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Guest Column

December 21, 2013

Nimbys, shills and celebs: A morality play for our times

As international corporations continue to ship U.S. jobs overseas, privatize water, track internet shopping and buy elections — and argue that this improves our lives — it’s worth looking at how big oil’s push to frack the earth is playing out in Otego.

Oil-company people don’t come here to remind us of the benefits and safety of shale development. There are people right here who are willing to fight a proxy war against their neighbors in the hope of making easy money from their corporate patrons.

They don’t call themselves “industry shills,” but you know who they are. Their scripts come from industry websites and you are right to doubt the veracity of their message. In a recent letter to the editor, a pro-frack writer claimed pollutants could not contaminate ground water because of gravity. He had forgotten it was pressure that got the gas out of the hole in the first place.

Industry tells us that fracking, per se, does not contaminate aquifers. However, they acknowledge groundwater contamination to the extent they pay off complaints with sealed court settlements and have put dozens of water buffaloes in the front yards of Dimock, Pa. Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection admitted the same with 160 determination letters to injured citizens.

Industry shills want us to understand that it wasn’t the moment of fracking that caused it — it was a different moment. Maybe when the well casing cracked. Maybe when the truck opened the drain hoses on a field, or when a pipe broke or the containment pond flooded.

Even the gas companies don’t think shale development is safe. The 2010 Form 10-K issued by Chesapeake (as cited in the NYS Bar Association Journal Vol. 83 No. 9 article by Elisabeth Radow) reads:

“There is inherent risk of incurring significant environmental costs and liabilities in our operation due to our generation, handling and disposal of materials, including waste and petroleum hydrocarbons… While we maintain insurance against some, but not all risks described above, our insurance may not be adequate to cover casualty losses or liabilities, and our insurance does not cover penalties or fines that may be assessed by a governmental authority.”

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