20 February 2013

Opponents of fracking have blood on their hands?

Not only are the people who oppose hydrofracking partly to blame for the deaths of American soldiers in Iraq, argues Bill Van Slyke in an Albany Times Union op-ed piece, but they're cowards as well. In what may be a new rhetorical low in the debate over the risks and benefits of fracking, Van Slyke accuses the anti-fracking camp of being not just risk-averse, but indifferent to the risks they impose on others through their resistance to fracking.

"Any extraction of fossil fuel is going to involve some environmental impact and risk," Van Slyke admits, "But while there may indeed be some risks involved in fracking for natural gas in New York, to honestly assess these risks, we must weigh them against the risks of continuing our dependence on imported oil." The risk that comes with dependence on oil includes the danger of further war as well as environmental impacts of its own. As far as Van Slyke is concerned, there's no third option between fracking and war.

Sure, I want energy to power my home, office and car that is generated without risk of war or pollution. Who doesn't? But we're not there yet. Not even close. There are not, and for the foreseeable future there will not be, nearly enough wind turbines, solar panels and other non-petroleum alternatives to meet current or forecasted energy demand. So as we transition to renewable and cleaner technologies — a process that will take decades — let's not be so foolish as to ignore the value of comparatively safer resources and strategies like domestic fracking.

People who refuse to accept fracking as an option during that transition are guilty, in Van Slyke's eyes, of the common sin of "making the perfect the enemy of the good." Or, like the driver who has anti-war and anti-fracking bumper stickers on his car, they want it "both ways." Van Slyke's unspoken premise is that you can't have it both ways unless you're willing to make lifestyle sacrifices until "non-petroleum alternatives" can meet energy demands. He most likely suspects that most people are no more willing to make such sacrifices than they are to take risks. It's more likely still that he's unwilling to make such sacrifices -- and to be fair, it may well be that the 21st century economy can't operate at all on existing non-petroleum alternatives. In that case, Van Slyke would make his case more credible if he proposed fracking as a limited-time option concurrent with a high-priority conversion to non-petroleum alternatives. Since you can infer that he has done that, let's say his case would be more credible if the people who actually plan to do the fracking made such a proposal. 

Meanwhile, Van Slyke smears all opponents of fracking by attributing to them the ultimate NIMBY argument. As he sees it, they'd rather see American soldiers die than take the slightest risk of polluting their own communities. In his own words, "Banning fracking carries the greatest risk for the young Americans deployed to protect our oil interests abroad. Allowing fracking, on the other hand, carries actual risk for you and me. And that's when we get to the root question of our energy dilemma: how many more young soldiers are we willing to sacrifice to avoid our share of the risk?"
If dependence on oil imposes risks on American lives, and no pollution-free alternative to oil is currently feasible, Van Slyke deduces a duty to accept the risk of pollution in order to reduce the risk of war. What he really means is that we must accept risk of some sort to keep the industrial economy going, and that the risk of pollution is more acceptable than the risk of war. That may be, but in the military the risks are taken by volunteers. Perhaps it should be likewise with pollution. Some people may already accept the risk by advocating fracking in their own communities. Maybe the rest of the pro-fracking people should join them in the risk zone after a simple exchange of property with the more risk-averse elements. Van Slyke may think he has a winning argument for fracking -- he doesn't even bother with the usual "we need jobs" argument -- but his deadly analogy fails if he intends to draft any Americans into taking the risk.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Why must soldiers - or anyone - die for oil to begin with? One could just as easily accuse Van Slyke of being willing to cause children's deaths due to poisoning the water table that is one of the main "risks" of hydrofrakking.

risks of continuing our dependence on imported oil
What about the risk of continuing our dependence on oil, period?

The bottom line is that Van Slyke and his low-down ilk are nothing more than greed-driven apologist for big oil. Which means his opinion is of no value to begin with.