Friday, December 2, 2011

Colorado Oil Spill Shows Prioritization of Media & Environmentalism Is Wrong

The unfolding oil spill into the South Platte River in Colorado from apparently a Suncor refinery is one more example of the daily toll oil spills--big and small--cause to water resources. The pollution has caused workers to wear respirators at a municipal sewage plant and caused at least one drinking water provider to stop withdrawing from the river. The river has suffered major impacts, and this oil spill has drawn a bit of media attention. See

The media and public attention to the fouling of the South Platte River is just a drop in the bucket compared to the media frenzy had gas production caused such major damage. Indeed, if one were to judge the environmental impacts of gas, oil and coal by the attention given them in the media and by some environmentalists, no doubt one would conclude that gas is the dirtiest of fuels, causing the most damage, and posing the biggest danger.  But the reverse is true.

By comparison to oil, pollution to water from gas production and distribution is minor.  Gas simply does not and cannot cause the regular havoc that comes from our addiction to oil.  For example, were gas spilling into the South Platte River, it would cause some damage and pose dangers but they would be much less than the oil that actually is.

Yet, the reaction to the daily oil toll is the equivalent of yawning or looking away.  Why? The "hot" story is gas, perhaps because it is new, perhaps because gas production is rocketing up, and is no longer out of sight and mind in the Northeast Corridor. Thanks to the huge success of Gasland, Hollywood too is involved. Right now, the water problems caused by oil are just not as much fun to attack as "fracking." 

None of that changes a basic fact. The mistake is being made of putting the most attention on issues that rank lower on water impact scales and the least attention on issues that rank the highest. Emotion and the media pack have eclipsed reason, and the environment suffers as a result

The collective hue and cry is about "fracking," while mountain top mining, oil spills, nitorgen and phosphorus runoff pollution, raw sewage, and more cause much, much more daily damage to water resources.  Gas drilling has impacts and paying attention to them is important in order to reduce them.  But the attention to gas drilling is a frenzy, disproportionate and out of balance, if one is seeking to stop the biggest damages to water.

Moreover one of the remedies for pollution caused by oil and coal is to use more gas and less oil and coal. Yet, using more gas to displace the obviously dirtier sources of energy is now controversial among some, but not all, environmentalists. 

Opposing more gas or banning it means using more oil and coal for longer.  And how is that good for the environment?

To everything there is a season and hopefully the passage of time will allow reason to reassert itself and a priortization of concerns that maximize benefits for the environment.

1 comment:

  1. Concerned ScientistDecember 2, 2011 at 9:23 AM

    Exactly right! And in my opinion this is exactly the right approach to this whole discussion John. The best reasons to be for gas and fracking are environmental reasons. It is ineffective to address environmental concerns with economic arguments. When people say "fracking will contaminate our most precious resource" and that is answered with "fracking creates jobs" nothing changes. When it is made it clear how much cleaner gas is than all of the other legitimate alternatives that is a winning argument. The jobs and revenues are gravy.