Fracking: Sweet Talk vs. Reality
There is a sweet spot of public perception for people seeking office. Candidates need to appear self-assured and competent, but there’s a fine line between appearing to be competent and appearing to be cunning.
When Pat McCrory turns his head on cue to face the camera and assures North Carolinians that “the path to prosperity and thousands of jobs is right under our feet and off our coast,” that line disappears. Unblinkingly, he continues, “Those are our natural resources. Let’s unleash their power safely and get back to being great again.”
The image overpowers the message. That’s critical, because the message is weak.
I heard Bob Ganis, a geology consultant, speak last year about the shale oil that McCrory was alluding to when he referred to the prosperity “beneath our feet.” Ganis was reassuring. He said that horizontal fracturing could be done safely and that, given the scrutiny that was likely to accompany the practice in this state, it almost certainly would be. I believe him.
Ellen Marcus, candidate for county commissioner, shares a different experience. She told me about her family in Texas whose aquifer collapsed from seismic testing on a neighbor’s property. Fracking horror stories abound out west and in Pennsylvania. I believe Ellen, too.
I believe that fracking can and probably will be done with the highest regard for safety, especially initially. But we know it has been done poorly and with irreversible consequences. I am relieved to know that, even though there are tar sands in northern Moore County, the most desirable plots are concentrated on somewhere between 30,000 and 60,000 acres (likely closer to 30) in Lee County — far enough away from the groundwater that my family depends on.
That limited concentration of the resource in a county of 166,000 acres lead me to call Mr. Ganis, who does not oppose fracking, to ask him if he thought that it amounted to a “path to prosperity” for the state. He scoffed at the idea, suggesting instead, “If we could somehow harness the bluster around fracking, that might actually produce enough energy to power the state for a hundred years.”
If hydraulic fracturing leads to something short of prosperity, it is not clear that offshore drilling leads anywhere at all.
No one knows for certain that there are viable deposits of crude oil off our coast. Experts suspect there are because of the similarity of our coastal geological formation to those found over oil-rich fields off the coast of Canada and Africa, but as yet there has not been enough testing to find them.
Moreover, the state’s mineral rights extend only 3.5 miles (3 nautical miles). Any oil or natural gas found farther out than that would provide no royalties or leasing fees to the state.
Resources from offshore wells have to be pumped through pipelines along the ocean floor to onshore collection points.
If those refineries or collection points are in North Carolina, then the extra traffic to and from those points could wear out infrastructure in coastal communities — communities that contribute close to $17 billion a year to the state’s economy in recreation and tourism — without a commensurate contribution to the state’s economy. If the resources come onshore in Virginia, then the bulk of jobs associated with the endeavor go there, too.
Another fact you won’t hear in his commercials is that even if those resources are found close and in abundance, it would take eight to 12 years to develop them — which makes North Carolina’s offshore resources a path that cannot reach prosperity over the course of a McCrory administration.
Finally, McCrory’s commercials seek to reassure us by emphasizing the word, “safely” — “Let’s unleash their power safely.” How safe do you feel with a party that chafes at any form of regulation, even in the midst of a recession caused by an underregulated financial sector, regulating gas and oil companies? McCrory has consistently called for reducing regulations to create a “business-friendly environment.” To what extent does business-friendly environment come at the expense of environment-friendly?
A smiling Pat McCrory tuns his head to the camera and promises North Carolinians, “The path to prosperity and thousands of jobs is right under our feet and off our coast.” But he doesn’t tell you that it is a very narrow path. It can accommodate only those with enough power to advocate for the oil and gas industry.
Kevin Smith lives in Aberdeen. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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