Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Don't Go Galt on Gas, Yet

Highlighted by the Lonely Conservative herself is the untenable position that Ronnie Bryant finds himself. Reaching his wits end, he has decided to call it quits and throw in the towel. You could say he is going Galt and that may indeed be an apt description, but Mr. Bryant is quitting before the fight has been waged. These environmental activists are vocal, well financed fools and hypocrites who exert their influence through intimidation. They cannot win the arguments on the basis of fact or science and are left emotional gamesmanship to manipulate the masses.

Politico had an article the other day that made the argument that the greens were arguing amongst themselves and the fragile coalition was beginning to fracture. One can only hope, but I fear that green goal of hydrofracking ban will be pretty effectively achieved through regulation, at least in the short term.

Still, anti-fracking activists in New York are livid at moves by Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration to allow the gas-extraction practice, which has largely been the subject of a de facto statewide moratorium. And some say the panel’s environmentalists are abandoning their main mission by participating.

“The environmental groups that are involved are too interested in regulating rather than serving their general purpose, which is to defend our resources, defend the people and to not push these sorts of things through,” said David Braun, co-founder of United for Action, a New York-based anti-fracking group.

Claire Sandberg, executive director of the group Frack Action, said the panel’s membership is irrelevant.

“Regardless of the composition of the panel and the voices on it, we don’t feel a panel looking at implementing regulations will come to any conclusions that will protect the public,” she said. “We believe there needs to be a statewide ban. We believe the practice is too unsafe, and we don’t believe we should be subject to this industry.”

“No matter who you put on the panel, what the panel is charged to do is incorrect,” said Mitch Jones, senior legislative and policy analyst for the group Food & Water Watch, which also supports an all-out ban. “They’re not going to say, ‘Instead of regulation A, B and C, we’re going to ban [fracking].’”

That having been said a recent poll by Sienna Research showing that 45% of New Yorkers surveyed are in favor of allowing hydrofracking, while 43% oppose, has to be more than a bit disheartening for the true believers who have spent the past year bemoaning the hazards and environmental pitfalls of natural gas production. In spite of their best efforts, they are losing the debate.

The green hypocrisy is highlighted by Ronald Bailey of Reason.com:

The ability to produce clean-burning natural gas from shale could transform the global energy economy. Right now we burn about 7 trillion cubic feet (TCF) of natural gas to generate about 24 percent of the electricity used in the United States. The U.S. burns a total of 23 TCF annually to heat homes and supply industrial processes as well as produce electricity. Burning coal still produces about 45 percent of U.S. electricity.

A rough calculation suggests that 100 percent of coal-powered electricity generation could be replaced by burning an additional 14 TCF of natural gas, boosting overall consumption to 37 TCF per year. The EIA estimates total U.S. natural gas reserves at 2,543 TCF, which suggests that the U.S. has enough natural gas to last about 70 years if it entirely replaced the current level of coal-powered electricity generation.

Similarly, it should be possible to replace all current U.S. gasoline consumption with about 17 TCF of natural gas per year. So replacing coal and gasoline immediately would require burning 54 TCF annually, implying a nearly 50-year supply of natural gas. And replacing dirtier coal and gasoline with natural gas would reduce overall U.S. carbon dioxide emissions by about 25 percent.

The national green lobbies initially welcomed shale gas. In 2009, for example, Robert Kennedy Jr., head of the Waterkeeper Alliance, called it “an obvious bridge fuel to the ‘new’ energy economy.” Local environmental activists were not as enthusiastic, arguing that fracking contaminates drinking water and causes other forms of pollution. After a while, some of the national lobbies began to come around to the locals’ side. In the words of the journalist Matt Ridley, “it became apparent that shale gas was a competitive threat to renewable energy.” Josh Fox, director of the anti–natural gas documentaryGasland, put it bluntly on Kennedy’s radio show: “What’s really happening here is not a battle between natural gas and coal. What’s happening here is a battle between another dirty fossil fuel and renewable energy.”

The Wall Street Journal does New York a service by highlighting in stark contrast the realities of natural gas production by comparing the economic and environmental realities taking place in Pennsylvania, where hydraulic fracturing has been welcomed and New York, whose green lobby has effectively strangled economic development for the better part of 3 years.

Consider New York's Broome County, which borders Pennsylvania and from which you can spot nearby rigs. The county seat of Binghamton ought to be a hub for shale commerce, but instead its population is falling as its young people leave for jobs elsewhere.

A study commissioned by the county in 2009 found that Broome could support up to 4,000 wells, but drilling even half that number would create some $400 million in wages, salaries and benefits; $605 million in property income from rents, royalties and dividends, and some $43 million in state and local tax revenue.


Governor Cuomo has said he wants to lift New York's moratorium, and the state's recently released draft rules are a step forward. But they must still undergo legal review and a public comment period that could bar New York drilling for the rest of this year, if not longer. New York will also still ban drilling in about 15% of the state's portion of the Marcellus and impose more onerous rules than other states on private property drilling. Such bows toward the obsessions of rich, big-city greens explain why parts of upstate New York are the new Appalachia.

As they look across their northern border, Pennsylvanians can be forgiven for thinking of New Yorkers the way Abba Eban once described the Palestinians: They never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.

Never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity. Indeed! We are on the cusp of victory over an environmental lobby flush with cash and short on argument. The fight now is a political one and in spite of all the rhetoric, New Yorkers are anxious for an economic revival and cheap gas. Be strong, hassle your representatives and senators and don't be afraid to speak out. There is plenty of time to go Galt, but don't quite while the battle is being won.

Hank Rearden gave up his metal after a lengthy battle with an entrenched political class. Ceding the argument now implies that the argument is lost. It is not, yet.

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