Monday, August 4, 2008

Gas, Oil and Charges of Greed

My job keeps me abreast of things I might not pay attention to if I didn't have to...but I'm grateful. The issue of horizontal natural gas drilling is one that's important to my area now, and we didn't know a thing about it just a couple of months ago.

I spotted a small notice that there was going to be a public hearing on the subject out in the wilds of Sullivan County (better known as home of the Borscht Belt) and did some digging (pardon the pun). What I discovered was that a relatively new technology is making New York mecca for natural gas drillers...they can now get at shale a mile or more below the ground and still make money. So they're coming in droves, buying up drilling rights and promising riches that could put the state lottery out of business.

But that comes with a price - there's a chemical cocktail that's combined with millions of gallons of water when they drill. And the companies don't have to tell anyone what those chemicals are. Thank our president for that. His administration sliced and diced environmental laws seen as 'unfavorable' to gas and oil companies.

Today I also learned that there's a noise problem. Those drills run 24 hours a day. They have to, for efficiency and safety reasons. And they're loud. A watchdog group in Colorado says it's about 100 decibels...that's like a semi truck going by over and over again.

Noise experts say prolonged exposure to that level of noise can not only make you cranky and raise your blood pressure; it can damage your hearing. OSHA requires hearing protection and limited hours to workers who face that kind of racket. What if you're living near it?

Then I went to a press conference with an area congressman who's been saying for months that this president is the most impeachable in history. There was apparently a hearing on Dennis Kucinich's articles of impeachment just a couple of weeks ago, but no one talked about it. Some worry that if the impeachment effort built a head of steam, it would fizzle in the Senate, and that would give the administration an opening to say that it had no merit. But others argue that just publicly airing a laundry list of this president's actions, both unconstitutional and illegal, would limit the damage he could do in his remaining months. This congressman is from the former although he took part in the hearing, he holds out no hope of it. In fact, his reaction to the whole thing was rueful laughter. It must be frustrating and, eventually, demoralizing to see so much that you believe is wrong but be convinced that there's nothing that can be done to stop it.

He charges the latest calls for off shore drilling are just another smokescreen. Oil companies already have millions of acres of potentially productive land they're not drilling. And they're not paying for it, either. It's a sweet deal if you can get it, especially when you've got friends in high places who want to give you more.

Meanwhile, we're expecting to be very cold or very hungry this winter - we can't be warm and fed at the same time when fuel prices have more than doubled. But I'm told any relief from Washington will be bogged down in partisan infighting.

I'd guess I'd better start putting away some lunch money for the "I Don't Want to Be a Popsicle" fund this winter.

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