This afternoon the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment releases her report on fracking in New Zealand, to the certain howling and wailing of all the usual suspects [UPDATE: Fracking is safe, says ParlCommish], so I figured it was time for a re-post...
Councils around the country have been declaring themselves “Frack Free Zones.”
What the hell?
The declarations by councils from Hawkes Bay, Waimakariri, Kaikoura, Selwyn and Christchurch (don’t they have more important things to do in Christchurch?)—now joined by one from Dunedin—comes ahead of a report on fracking by Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Jan Wright which the cardiganned councillors hope will … do something.
So what is fracking, and why all the controversy?
Fracking is a means of extracting oil and gas by injecting high-pressure quantities of water, steam and sand into deep wells, creating sufficient hydraulic pressure to fracture the rock and release the hydrocarbons stored within. Writing seventy years ago in Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand describes her fictional oil tycoon Ellis Wyatt, who had discovered how to produce oil from shale:
It was as if somebody had given a shot of adrenalin to the heart of the mountain, the heart had started pumping, the black blood had burst through the rocks… because blood is supposed to feed, to give life, and that is what Wyatt Oil had done.
The oil and gas produced is the lifeblood of productive activity. Shale gas production across the US for example, where it was first developed, has in the last six years begun extracting a Saudi Arabia’s worth of gas, now accounting for at least 14 percent of U.S. natural gas supply—doing all sorts of good things for total gas supply and gas prices. And since it’s obvious you can’t run cars, home heating and air-conditioning on just smiles and sunshine, and we have plenty of the stuff in the ground here in NZ that could produce both ample gas and abundant jobs ("Washington County, south of Pittsburgh, for example, is currently the third-fastest job creator in the US as a result of the Marcellus Shale development”), you’ d think the technology would be universally embraced. But it’s not.
So why is it so controversial?
Well, it’s supposed to risk contaminating water aquifers and maybe cause minor earthquakes.
These graphs below derived from field images gives you an idea of the distance between aquifers (solid blue, along the top) and induced hydraulic fractures (coloured lines much lower down):
The evidence for earthquakes is equally distant. Look again at that graph above. Drilling for fracking only goes around 1 to 2km deep (around 5,000 to 10,00 feet). Hard to see how this could affect tectonic plates that are around six kilometres to two-hundred kilometres in thickness. Little wonder then that Bill Ellsworth, lead author of a study by the U.S. Geological Survey, has said on the record
he is confident that hydraulic fracturing — a process in use since 1947 — is not responsible for earthquake trends that his team has observed….
[Further, the US] National Research Council's report unequivocally states that "the process of hydraulic fracturing a well as presently implemented for shale gas recovery does not pose a high risk for inducing felt seismic events."
See that word “unequivocally”?
So why the protests? Why are the new anti-fracking badges worn next to the enviro-left’s faded CND and ant-GE badges?
Well, turns out it’s not just the enviro-left who’ve been protesting this one. (Can you guess why?)
But the enviro-left protests have been less about science and causality than they have been about something else, which is a failure to acknowledge or even to recognise that while there are risks with every new technology and any new form of production—and caution clearly needed—human survival and flourishing is utterly dependent on our ability to produce.
But these protestors protest every new technology, regardless of risk, especially and new technology that allowed energy to be created in the vast quantities needed to keep our industrial civilisation flourishing.
What could motivate such opposition to new technology? Ayn Rand had the answer forty years ago in her analysis of the green movement back then:
The dinosaur and its fellow-creatures vanished from this earth long before there were any industrialists or any men . . . . But this did not end life on earth. Contrary to the ecologists, nature does not stand still and does not maintain the kind of “equilibrium” that guarantees the survival of any particular species—least of all the survival of her greatest and most fragile product: man.
Now observe that in all the propaganda of the ecologists—amidst all their appeals to nature and pleas for “harmony with nature”—there is no discussion of man’s needs and the requirements of his survival. Man is treated as if he were an unnatural phenomenon. Man cannot survive in the kind of state of nature that the ecologists envision—i.e., on the level of sea urchins or polar bears . . . .
In order to survive, man has to discover and produce everything he needs, which means that he has to alter his background and adapt it to his needs. Nature has not equipped him for adapting himself to his background in the manner of animals. From the most primitive cultures to the most advanced civilizations, man has had to manufacture things; his well-being depends on his success at production. The lowest human tribe cannot survive without that alleged source of pollution: fire. It is not merely symbolic that fire was the property of the gods which Prometheus brought to man. The ecologists are the new vultures swarming to extinguish that fire.
Without machines and technology, the task of mere survival is a terrible, mind-and-body-wrecking ordeal. In “nature,” the struggle for food, clothing and shelter consumes all of a man’s energy and spirit; it is a losing struggle—the winner is any flood, earthquake or swarm of locusts. (Consider the 500,000 bodies left in the wake of a single flood in Pakistan; they had been men who lived without technology.) To work only for bare necessities is a luxury that mankind cannot afford.
City smog and filthy rivers are not good for men (though they are not the kind of danger that the ecological panic-mongers proclaim them to be). This is a scientific, technological problem—not a political one—and it can be solved only by technology. Even if smog were a risk to human life, we must remember that life in nature, without technology, is wholesale death.
An Asian peasant who labors through all of his waking hours, with tools created in Biblical times—a South American aborigine who is devoured by piranha in a jungle stream—an African who is bitten by the tsetse fly—an Arab whose teeth are green with decay in his mouth—these do live with their “natural environment,” but are scarcely able to appreciate its beauty. Try to tell a Chinese mother, whose child is dying of cholera: “Should one do everything one can? Of course not.” Try to tell a Russian housewife, who trudges miles on foot in sub-zero weather in order to spend hours standing in line at a state store dispensing food rations, that America is defiled by shopping centers, expressways and family cars.
In Western Europe, in the preindustrial Middle Ages, man’s life expectancy was 30 years. In the nineteenth century, Europe’s population grew by 300 percent—which is the best proof of the fact that for the first time in human history, industry gave the great masses of people a chance to survive.
If it were true that a heavy concentration of industry is destructive to human life, one would find life expectancy declining in the more advanced countries. But it has been rising steadily. Here are the figures on life expectancy in the United States (from the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company):
Anyone over 30 years of age today, give a silent “Thank you” to the nearest, grimiest, sootiest smokestacks you can find.
- 1900 47.3 years
- 1920 53 years
- 1940 60 years
- 1968 70.2 years (the latest figures compiled)
If you consider, not merely the length, but the kind of life men have to lead in the undeveloped parts of the world—“the quality of life,” to borrow, with full meaning, the ecologists’ meaningless catch phrase—if you consider the squalor, the misery, the helplessness, the fear, the unspeakably hard labor, the festering diseases, the plagues, the starvation, you will begin to appreciate the role of technology in man’s existence.
Make no mistake about it: it is technology and progress that the nature-lovers are out to destroy. To quote again from the Newsweek survey: “What worries ecologists is that people now upset about the environment may ultimately look to technology to solve everything . . . .” This is repeated over and over again; technological solutions, they claim, will merely create new problems.
Whom and what are [the ecological crusaders] attacking? It is not the luxuries of the “idle rich,” but the availability of “luxuries” to the broad masses of people. They are denouncing the fact that automobiles, air conditioners and television sets are no longer toys of the rich, but are within the means of an average American worker—a beneficence that does not exist and is not fully believed anywhere else on earth.
What do they regard as the proper life for working people? A life of unrelieved drudgery, of endless, gray toil, with no rest, no travel, no pleasure—above all, no pleasure. Those drugged, fornicating hedonists do not know that man cannot live by toil alone, that pleasure is a necessity, and that television has brought more enjoyment into more lives than all the public parks and settlement houses combined.
What do they regard as luxury? Anything above the “bare necessities” of physical survival—with the explanation that men would not have to labor so hard if it were not for the “artificial needs” created by “commercialism” and “materialism.” In reality, the opposite is true: the less the return on your labor, the harder the labor. It is much easier to acquire an automobile in New York City than a meal in the jungle.
The only fundamental change in her discussion is the vast and exciting improvements in the last four decades in most of Asia, some of Africa, and parts of the Middle East—i..e, in the places that have embraced or begun to embrace the science, technology and freedom the fashionable west is now imploring us to abandon—that have pulled people out of the misery she describes.
But the fashionable west would rather ignore that, as it wishes to ignore most of the facts that underpin their own survival and flourishing. Here’s Sean and Yoko Lennon, for example—“an old woman, whose longevity has been extended by oil-and-gas-based agriculture and oil-derived medicine, whose appearance is preserved by oil-based makeup, wearing plastic (oil) glasses, a shiny (oil-coated) hat, and clothes grown using natural gas fertilizers and oil-powered farm equipment, holding a plastic (oil-based) globe…performing in an extravagant building and auditorium could only be built by oil-powered machinery, the building’s massive power consumption likely powered by a natural gas power plant, as is the subway that brought some of the guests to the New York show; the rest certainly got there by oil-based vehicles”—completely dependent for their own lavish lifestyles, just like the members of their audience, on the technology they’re there to protest.
What wallies. The whole performance is virtually a tribute to fracking for oil and natural gas. Fracking is your mother, darlings.