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January 30, 2014

New book a good primer on fracking controversy

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Cooperstown Crier

---- — The leading controversy around here the past few years has been fracking. It is a highly emotional issue for residents who see it as destroying both their property values and way of life. Natural gas companies see it as an economic boon, and farmers see it as a way to produce badly needed income on their land. It’s one of those issues that are so emotionally charged that rational debate is often impossible.

In our little corner of the world it appears that fracking will not happen (at least based on what some anti-fracking people with knowledge of the process are saying). However, it is still an ongoing controversy nationally and one that isn’t going to disappear. When we are in a situation where shale oil and natural gas is in abundance and we would love to be independent of the Middle East for oil the subject of fracking will always be front and center. It doesn’t hurt to know something about it.

The library has just purchased a book that tries to bring sanity to the discussion.  “Hydrofracking: What Everyone Needs to Know” was written by Alex Prud’Homme, and he tries to take a neutral stance in bringing up the pros and cons of the whole industry. It’s an excellent primer for the entire debate.

Let’s face it. For the typical lay person terms such as “BTUs,” “tar sands,” “shale oil” and “gelling agent” might as well be in a foreign language. We either see fracking as a job producer or an environment destroyer without understanding the technical jargon. Prud’Homme tries to cut through all the complex terminology and doomsday scenarios that both sides of the debate use in order to give an unbiased view of what fracking is all about.

He only partly succeeds with this effort although it’s not his fault. With all the hardware and chemicals involved in fracking it can’t help but be mindboggling. But despite the confusion Prud’Homme succeeds in presenting the pros and cons to the basic argument: Fracking does have economic benefits but is the possible damage to the environment worth it?

There are several states in this country that have jumped on the fracking bandwagon. Pennsylvania, Texas, Colorado, and North Dakota have all embraced fracking and see it as an economic boon. There has been backlash due to the effect on the environment and the sudden influx of temporary workers but it has also had its positive economic effects and added money to the states’ coffers.

New York has taken the opposite tact and resisted it strenuously. We do have our pro-fracking elements but so far the anti-fracking crowd has won the day. The state still doesn’t have full-blown fracking and, as noted earlier, is apparently not likely to have it in this area.

One aspect to the debate that Prud’Homme does not specifically address (nor should he necessarily) is the question of what to do about an area that might be suitable for fracking but also draws residents because of its pristine setting. Many people move here because of the quality of life and the last thing they want is for heavy industry to spoil the landscape. It makes fracking undesirable even without the direct threat to the groundwater.

Whenever money is involved debates tend to be as much emotional as they are rational. It’s easy to understand why farmers who have lost income would be attracted to the leases that fracking provides. It’s also understandable why residents and home owners who love the natural beauty of the area don’t want to see it spoiled.

Hydrofracking cuts through a lot of that emotion and provides a very good understanding of the subject. It’s short, concise and gives the layperson a good premise for what the whole matter entails. It might not change how you feel about fracking, but it certainly will increase your knowledge. I highly recommend it.

David Kent is the director of the Village Library of Cooperstown. He can be reached at co.david@4cls.org.