Talking Turkey and Fracking
By Rich Bindell
The Thanksgiving table connects folks with a diverse array of opinions, even—and sometimes especially—within your own family. When conversations turn to politics, sports, religion, or entertainment, even the most patient and level-headed debater can become unhinged if their views are challenged by a family member regarding a controversial topic. Before you know it, you feel like you’re twelve years old again, just trying to get some respect. I know the feeling. My family loves a good debate, and my brother-in-law works for an oil and gas company.
Since long before I began working for Food & Water Watch, I’ve participated in many a discussion where my views on the importance of protecting shared natural resources have butted against those of a friend or relative. But none of those situations were as challenging, or even as rewarding, as when my brother-in-law and I engage in a conversation about fracking in front of our family.
Let me be clear about one very important detail: I love my brother-in-law. He is the person my sister chose to share and build her life with, and that includes my precious nieces. He’s also a genuinely good guy, in my opinion. And even though his work doesn’t directly involve fracking, he just happens to have an employer that I spend my daily life combating through my work with Food & Water Watch, where we oppose the promotion of fracked gas as a solution to our energy woes, and look to educate consumers about the dangers associated with it.
Over the holidays, my brother-in-law and I will undoubtedly be faced with opportunities to hurl talking points back and forth at each other. Usually, we are baited by other members of my family who are eager to bare witness to a healthy debate, especially one that affects all of us and our energy future. Every now and then, it gets a bit heated, but we try to keep it respectable. Since we are both proud Pennsylvanians by birth, you can see how this face-off has the potential to get ugly.
For the most part, he seems to support the industry claim that fracked gas is a “bridge fuel” until we can find a more sustainable solution, and he thinks fracking has been good for Pennsylvania’s economy. I truly believe that fracking is a highly dangerous method of energy extraction and a last-ditch effort from the oil and gas industry to keep us hooked on fossil fuels. Fracking directly threatens our air, our water and our health. Trying to properly dispose of the toxic fluid leftover from fracking has created a nightmare situation, and the fact that many oil and gas companies won’t disclose some of the chemicals used in the fracking process leaves me concerned about the potential affects these toxins will have on our environment over time.
Overall, I hate watching it destroy the Keystone State, like it has in Dimock and Washington County.
So how do you debate a family member in a Thanksgiving setting without getting to the point where someone threatens to use gravy as a weapon? Keep in mind two very important principles: 1. Remember that family is for life. That means, no matter what your differences of opinion may be, you will face that person again in the morning. Treat the debate and the person you’re debating, with respect. 2. Stick to your talking points. Here are some go-to facts to use when opposing fracking at the Thanksgiving table…
- Increased reliance on oil and gas from fracking may be as bad as, or even worse, than coal in terms of speeding up climate change.
- Some of the known chemicals used in fracking fluid are carcinogenic.
- Each time a well is fracked, it typically uses millions of gallons of water.
- Toxins in fracking wastewater have not been removed at some treatment facilities, and have ended up in rivers and streams, contaminating water supplies for downstream communities.
- Local communities that host fracking wells deal with damage to basic infrastructure from trucks moving equipment, water, sand and toxic chemicals in and out of the vicinity.
- Industry jobs typically go to transient workers, not to local residents. Almost all the jobs associated with shale gas development come during the drilling and fracking stage, which takes less than one year.
- The oil and gas industry usually buys from out-of-state suppliers, not from local businesses.
- Estimates of how long the U.S. fracked gas supply will last include accounting for increased exports to Europe and Asia.
- Hydrocarbon gases, undisclosed industrial chemicals and other contaminants can seep into aquifers via aging wells, natural faults and the fractures from fracking.
- Even if the highly uncertain estimates of “tight oil” reserves prove accurate, and even if the oil and gas industry wins unrestricted access to drill and frack for oil, the estimated reserves would amount to a supply of less than seven years.
You know what’s great about these points? They are facts. And facts are solid ground. So, good luck out there with your family debates, and keep fighting the good fight. Have a very happy Thanksgiving or Thanksgivvukah!