Debate over fracking pits one type of economy against another

By Alyssa Bernstein

This piece was published earlier as a letter to the editor in the Athens News, Feb. 8, 2012.

The Athens County Commissioners, who may soon vote on a proposed resolution regarding fracking (the oil and gas drilling method that in its relatively new horizontal application fractures deep layers of shale by injecting massive amounts of toxics-laced water at high pressure), have said that they are working to find a compromise that balances economic and environmental interests, according to a Feb. 2 report in The Athens NEWS.

The simple belief that fracking creates an opposition between economic interests and environmental interests, which many people hold, seriously distorts the realities and leads to seriously wrong decisions. The conflict in Athens County is between some residents’ economic interests, which depend on preserving the county’s clean water, air, soil and ecosystems, and other people’s economic interests, which they want to advance in ways that will, foreseeably if not intentionally, harm other residents in both the short and the long term.

A minority of Athens landowners and a minority of Athens businesses and potential employees may gain short-term benefits, primarily financial and in some cases large, from intensive, polluting industrialization of this county by companies that use fracking to drill for fossil fuels. Such benefits for that sub-group would come at the cost of gravely serious, irreparable long-term as well as short-term harms to the rest of the county’s population.

The harms would concern not only economic interests but also other important interests such as life, safety and health.  Pollution of water, air and land would adversely impact this area’s economy. Its agriculture, its tourism, the restaurants and markets that buy locally produced food, and many local college and university programs, as well as other aspects of the economy, all depend on the county’s healthy ecosystems.

Many residents, including professors and students, would want to leave, and many people would decide against coming here. The shorter-term, primarily financial benefits to a sub-group of the county’s current residents would be far outweighed by the more broadly economic and other costs to other current residents as well as to the county, both present and future.

Tax and fee benefits that the county might be able to obtain in the short term would be more than outweighed, in both the near and further future, not only in financial terms but also in terms of everything else that makes Athens County a wonderful place to live and work.

This county needs more jobs, but there are other ways to create jobs that would be far better for the county as well as for the nation and the globe. A new report by the Ohio BlueGreen Apollo Alliance says Ohio is well placed to create thousands of clean-energy jobs, and recommends that government help stimulate such economic growth with incentives and energy-efficiency projects. The U.S. Geological Survey has just slashed its estimates for the Marcellus Shale region by 66 percent, and now the U.S. Energy Department expects Marcellus reserves to meet U.S. gas demand for only about six years. Solar power plants generate electricity for more than 20 years before needing equipment replacement, which requires no additional land use.

To allow intensive industrialization for fossil-fuel production that would benefit a sub-group of current residents and yield huge financial profits to corporation owners outside the county and outside the country would be to condemn Athens County.

Its county commissioners should do everything they can to prevent this.

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