Imagine some of America’s best minds created a technological breakthrough that could pull us out of recession, lower every American’s cost of living, revitalize dead industries, and lead to employment opportunities for millions. How would we react?
Unfortunately, history tells us that technological breakthroughs often face hysterical opposition. Technophobes opposed the automobile. They opposed the radio. They opposed the computer.
And now they’re opposing today’s most exciting technological breakthrough, shale energy technology—aka “fracking.”
Their spokesman is Josh Fox. And July 8th, to worldwide fanfare, HBO broadcast his latest manifesto, Gasland, Part II.
Gasland, Part II is a direct continuation of the original Gasland, which famously featured footage of a Pennsylvania man lighting his water on fire—a phenomenon that, unknown to many, is a frequent natural occurrence.
Both movies follow a similar three-part formula. First, Fox tells a sad story about a family undergoing a problem, usually with their drinking water—“When we turn on the tap, the water reeks of hydrocarbons and chemicals,” says John Fenton of Pavillion, Wyoming. Then, Fox blames it on the oil and gas industry using “fracking”–without exploring any alternative explanations, such as the fact that methane and other substances often naturally seep into groundwater. Finally, Fox concludes that fracking, and really all oil and gas drilling, should be illegal–as if any technology that can be misused should be outlawed.
This is a blueprint for opposing any technology. For example, Fox could make Carland, which could show car crashes and then blame all of them on “Big Auto.” Then it could argue that because car crashes are possible, we don’t need cars.
In fact, Fox could make a far more alarming movie than Gasland based on supposedly risk-free solar and wind technology. Imagine seeing the following scene, described in this article by a British reporter visiting a wind-power mining operation, in a film called Wasteland.
…an apocalyptic sight greets us: a giant, secret toxic dump, made bigger by every wind turbine we build.
The lake instantly assaults your senses. Stand on the black crust for just seconds and your eyes water and a powerful, acrid stench fills your lungs.
For hours after our visit, my stomach lurched and my head throbbed. We were there for only one hour, but those who live in Mr Yan’s village of Dalahai, and other villages around, breathe in the same poison every day.
Here’s the truth about groundwater. Every technology uses raw materials that must be mined from the ground–any time we drill or mine or dig underground, whether to drill for oil or to mine for the materials in solar panels, groundwater can be compromised. Of all the things you can do underground, fracking is the least likely to impact groundwater, because it takes place thousands of feet away from groundwater. As President Obama’s former EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson acknowledged, there is no “proven case where the fracking process itself has affected water. . . .”
If something goes wrong at a fracked oil or gas well, it almost certainly has nothing to do with fracking. This has been explained in the many, many factual refutations of Gasland’s claims–see here, here, here, here, here.) And the valuable industry research organization Energy in Depth has already systematically refuted Gasland II here.
So why single out fracking? Because technophobia thrives on unfamiliar, unknown terms like “fracking.” If Fox had opposed “drilling,” he wouldn’t have gotten very far, because the public knows that while accidents can happen while drilling, drilling itself is a vital human activity.
Supporters of Gasland would argue that Fox is not against new energy technology, and in fact champions “renewable” energy technology like solar and wind. But not only does he ignore the “dirtiness” of these technologies, he ignores their greatest problem: they are utter failures at producing cheap, plentiful, reliable energy that life and progress require. The reasons why have been well-understood for decades. Because sunlight and wind are low-density energy, they require vast land and material resources to capture. And worse, because sunlight and wind are unreliable energy, they always need a backup, which is almost always fossil fuels.
Think of solar and wind like unproductive, unreliable employees; you can take on a few of them in your company without going bankrupt, but they always cost you a lot of money and they never help you make progress.
If Josh Fox was a true believer in the power of solar and wind technology to improve human life, he would advocate open competition. But he, along with his new ally in the film, Stanford environmentalist Mark Jacobson, want to outlaw the best technologies on the promise that they will somehow make the worst technologies work.
He expresses no acknowledgement whatsoever of the upside to fracking technology and no acknowledgement of the downside of restricting, let alone outlawing it. Like the technophobes of the past, with new technologies it sees only problems but not solutions. And this is a shame, because the truth is that America is becoming Gasland–and that’s an amazingly good thing.
They say you can’t squeeze blood from a turnip, but shale energy technology can get oceans of precious oil and natural gas out of once-useless rock. The “fracking” in shale energy technology uses water and sand to fracture shale rock, creating cracks that oil can flow through. It has been used (safely) for over 60 years on conventional oil and gas deposits in over 1 million frac jobs. Now, more advanced versions are being applied to shale around the country, with incredible results. In North Dakota, the once unknown Bakken shale formation has become the foundation of America’s greatest economic boom, which drove the state’s unemployment rate down to 3.2%.
And there is so much potential to expand. California is home to the Monterey Shale, which is four times larger than the Bakken. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that it contains 15 billion barrels of recoverable oil, or 630 billion gallons. That’s an almost unimaginable amount of oil for getting to work, for family vacations, for life-saving medical devices—and studies estimate that it can create job opportunities in the millions.
Those of us who have jobs can easily forget what a new, well-paying job means to a family. It means saving for college instead of falling deeper into debt. It means enjoying a comfortable life, not anxiously living on the edge. It means optimism, not despair.
Unfortunately, our fellow citizens may be deprived of this opportunity, thanks to widespread miseducation about shale oil technology, led by Josh Fox.
When we look 10 or 20 years down the road, will we be the nation that embraced technology and brought prosperity to all, or the state that rejected technology and deprived millions of our fellow citizens the opportunity for a better life? It’s time to get behind shale energy technology. It’s time to embrace being Gasland.