense with these false claims but that hasn’t stopped headline writers from using incendiary language to convey messages counter to the facts of the stories they hype. Nonetheless, following a stream of such anti-gas headlines in the Scranton Times-Tribune recently, an encouraging article appeared on the front page of that same paper this past Sunday. Titled “Wealth Denied,” Steve McConnell’s article “got it.”
McConnell’s interviews with Curt Coccodrilli, board member of the Northern Wayne Property Owners Alliance (NWPOA) and Bob Rutledge, President of NWPOA were priceless. Rutledge talked about feeling like a “second class citizen” as politicians trying to appease environmental groups seem to dispense with his needs and his opportunities.
This article was a welcome relief from the many pieces authored over the last few years by biased journalists who have given the landowner far too little attention. While the last few paragraphs provided an opportunity for pseudo-environmentalists to warn readers of the dangers of drilling for natural gas, their comments only revealed the compulsion these individuals have to put their concept of “beauty” before the interests of real people.
The problem with headlines is that the squeaky wheel gets the grease, and not everyone can afford to squeak. While interest-group liberalism in our political process is celebrated for providing a voice to the public, we must remember that being heard takes time and resources. It is not often that our political process hears from a farmer who rises before the sun and works until dark, or a single mother working two jobs to put her kids through college. Not all people have the privilege to make themselves heard. In short, it takes time and money to squeak.
Speaking of squeakers, I attended an event in Callicoon, New York, on Saturday, where both Gasland Part II (sequel to Gasland) and FrackNation were screened simultaneously just yards apart. As the crowd at the entrance to the theater where Gasland Part II would be shown developed, I overheard some conversation revealing just what this whole battle over fracking is all about.
I watched as two farmers stared out the window of the tavern where FrackNation was to be shown, observing as people marched on to meet Josh Fox. The two men were puzzled by where these people came from, commenting that the Gasland Part II fans didn’t appear to be people who lived in the area. They don’t, In many cases, of course, and that’s the rub.
Letters to the editor in local papers and interviews appearing in media stories too often come from people who made or make their living in New York City and moved to beautiful northeastern Pennsylvania to retire, or those who chose our scenic landscape for their vacation or second home. It’s all getting very old, at this point. While new and part time residents fill up the streets to protest natural gas fracking, the landowners who have been here for generations are at home working. Struggling farmers don’t get Saturdays off.
The same privileged environmental perspective portrayed in Gasland Part II has recently reared its head in something called “environmental justice.” The United States Environmental Protection Agency defines environmental justice as: “The fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.” The basic concept behind environmental justice is that one group of people should not experience disproportionately large negative environmental impacts from projects or policies simply because they happen to be from a lower socioeconomic strata.
Many opponents of fracking have tried to apply environmental justice theory as an excuse to enact moratoriums that would supposedly “protect” landowners. But what if the landowners don’t want to be protected and are, instead victims of the protection racket? What if, instead of protecting those of lower income from negative environmental effects, environmentalists are denying them their property rights and closing off economic opportunity? What happens when the pursuit for environmental justice leads to social injustice? Well, sadly, nothing happens, because the goal of environmental justice, for too many of its advocates, isn’t about justice for people but ensuring the benefits of development never reach those people unless the elites in charge approve.
No, nothing at all happens. Local landowners go on struggling to make ends meet, wondering if they will be the generation that has to sell the family farm, and waiting for their property rights to be returned to them. Headlines go on demonizing fracking, people go on flocking to Gasland Part II showings, and Josh Fox goes on receiving standing ovations for his “selfless” protection of the earth, while he engages in a spectacular display of self-aggrandizement. Environmentalists are trying to force landowners into perpetual pastoral poverty, while celebrating themselves as heroes for doing it.
Fortunately, though, that’s not the end of the story, for there are far too many benefits to be had from natural gas development and the fracking that goes with it, to deny it. It’s helping us achieve American energy independence to the chagrin of OPEC. It’s lowering the cost of energy for millions of American homes and businesses, leading to a revival of manufacturing. It’s preserving open space by giving rural landowners a way to stay on the farm. It’s creating job opportunities that will keep people like me here. Natural gas development and fracking are here to stay. Thanks to courageous and persistent individuals such as Curt Coccodrilli, Bob Rutledge and Phelim McAleer, producer of FrackNation, the truth will not be denied, nor will wealth or real environmental justice.