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CPBJ Extra Blog

Being an adult on hydraulic fracturing

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In the conversation I had with David Holt, president of Consumer Energy Alliance, he brought up an interesting point.

Sipping coffee last week with me and Mike Butler, the organization's Mid Atlantic director, he was telling me about the alliance, which was created in 2006 to be the "voice of the consumer" on energy issues. By "consumer," he means businesses that use power but also average residents.

He said there is money to be made — on both sides — by scaring people regarding energy creation. And that's not just drilling for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale, a situation familiar to Pennsylvania. That also includes plans for offshore wind turbines, he said.

"We want people to have all the facts so that we can all sit down and have an adult conversation about this," Holt said.

Keeping in mind that his organization might be among the money-makers, too — it has championed fracking and spoken against Democrats who propose a moratorium on the practice — his point is still important.

Living in Northeast Pennsylvania for several years, I heard a lot about fracking. A lot of it was not very positive.

My former newspaper reported on people whose wells were polluted by methane and said the gas drillers were responsible. I've seen the video on YouTube where a woman sets her tap water on fire, thanks to the methane content. Yoko Ono and Sean Lennon even stopped by a village called Dimock in Susquehanna County in an attempt to raise awareness of what's happening up there.

I've also seen the benefits of Marcellus Shale drilling. Williamsport has become one of the fastest-growing areas in the nation. The hospitality industry has struggled to find rooms for visiting workers. Commercial truckers are in demand to haul supplies to well sites. Technical schools are ramping up programs aimed at work in the gas drilling field — and more than just working on a drill rig.

The point — the one Holt made to me — is that there must be a balance in the conversation. It does not need to be jobs OR public health. It doesn't need to be money OR environmental concerns.

"It's hydraulic fracturing AND doing it in an environmentally sustainable way," he said.

He's right. We need to earn a living. But we need clean water, too.

Maintaining a reporter's skepticism, I'm going to stop short of endorsing the Consumer Energy Alliance's position that a fracking moratorium is the wrong course.

But I'm going to be an adult and listen to the conversation.

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