Today’s Fractivists Are Yesterday’s Gaslight Opponents

Steingraber - Tom Reynolds Reports

Tom Reynolds
Co-Founder of Dryden Safe Energy Coalition


The more things change, the more they’re the same. When it comes to things like gaslight opposition then and fracking now, there’s always been naysayers.

It’s amazing how little changes with respect to human nature. We can easily this in retrospect. It provides us the proper skepticism with which to take modern-day opposition to both fracking and natural gas development. Robert Daley, in his book, The World Beneath The City, describes some reactions to the installation of gas lighting in New York City in 1825. His material is eye-opening for anyone familiar with the arguments over fracking in upstate New York.

Here are some quotes from Daley’s book, with my observations following in italics:

“Bible quoting preachers mounted their pulpits and shouted that God had created the day and the night and that to attempt to improve on God was blasphemous.”

The thoughts motivating today’s anti-frackers may well be a religion, but they have not yet said God is on their side.

“Pompous physicians insisted that homes were now so bright that people would begin to keep late hours, exposing themselves to the injurious night air.”

Apparently, Professor Ingraffea had activist ancestors.

“Prohibitionists snorted that gaslight only meant more drinking time for weak-willed men who should be home with their wives and children.”

Therefore, it is natural gas, not free-will, that causes alcoholism.

“The company was also accused of contaminating well water and of obstructing traffic while laying mains.

Walter Hang also appears to have activist ancestors.

‘It is next to impossible to have a smooth and handsome street,’ fumed one idealist, ‘as long as you suffer it to be broken up almost every day of the year to lay down gas or water pipes.’”

Even then, there were New York City residents who saw their view as being more important than someone else’s light and water.

“Every city politician stumped to have his own particular street lighted.  Alderman Carman, after falling over a hydrant one dark night, demanded that Spring Street be lighted next.”

There is no mention in the book of Alderman Carman’s state of inebriation when he tripped over something as large as a hydrant. 

Gaslight“A large supply of whisky was kept on hand for reviving workers who passed out after inhaling quantities of gas – every time a man fell to the floor, a pal would grab the whisky, pry open the mouth and start pouring.  Before long it was noticed that the man who poured in the morning generally turned up as patient in the afternoon, and vice versa.  In fact, men were collapsing all over the place, even those nowhere near the flames.  Whereupon, beer was substituted for whisky. The men grumbled, but went on fainting.  Finally, the company decided that milk would do the job as well.  After that, it was amazing how seldom men were overcome by fumes.”

Even then, the gas company would keep improving on previous procedures until they got it right.

“The first meters were elaborate contraptions loaded with water – which tended to freeze in winter. ‘Fill your meters with whisky’ the consumers were advised. And the company sent around men selling whisky for four dollars a gallon; enough whisky was bought to fill ten times the meters then in use.”

Couldn’t anyone see this coming?

“Meters were unpopular from the start…Some years later… this bitter – but funny –piece in the August New York Times: ‘The plan of training small dogs to bite all persons apparently bent upon examining gas meters was originated in this city some years ago by an enterprising dog fancier…Excellent results have been obtained by the use of gas dogs…we shall be safe in assuming that 4,500 gas inspectors are bitten either in the legs or the trousers each month.’”

Today, it would be cruelty to animals if anti-fracking protestors started chaining their dogs instead of themselves to gas facility gates.

“The powerful candle and whale-oil interests tried to crush the infant industry.”

These were the 1825 equivalents of big-money green energy corporate special interests who had visions of replacing coal and oil before fracking and horizontal drilling stole their thunder for natural gas.

It all has a familiar ring doesn’t it?


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3 thoughts on “Today’s Fractivists Are Yesterday’s Gaslight Opponents

  1. I’ve found that at least one anti LIKES gaslight at least when she can use it as a cyberepistolary tactic against her opponents; her ivory tower is even on Gaslight STREET. Oops – LIGHTstreet actually, but it sounds so similar that I tend to forget. Down in Bloomsburg.


    And just when you had seen it all, in comes the Heartland Institute with another reason to oppose natural gas. Natural gas’ ascendance has come with a dark side: coal’s losses are natural gas’ gains.

    “The fracking revolution and the dramatic increase in the abundance and use of natural gas (along with the lower prices) have been boon for America. Yet, because of corporate interest and attempted political manipulation to further those interests at the expense of coal, natural gas’s ascendance has come with a dark side.” says the heartland institute’s managing editor of environmental news. Looks like heartland doesn’t do real news to me.

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