Thursday, January 20, 2011

Up from the Landowners' Grassroots:
☮ drill a gas well, bring a soldier home ☮

I like this!  I like this a lot!

I like this new bumper sticker because it's sharp, and it's snarky, and it's surprising.

Get Enough for Your Whole Neighborhood
Mint Green, Evergreen, or Berry Red

 ☮  drill a gas well, bring a soldier home  ☮
[Update: Shortly after my original post, I've learned that the purely profit-motive-driven private sector has also seamlessly adapted in order to fill this perceived niche for pro-natgas merchandise.  Here, check this out!]
I like this message because it's contrarian, and it's counter-intuitive, and it's challenging to the conventional wisdom — at least to the conventional wisdom where I come from, which is upstate New York.  That conventional wisdom of late seems to be that we New Yorkers are fully entitled to continue receiving the vast majority of our energy needs from out of state, and from out of country, and from out of mind.

But never ever to produce it from hereabouts.

This is the default plan — even while thousands of our own fellow, land-owning citizens of New York impatiently wait, shortly after having found themselves suddenly sitting atop a mother lode of natural gas worth millions of dollars (at least in theory).

And this is the default plan — even while thousands of our own fellow upstaters struggle to economically survive, without decent pay, or without any work at all, or without even any gleam of future opportunity, so long as they keep hanging around their own hometowns.

This, for good reason, is what the Wall Street Journal called, "The Madness of New York."

There is a technological enterprise available to start changing this.  Americans invented it.  And Americans are already deploying it widely in Pennsylvania.  And West Virginia.  And now also Ohio.  And now also Michigan.  Possibly soon — even before New York gets a grip — in western MarylandChina and India are already on board.  They just had a big discovery in ArgentinaPoland's got two test wells already.  And the U.K. is on the cusp of its first frack.  It's called hydraulic fracturing, and it's called shale gas.  In the Northeast, it's called the Marcellus Shale, or the deeper Utica Shale.

Running forward, in the U.S., we could call it massive domestic supply.

☮  drill a gas well, bring a soldier home  ☮
☮  build a windmill, bring a soldier home  ☮

In fact, a lot of us New Yorkers have already knowingly or unknowingly invested in this new technological breakthrough — directly, or indirectly, down on Wall Street — in our IRA's, or in our 401k's, or our pension accounts, or what have you.  (If you're in pretty much any plain vanilla index fund or mutual fund, then you've got a blind stake in the future of energy — including fossil fuels, and including shale gas.)

And many, many, many thousands more of we urban-dwelling New Yorkers are quietly, cozily, smilingly benefiting from this technology — this very winter — heating our homes with clean-burning natural gas at price levels that completely demolish electricity, fuel oil, coal, or firewood.  (Funny, you know, I'm not hearing a lot of complaints in this area lately.  Why haven't I seen any stories about huddled consumers getting gouged by the evil energy industry?)

Through just geological fate — and dumb luck — it turns out that thousands of our land-owning, fellow New Yorkers also own massive quantities of this shale gas.  Due to a perpetually rolling state moratorium on shale gas drilling, however, New York has not yet even gotten started supplying its own energy needs from under its own ground — not much of it, anyway. 

At the farmer's market — when it comes to sweet corn, or cheese, or honey — we sensitive, compassionate, caring New Yorkers really like the idea of "buying local." 

But, when it comes to energy — not so much. 

☮  drill a gas well, bring a soldier home  ☮
☮  build a windmill, bring a soldier home  ☮
☮  grow some corn, bring a soldier home  ☮

With this shale gas thing — we New Yorkers need to study this first.  We are coming up on three years of study — and yet we may need still more time.  There was just an editorial in one of our big-city dailies the other day, sagely advising that New York should go slowly.  (Slowly!!!  Slower than zero!?!?!)

It turns out some of us think we might be too fragile for this.  Politically, it's true, we New Yorkers are very shaky.  Our environment seems extra precious, somehow.  Our water is extra sacrosanct, somehow.  We used to think we had a world-class state environmental agency, but lately — to hear people talk, at least on this topic —we're a little defeatist about the competency of our own regulators.  We know that managing your own impacts is philosophically the right thing to do, but we don't like the responsibility.  And — like a lot of other humans — we don't like change, or challenge, or risk.

[Plus, at least some of us already have the money — so maybe we oughtta let somebody else carry this water, you know?]

But what are the unintended consequences — the cumulative, environmental, economic, and human impacts — of this kind of outrageously priggish, spoiled, sluggish, cautious, childish, pig-like, Marie-Antoinettish, let-'em-burn-firewood behavior?

The consequences, country-wide, are this:  America just got itself entangled in three Middle Eastern wars over the last two decades — and at least one of those wars is still not over!  A whole generation of young Americans has already fought and suffered or died in these wars — or they have now been launched upon a lifetime of suffering afterwards.

And for what?  For this:  America remains desperately needy for foreign oil.  We can't get by without it — or, at least, we think we can't.

If we had energy independence, these guys, our soldiers, could have just been back here at home the whole time — making babies, coaching Little League, baking bread, cutting hair, teaching school, growing corn, selling hardware, putting up windmills, or whatever.  But they're not.  They're on the front lines — putting their lives on the line, to maintain our addiction to foreign oil.

Now, here comes a bumper sticker that pops the goddamn balloon.  If Mother Jones thought it was her business to "comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable," well, then, I got her business right here for you — 2011-style.  We New Yorkers are the comfortable!  Just a few words to shake us from our irresponsible slumber:

☮  drill a gas well, bring a soldier home  ☮
☮  build a windmill, bring a soldier home  ☮
☮  grow some corn, bring a soldier home  ☮
☮  burn some firewood, bring a soldier home  ☮

The sentiment may be older — and even to harken to the hopefully by-now-well-known Pickens Plan — but these exact words seem to have crystalized fairly recently, here in the Northeastern U.S., in the midst of a discussion forum hosted by pagaslease, a website originally created by and for Pennsylvania landowners:
Gunner's wife was just thinking out loud.  And Gunner was writing just another snippet in a long-running, landowner-to-landowner conversation — having to do with the landowners' challenge in getting this shale gas resource carefully and profitably developed in Appalachia.

But it struck a chord with a New Yorker — a Chenango County landowner (and shale gas owner) keenly interested in this issue.  She made the bumper stickers.  And she or her helpers are now busy selling them here on eBay.

I hope they sell thousands.  I hope T. Boone Pickens himself takes notice.  I hope they go viral all over America. 

And as for you — I don't care what you're driving — I want to see this bumper sticker all over upstate New York.  I want to see this bumper sticker stuck on the bumpers of any kind of Ford or Chevy, parked anywhere within 300 miles of my hometown — Whitney Point, in Northern Broome.  You got a Volvo, or a Honda, or a Beamer, or a Veedub — gas, or diesel, or NGV, or plug-in, or grease-car, or whatever — I want to see this sticker from behind — in Binghamton, Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, or Albany.  Hell, I even want to see this sticker stuck on the chunky rear end of a Toyota Prius — down outside the co-op on West Buffalo Street in downtown Ithaca.

I'm asking you to think for yourself, and to consider shale gas — and all other forms of energy independence — as a challenging-but-doable opportunity for New York, and for the nation. And not as some kind of fearsome, vaguely understood culprit.

☮  drill a gas well, bring a soldier home  ☮
☮  build a windmill, bring a soldier home  ☮
☮  grow some corn, bring a soldier home  ☮
☮  burn some firewood, bring a soldier home  ☮
☮  take some responsibility, bring a soldier home  ☮

Take a stand, New York.  And bring a soldier home.


Anonymous said...

This isn't about US energy independence; this is about creating gas markets in China and elsewhere that will compete for our natural gas and weaken the USA and the US military. We destroy our lands for gas that will be sold globally on the open global market. In other words we get to compete for our own gas.

Globalism is the enemy of sovereignty and self sufficiency.

Andy Leahy said...

Classic anti-drilling argument — a new variation on the old doomsday refrain, this time with patriotic tendencies.

Clearly not a free-market thinker.

Really, though, I think I'd prefer to trust the market — rather than any kind of plan devised in advance by people who somehow psychologically think that everything must be controlled.

The market already must come to terms with the technological fact that it costs extra to export natural gas. You gotta freeze it, and pressurize it, to get it onto those specialized ships, and then the receiver must thaw the stuff out at the other end.

I expect a limited amount of additional North American natgas supplies will in fact be exported — especially so long as this continent remains the only place where there's a glut driving down prices.

So what? Do the OPEC nations fret over destroying their land to export oil, thus affecting their own prices?

It will be much more likely for the Chinese and others to simply drill their own shale gas wells — undoubtedly with help from U.S. industry.