Advocates of the shale gas boom in the United States and the corresponding oil sands surge in Canada point to the thousands of potential jobs and benefits to national energy security possible through the abundance of natural resources. Critics, for their part, say that conventional resources like oil and gas are relics of a bygone era, noting it's time to embrace new, less threatening forms of energy like solar, wind and wave power. Central to either side of the debate, however, is the power of appeal. It's not so much the information that's integral to the conversation but the level of emotional appeal that's driving the national debate.
In the late 1850s, incumbent Sen. Stephen Douglas squared off against Abraham Lincoln in a series of debates that drew thousands of people and journalists from across the United States. The debate format featured one candidate speaking for an hour, followed by a 90-minute rebuttal and then another 30 minute response. That's three hours if the timing was impeccable. Most Americans today can barely sit through the State of the Union address, and Obama's 2012 address clocked in at roughly an hour, 15 minutes. The point being that debate tolerance today has been sacrificed for the sake of speed and extremity. Few people, outside of those intimately involved in the industry, care to hear about plunger lifts, well-venting and refracture rate data from the 51-page survey of CH4 emissions tied to unconventional natural gas production produced by the American Petroleum Institute and America's Natural Gas Alliance. More news media consumers would prefer earthquakes and groundwater contamination tied to so-called fracking or to hear about how the EPA is ruining the economy with its burdensome regulation.
" Keystone XL Would Increase Gas Prices, Study Finds," reads one headline.
"Keystone pipeline will bring jobs, greater energy independence," reads another.
That's a debate for certain, but about what? And for who? Energy independence? Maybe. Environmental protection? Perhaps.
Does it matter? It does if you're in the business of selling a product, which is what the API and ANGA are doing just as emphatically as the news services, and elected officials, behind those headlines.
It's not popular, or news savvy, to say that Keystone XL would exceed U.S. regulatory requirements when, and if, it's constructed. Nor is it sexy to say those earthquakes in Ohio attributed to fracking were about as severe as a passing train and were the result of an intersection of an existing fault line.
More than 150 years ago, most audiences were content to listen to four-hour debates over slavery in large part because that's all there were available. No Twitter or Facebook. No Bill O'Reilly's or Chris Matthew's. Nothing but deduction, conceptualization, and context-driven debate.
Neil Postman, a media theorist, lamented this growing trend almost 30 years ago. He worried not that societal trends mean the truth is hidden but that it would lost to irrelevancy. To paraphrase his point, consider what you really plan to do about the Keystone XL pipeline, hydraulic fracturing of natural gas, unsightly windmills off the Massachusetts coast, trace levels of radiation from Japan in fish or any number of the hot-button issues in the media. The answer is nothing. You'll do nothing about it. You may express your opinion, but opinion today is tomorrow's headline. You may vote, but at best you do that once every two years.
We're getting there. There's been only one Deepwater Horizon tragedy and, all things considered, very few Chernobyl's. The trees outside your office window look more or less the same as last year even though it was a bit warmer. People's first reaction is always an emotional one. When it comes to issues like energy, which defines everything from how we get to work to what appliances we use, sit back and hold your fire. If you're lucky, you might be able to hear the quiet debate over the din of the war of emotions.
By. Daniel Graeber of Oilprice.com