On Fracking, Much Remains Unresolved
One of the stranger aspects of modern-day politics is how every issue seemingly becomes a zero-sum game.
Nuance? Throw it out the window. Details? They just get in the way. Middle ground? That's for the weak. It's all about winners and losers, being on the right side or wrong side, Armageddon or nirvana.
A few politicians are making a stab at sidestepping the zero-sum politics when it comes to natural gas hydraulic fracturing, more commonly called fracking.
Right now, the controversial method of natural gas drilling is banned in North Carolina. Reserves running through the Piedmont have legislators rethinking the ban.
State Rep. Mitch Gillespie, a McDowell County Republican, was recently joined by a fellow Republican, state Rep. Mike Stone of Lee County, and a Democrat, state Rep. Pricey Harrison of Guilford County, in announcing a go-slow approach to fracking.
One of the first things that Gillespie and Harrison let reporters know is that they don't agree on the issue.
Gillespie believes fracking can be done safely; Harrison isn't convinced, at least not yet.
What the two do agree on is following a process laid out in a recent study by state regulators that calls for test wells, more data study, and a fairly stringent regulatory regime before the fracking ban is lifted.
Gillespie sees that process taking another two to three years.
It's not clear that all of his legislative colleagues agree.
In the Senate, Republicans have been pushing for a faster track. And in a bill passed by the legislature last year - but vetoed by Gov. Beverly Perdue - offshore oil and natural gas exploration were co-mingled with fracking.
Meanwhile, environmentalists adamantly opposed to fracking have packed state hearings held around the state.
Seemingly lost are a few points that ought to be obvious, but apparently aren't to the zero-sum crowd:
- Natural gas offers this country a cheap, cleaner-burning energy alternative to oil and coal, one that power companies are clearly banking on for decades to come. Being able to produce more natural gas, safely, is a good thing.
- Not all drilling is the same. Our country's foray, and potentially our state's foray, into more natural gas production isn't the same as offshore oil production. Economists are pretty unanimous that additional domestic oil production - off the Atlantic or elsewhere - will have little or no effect on global oil prices. As one Yale economist noted, "U.S. foreign policy is probably more relevant than (U.S.) energy policy."
- More important than clean, reliable energy is clean water. To move forward with fracking without ensuring that water supplies will be protected is lunacy. Plenty of evidence exists showing that other states haven't done a good job in this regard.
Of course, it is an election year, and electoral politics has always been a kind of zero-sum game.
At least a few of our elected representatives understand that public policy isn't.
Scott Mooneyham writes for Capitol Press Association in Raleigh. Contact him at email@example.com.
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