Marcellus Fever

Posted by By at 28 April, at 14 : 02 PM Print

A few years back I started to adopt the position that eventually, two things would be true in Pennsylvania: 1) we would recover every last cubic foot of natural gas trapped in the shale deposits below us, and 2) we would eventual tax it. Nothing has occurred to change my mind – even if the taxing side of the issue may still be some time away.

I raise my hybrid position – which you can read in greater detail at RTC – in anticipation of the inevitable attacks that will come my way for criticizing the tactics and distorted message of Clean Water Action as well as the colorful, yet, counterproductive antics of Mr. Stilip. As my writing demonstrates, I am no shill for any cause except good policy and open debate.

That said, a civil society requires a certain level of respect for order and discourse. There are proper and acceptable channels for protest and comment. And yesterday’s antics of shouting down a meeting or crawling under a table and then calling a political adversary a “prostitute” is beyond the pale.

But it also highlights the very weakness in these protestors’ arguments: they have no rational solution, just an irrational demand built on a conspiratorial fear.

Let’s start with their failure to present a rational solution.

It is an undeniable fact that the demand for energy in this country and around the world is going to increase; offsets from efficiency will be outpaced by expanding populations and devices drive by power. That is a critical fact that MUST be acknowledged before any “adult conversation” about energy can occur: we are going to need more and more of it the world over.

Once the demand is established, we must consider the options to meet that demand. Currently the major US options are oil, coal, gas, and nuclear power. Hydro is a stable component but not a rapidly expandable one, having been largely developed out; solar is a boutique segment generating around 1% of our energy; and wind is both inefficient and only deployable with massive subsidies (similar to many solar projects).

As a member of the Sustainable Energy Fund for the last 5 years, I am supportive of making use of the full range of energy efficiencies and renewable technology we have. I am, however, also acutely aware that there is no way renewable energy can supply anywhere near the baseload capacity we need for the foreseeable future. So, while we should continue to invest in technology that can hopefully get us there in the future, we must admit that we are also nowhere close to that day and need energy now.

So that leaves coal, oil, gas, and nuclear. The disaster in Japan is likely to shelve any massive expansion of nuclear power for a while, so let’s put that aside. Oil is better deployed in its other myriad of fuel and petrochemical uses – plus any expansion of oil means importing more energy, which is silly when you consider our coal and gas reserves.

That puts the choice – rationally – between expanded coal or expanded gas. One outlier aside, 99% of the world agrees that burning gas is cleaner than burning coal. But hey – I’ll take either one, frankly, because both are good for Pennsylvania and the United States.

Natural gas is, however, the fuel of this country’s next 100 years. If Clean Water Action has an alternative they wish to rationally produce, I will be happy to consider it – I don’t purport to know all the answers, but I am confident in the parameters and limitations I describe above. Solutions must accept reality; we need more energy and renewable technology is two generations away from being in the discussion as the dominant supply – at least.

Which brings us the irrational demand. For most zealots – who I differentiate from true believers by the zealots total refusal to acknowledge reality – the only safe course is to stop all gas production. You know what’s funny? There are zealots who want to halt all Allegheny ridge wind development. And still others who will tell you that the acreage we cover with impervious solar panels will affect ground water aquifers.

The bottom line is any energy production causes environmental impacts, even hydro – go look at the swath of destruction Three Gorges left in its wake. It is irrational to kill off ANY source of energy completely on the basis that it may cause harm – and, bluntly, the moment I hear any side demand an absolute or nothing else I know they are irrelevant – policy is decided by people who seek real compromise solutions within acknowledged parameters.

Like our demand for energy – it is a given. And that makes the idea of ending all fracking the irrational demand, one that makes it easy to dismiss everything Clean Water Action says – even though they probably have some very good points to contribute to the discussion if they could just get over their absolutist position.

That is unlikely, mainly because of the last thing that makes them so irrelevant – their conspiratorial fear over drillers on the Marcellus commission.

I know this may shock some of you, but any discussion about how we develop the Marcellus and Utica shale plays MUST include drillers. Breathe through the nose – its ok.

There is a very simple reason why: they know what is feasible. It makes no sense to develop a policy that has no input from the people who actually drill holes in the ground.

This is not to say they should not be closely scrutinized or not be held accountable for accidents and safety – it is simply acknowledging that the vast majority of the people in state government (and the rest of the world, frankly) know next to nothing about the actual process of building, drilling and managing these wells.

But Clean Water Action would have you believe that the commission is comprised of drillers setting policy for drilling and ignoring anything but getting well drilled as quickly and as cheaply as possible. In their request for protestors, to come and behave like school children Clean Water Action stated “The state should listen to what people in Pennsylvania really want them to do about Marcellus Shale drilling. They shouldn’t just listen to oil and gas companies.”

But the problem is Clean Air Action and all of the groups who brought shame to their cause don’t want to talk or listen; they want to dictate and they don’t want to deal with the consequences. And it is precisely because of this absolutist position that they will NEVER be invited to the table – there is no need. Frankly, everyone KNOWS their position, and that they won’t negotiate – what possible reason could there be to include groups in such a posture to any negotiation on any issue?

Groups like Clean Water Action – groups with no rational plan to meet irrefutable conditions, with irrational absolutist demands, and who thrive on conspiracy to support their cause – are irrelevant so long as they stay in said posture.

Maybe not totally irrelevant – I guess they serve the “useful” purpose of giving the drillers an easy example to dismiss all environmental arguments as irrational…


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This post was written by:
- who has written 77 posts for Rock The Capital
Scott Paterno is an accomplished policy analyst and political consultant based in Hershey, PA. Mr. Paterno, never one to sit still, has practiced law, run for a house seat, and worked as lobbyist in Harrisburg and Washington. Paterno is Vice Chairman of the Sustainable Energy Fund and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Political Science. He is happily married with three children. - Email scottp

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