Oh my! The July 1 Sunday Opinion section featured a piece by Karen Cookson that shows that fear-mongering is alive and well. Cookson’s opinion is just that.
I will try to present some facts, and a thought process showing we do not live in a risk-free world.
First, we should look at needs. Why would a company invest hundreds of millions of dollars to construct a pipeline? Certainly not to “destroy the environment,” as there are federal and state agencies mandated to approve and supervise construction of every such project, including government-designed and -sponsored projects. Unless one is living in a cave heated by wood, there is need for fossil-fuel products that move through a pipeline.
Secondly, Cookson, like many, clearly hates the fossil-fuel industry, apparently believing that alternative energy will fuel the nation’s economy, perhaps not next year, but surely a year or two later.
In the real world, alternative fuels will double, perhaps triple, in the next 20 years, but are projected to be only 10 percent of national energy needs.
Oil, natural gas and coal will remain the nation’s primary sources of energy.
Yes, I am aware that President Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency has not only ruled that carbon dioxide is a pollutant, but made an end-run around Congress with a recently adopted regulation that is designed to put the coal industry out of business. The consumer will pay dearly for this policy. Unless reversed, that regulation will throw hundreds of thousands out of work and drive energy costs to untold heights.
Living with risk
Thirdly, let’s talk about risks. Cookson makes wild charges concerning fracking and pipeline construction. Fracture treatment of oil and gas wells is a 60-year-old technology. Millions of such well-stimulation treatments have been conducted around the world. The technology has increased oil and gas reservoir production efficiencies. High-volume hydrofracking in both oil and gas reservoirs has developed in the past ten years. Tens of thousands of high-volume fracture treatments have been performed, which significantly increased national production and reduced dependency on foreign imports.
The fear of groundwater pollution is totally unfounded. There is not one documented case where groundwater has been polluted from hydrofracking. But the public belief that hydrofracking pollutes groundwater resources is widespread. Fear-mongering has been very effective.
The pipeline story
Cookson is opposed to the pipeline that will pass through Schoharie County. Here are some fast facts: Pipelines have been serving the public need for cheap energy for more than 100 years. Based upon 2009 figures, cumulative oil pipeline construction totals 148,622 miles and cumulative gas pipeline construction totals 1, 539,911 miles.
Why don’t we hear of major problems from this spider web of pipelines across the nation? The answer is this: Pipeline transportation is very reliable and a safe means of transporting energy that we demand.
Many people like Cookson wish for a world that does not exist.
Pipelines do occasionally develop leaks, and an oil or gas well will occasionally blow wild. But oil delivery trucks, on occasion, will experience an accident and spill their oil into a stream. Bridges do fall down (1987 Thruway bridge), dams fail (Teton Dam/Hadlock Pond dam) and buildings collapse (excluding the World Trade Center attack).
But do we stop living because of risks? Even for a very remote risk? Of course not.
After all, we get into our car or pickup truck, which is the greatest hazard that we face, and drive to wherever.
Let facts be guide
We need to stop fear-mongering. We should develop facts and let the facts guide our conclusions. Differences of opinion are OK. That is why there are state and federal agencies that are staffed with competent personnel who are charged with the public safety and more than make up for our lack in understanding an issue.
Russ Wege is a retired engineer who lives in Glenville. The Gazette encourages readers to submit material on local issues for the Sunday Opinion section.