Natural Gas Witch Hunt
Retired Chemist and Member, Vestal Coalition Steering Committee
Bob Tiberio does a playful Halloween analysis of the natural gas opposition. He articulately explains what’s behind so much of the anti-natural gas movement – plain old scare-mongering. It’s been with us a long time!
Trick or treat? Natural gas supporters in New York’s Southern Tier have waited years to see Halloween bags in their communities overflow with all the good things natural gas development brings – jobs, income, tax relief, new businesses and hope. But, beware of the screams and wails from those desperate to believe the natural gas industry is evil. As the SGEIS review creeps slowly forward, activists dress up their various agendas as “health concerns” and try every trick in the book to incite a natural gas witch hunt.
From medieval Europe to colonial New England, witchcraft was believed to explain misfortunes such as pestilence and plagues. A “witch” could be convicted on literally nothing. The poor accused soul needed to somehow prove she was not a witch. Intense public feelings known as “moral panic” induced belief in her guilt. In several notorious cases of mass hysteria, witches were put to death for causing illness, storms and crop failures.
Today, natural gas is often accused of the same sort of afflictions, in the same irrational way, with the same lack of credible evidence. Alarmists hysterically claim gas companies are responsible for almost any strange or undesirable phenomenon. In one infamous parlor trick they set tap water on fire – something possible naturally in many methane rich areas with no gas development. Burn the witch anyway!
In the middle ages, women were often suspected of witchcraft simply because they lived in the same town as some affliction. More recently, gas development has been accused of causing asthma and cancer merely because all may occur in the same area. One notoriously irresponsible filmmaker asserted the occurrence of breast cancer in the Dallas/Fort Worth vicinity had increased because of shale gas development. But the Texas Cancer Registry and the Susan G. Komen Foundation confirm his claim is false. In fact, health indicators in Denton County actually improved.
At witch trials, women were sometimes confronted with “spectral evidence” – testimony from victims claiming to have seen the “shape” of the accused witch nearby. In an eerie similarly, infrared images of gas development sites were said to reveal plumes of natural gas escaping into the air. Later, these “shapes” were identified by experts as consisting of water vapor and CO2.
Abraham Lincoln, who confronted a real evil once said, “you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.” That’s why other Marcellus states don’t shun gas development. Officials there know the undisguised truth – there’s nothing to fear! Even with thousands of wells now producing shale gas, there’s virtually no confirmed evidence of contamination. There’s nothing scary under the bed or the bedrock either. It’s not supernatural gas. What you see is what you get – enormous benefit with little risk.
Unfortunately, there are places in the world where ignorance and superstition still reign, and where witch hunts still occur. Let’s hope New York isn’t one of them. This Halloween don’t be tricked into hunting for witches and apparitions. Treat yourself to the solid scientific facts about responsible natural gas development.