Chris Hoffman is a writer for the Madison County (NY) Courier.
The Nature of Debate
By Chris Hoffman
In last week’s (Madison County) Courier, Martha Conway reported on the Sullivan Town Council’s public hearing on natural gas activities. I applaud her effort to give equal space to comments from people both in favor of and opposed to a moratorium on hydrofracking. However, while a debate is decided on facts, facts must be carried to their logical conclusion, within an appropriate context, and not left hanging in a void, unchallenged.
Steve Durfee of Tuscarora Road, who is opposed to a moratorium, stated, “The fact of the matter is we need more energy.”
Assuming for a moment that this statement is true, where does it take us if we go along with the concept of “needing more?” Why do we need more? For how long will we need more? Is there a point when we won’t need more? What must we do in the interim to attain the state of not needing more energy? Does producing more energy assume that we will use it as quickly as it is produced, and therefore we will always need more?
Such questions eventually take you to a vision of what things might look like if we keep building infrastructure and supporting industries that provide more energy to be consumed. That vision includes less open space and fewer pristine landscapes in order to accommodate the infrastructure – pipelines, drilling sites, wind farms, transfer stations, power lines, trucks and tankers, storage facilities, processing facilities, etc. As the population increases, demand for energy and fuel increases. We can thus assume that the need for more energy will never abate unless we begin to consider other options.
So the question then becomes, do we want to create a situation of perpetually increasing need, until eventually we no longer live amidst the beautiful rural countryside, but rather live within a massive interconnected industrial infrastructure that spreads from coast to coast?
That is where the “fact” of needing more energy leads, especially in the context of heavy industries like gas. Their impact is simply too massive, too invasive, too potentially dangerous to not consider when making such a statement.
Additionally, the statement presumes that the gas produced will benefit American consumers. Again, more facts are needed. And the fact is that the gas companies want to increase exportation of natural gas produced in this country because they can get more money abroad than they can here. According to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), U.S. natural gas prices are currently less than one-fifth the price of natural gas exported to India, Japan, and South Korea.
While there has been a significant decrease in the cost of natural gas in the U.S., international demand for natural gas has increased, leading to higher prices abroad. As a result, natural gas companies have submitted plans for eight natural gas export terminals capable of exporting up to 18 percent of America's natural gas supplies. According to the Department of Energy, exporting that much natural gas could increase the price to American consumers by up to 54 percent.
To protect consumers and businesses from increasing natural gas prices and keep America's natural gas in the United States, Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), a member of the Natural Resources Committee and the Energy and Commerce Committee, introduced two bills in February of this year that would curtail exportation to foreign markets. One would have required that any natural gas extracted from taxpayer-owned federal lands would have to be sold to American consumers. The other would have prevented FERC from approving new export terminals. Both bills failed in committee. I tried reaching Giselle Barry, Rep. Markey’s press officer, to find out why, but I was unsuccessful.
At the public hearing, Steve Durfee stated, “Natural gas activity can be conducted safely if properly regulated.” All one needs to do to refute this statement is peruse the statistics from the Pennsylvania DEC on violations committed by the industry in their activities there: 2,241 violations in this year alone.
And lastly, Louis DeMario stated, “We don’t need a moratorium … just legislation protecting our town.” The problem with this statement is timing. If a town has no local laws that address the myriad issues connected to heavy industrial activities in general, and hydrofracking specifically, once Gov. Cuomo gives the green light to the gas industry, it will simply be too late to put local laws in place to keep the industry in check. Without the time a moratorium affords to draft and adopt local laws, the irreversible consequences of the gas industry’s priorities, values, and methods will haunt us forevermore.