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Sunday, May 20, 2012

Fracking the Big Picture 

The Clarion Content has been following the fracking debate through our Durham lens. However, as we told you in our last article, fracking has a writ large context as well. It is a key player in the national debate about energy policy and energy production.

Image found here.

Witness an article in last week's USA Today, under the banner headline, "U.S. energy independence is no longer just a pipe dream" Their writer, Tim Mullaney, used the quaint home of the Little League Baseball World Series, Williamsport as his vehicle. Pennsylvania is a state where the fracking debate is manifest. Jobs and energy production meet local environmental and ecological concerns head on.

USA Today as is their want drifts through the highlights like daytime television: [footnotes we added]
"about 100 companies have moved to town..." and "Citigroup argues that the U.S., or at least North America, can achieve energy independence by 2020..." more citing Citigroup, "Counting the output from Canada1 and Mexico2, North America is 'the new Middle East'..." "It could help manufacturers and chemical businesses that use lots of energy or make products from natural gas. It might give the U.S. a structural advantage on trade partners in energy costs, helping to offset the edge that cheaper labor gives nations such as China.."

The general gist of it all is selling the amazing possibilities, and though USA Today is quoting Citigroup's report and analyst, is their readership nuanced enough to pick up on that? One wonders.

It becomes especially relevant in the next paragraph when the writer transitions from parroting citing Citigroup to this beauty, "A dozen years after Texas wildcatter George Mitchell commercialized a new gas-drilling technology called hydraulic fracking, the new energy boom is taking off..."

He then proceeds to tell the happy little tale, Wikipedia meets Johnny Appleseed style, of how fracking has spread its largesse from from Pennsylvania to Alaska to North Dakota back to Williamsport where, "Shell has announced plans to build a cracking plant, which will make chemicals from natural gas, outside Pittsburgh. The expected payoff includes 10,000 construction jobs..."

USA Today does caution its readership that this analysis assumes continued strong conservation trends, along with federal mandates for improved vehicle fuel standards. It also notes that this still won't lead to $2/gallon gasoline.

But what the Clarion Content finds most interesting, most relevant both in Durham and the proverbial Main Streets where the presidential election will be played out, is that never once does the author mention the environmental3 and ecological4 concerns that accompany fracking. Whether accidental or not, the Clarion Content finds it metaphorical for how we anticipate the soundbite politics of the presidential debate will approach fracking. The bitter irony is that here at home in Durham, across the fences and the backyards, concerns about health and the local ecology dominate. We don't want our families, friends and neighbors to get sick, we don't want our area polluted.5

Stay tuned.6

1Be nice to Canadians, on top of their wealth of natural resources, the Northwest passage is about to open, too.

2Seems like it would be in America's interest to quit destabilizing Mexico with an unsuccessful drug policy.

3 Environmental concerns in this case being human health concerns, pollution that harms ground water supplies or creates new cancer clusters.

4Ecological concerns in this case referring to environmental impacts to the local habitat affecting everything from farming and animal husbandry to wild species die-off.

5The energy industry PR machine has a swell label for that stance, it makes you a nimby. As in "Those damn nimby's, first it was power plants, then it was mountain topping, now its fracking." Let it be said to the Clarion Content whole-heartedly agrees that a realistic national conversation about consumption and conservation has to occur. Dick Cheney be damned.

6The record is not over yet. This will (or should) come up hundreds of times in the presidential campaign.

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