Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Pitt's FracTracker:
This is the Best the Big East Can Offer?

There's a fairly new web site out there organized by the Center for Healthy Environments and Communities (CHEC) of the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health.  It's called FracTracker, and it claims to be devoted to Marcellus Shale data tracking.

I linked my blog to it, early on, in the hopes that its academic affiliation might cause it to eventually evolve into a relatively honest and unbiased resource for citizens and scholars and other searchers for truth or insight (or something).  But it turns out the students are running it, and they are, in fact, very much running away with it — committed to the proposition that hydraulic fracturing for shale gas is an obvious evil which must be stopped, whichever way might work best to make that happen.

[I still have hopes that maybe this web site can eventually get set on a proper footing by professional people with more education, or sense, or perspective — but, meanwhile, whaddaya gonna do?]

Anyway, there was an article posted recently, “Forced Pooling vs. Organic Farming,” by a doctoral student named Samantha Malone.  Malone’s latest blog post — I gotta tell you — totally rubbed me the wrong way.  I’ve linked to it, so you can read it over, and see for yourself if maybe you might know what I’m talking about.

At the end, there was an empty comments section, and I responded — I confess — anonymously, adopting the fictitious voice of a fairly well-read, caring, and possibly even somewhat batty alum, like this:

Anonymous said...
You've raised a number of important issues here, but I'm not convinced you've got them sorted out properly or accurately or fairly in this one posting.
For starters, pollution of the land or water is an issue for everybody — organic farmer or not, forced pooling or not, severance tax or not.
But, more to the point, and as someone who deeply respects your university, I press for more precision in your words, and in your arguments, and in your train of thought.
Hydraulic fracturing does not so much inject water and chemicals "into the ground," as it does inject these things (with sand) into the shale. Whether this concoction poses a realistic, unmanageable risk of making it to the groundwater — by whatever channel — that is the question.
Also, forced pooling does not legally or morally translate into forced leasing, any more than the "rule of capture" translates into forced leasing. Land-owning opponents of fossil fuels extraction would always be free to sign nothing, as an act of protest, or of conscience, or of both.
However, having chosen to sign nothing and to do nothing, forced pooling would send those non-participants fair compensation for the drainage of their resource. They can burn the check (which might mean the damn gas company would keep the money!), or send it to charity, or go out and buy a windmill or something.
But, no, they are not entitled to veto — as a minority stakeholder — this one-time-only extraction of this resource.
In some ways, forced pooling is fairer than current PA law, which effectively takes the gas from the holdouts without compensation. Check it out. (Truly, your web site has not yet done a fair job of covering this fascinating chapter of PA legal history.) 
But let me ask you this: Are there not any old-school *conservationist* arguments in favor of forced pooling — in favor of efficient, non-wasteful resource extraction?
I think that there are, and that these arguments have been out there — forcefully, correctly, righteously — since the days of Gifford Pinchot.
The only trouble is modern-day environmental thinkers are stuck on an entirely different question.
No, it's not about maximum good for least impact, anymore.
Instead, it is, "Goddamnit — how can we beat this thing?"
One last thing, related to that part of my blog heading reading, "This is the Best the Big East Can Offer?"  So far as I have found, the best academically based online resource for the whole Marcellus shale phenomenon undoubtedly resides here at Penn State, which, though an easterly school, is in the Big Ten.

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