Wednesday, February 23, 2011

How Smart People From Upstate Think About Fracking — Reply to a Post From a Union College Prof. From My Hometown

Just a (supposedly) quick introductory note:  Chad Orzel and I have the same hometown — Whitney Point, NY, in northern Broome County, right on the cusp of the much-hyped, but-not-yet-proven "sweet spot" for eventual natural gas production from Marcellus Shale.  His dad Ron was my reading teacher in grade school, and my chess club coach in high school, and his uncle John (recently an unsuccessful candidate for NYS Senate) was my gym teacher for swimming, and my swimming coach.

In short, I have always liked all these guys, and I still like all these guys.

But this is my quick and very contrary reply to Chad's interesting blog post, which has attracted a number of equally interesting, brighter-than-average comments — including these few paragraphs from me.  Chad was moved to write after having (apparently painfully) sat through a recent Albany-area presentation by several upstate professionals representing fields touching on the Marcellus Shale question, including John Martin.

[John Martin, I note with peevish dismay... so far as I can tell... so far as I can recall... does not appear to have been sought out, consulted, interviewed, or quoted, by any New York State media outlet over at least the last two years of widespread political conflict over shale gas.  This is the case, despite the fact that Martin basically ranks among the Empire State's top geological experts in this area — much, much, much higher than, say, Josh Fox, or Mark Ruffalo.]


Hi Chad,

Part of me does hesitate to get into this with you, as in my experience nobody *ever* changes their mind on shale gas, once they've got it made up.  And I can see you've got yours made up.

But I can't restrain myself.

Your post clearly reveals you responded emotionally to the pro-drilling and pro-fracking positions, and I understand that pretty much everybody does this.

But, for you, it meant you weren't able to think like a scientist anymore -- somebody who ordinarily seeks to clearly and objectively test where the others might be wrong.

Instead, you were repulsed by their conclusions -- and by how you perceived them to be carrying themselves. That's what I read when I see words like "dick," "peevish," "grating," "condescending, "deliberately obtuse," and "assholes."

(Probably anybody that differs with you on this issue seems to come across like a dick, or an asshole -- am I right?)

Here's what I think is interesting, though (and it's a place where you did not want to go, in your writing):  All anybody has to do to put an end to the practice of hydraulic fracturing is to clearly demonstrate that on rare, unpredictable, and unmanageable occasions fracking fluid does migrate up through thousands of feet of bedrock and contaminate ground water.

[The surface spills and the casing failures, as big as they've played in the media, are not enough to thwart deployment of this technology -- because most of us still accept that every complicated enterprise suffers from similar rates of failure, and because the professional community asserts these issues can be minimized (though never eliminated) through better practices and tougher regulations.]

But doesn't it seem remarkable that no scientist or technician has yet shown the smoking gun on frack fluid?

You are free to take the position that this has already happened, but nobody was on hand to test for it.  Or that the results were in fact collected, but they were suppressed.  Or that it hasn't happened yet, but it is likely to happen in the future.

Or you can try coming to terms with the alternative explanation -- the possibility that John Martin and Anthony Gorody were actually giving you their best professional conclusion, based on years of paying attention to observable reality in their respective fields.

Andy Leahy


P.S. -- Been awhile since I've run into your dad or uncle back home in Whitney Point, but send them a hello for me.

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