Natural Gasbags

One thing that got under my skin last week was a little remarked-upon NYT column by Joe Nocera making the Very Serious Person’s case for a Sensible and Balancedâ„¢ approach to fracking. Environmentalists are dismissed as prone to “hyperbole” and “teeth gnashing,” and fracking is referred to as “a blessing.”

Meanwhile, the National Institute of Health just reported on a study showing how hospitalization rates jump near fracking sites. In particular, heart disease, neurological problems, cancer, urologic problems, and skin conditions were much higher near fracked areas. This isn’t exactly the first time such health concerns have been reported on, but Nocera’s article euphemistically sweeps them under the rug, referring abstractly to the “disruption” and “local controversy” that fracking causes in communities.

Look, we’re way past the point where you can write an essay like this without explicitly acknowledging how gas companies have been bullying communities and destroying people’s health, homes, and finances in a manner that would make the Chinese ruling party proud. We’re not just talking about a few pinpoint locations. We’re talking about huge swaths of the country being made unlivable. But it’s so much easier to call the citizens of Denton, TX and Longmont, CO — who’ve been fighting a David and Goliath battle to keep fracking out of their towns — teeth-gnashing hippies.

Nocera cites Council on Foreign Relations fellow Michael Levi, who claims the dispassionate analysis mantle in coming down in favor of fracking. To his credit, Levi does describe the need for specific regulations — but offers no credible means of accomplishing these legislative goals. You show me companies abiding by the best of all possible rules, show me that communities are no longer having their health destroyed, and then let’s talk about fracking as a viable alternative. Coal is indeed bad, but this is not an excuse to ignore the completely unacceptable health consequences of fracking. I guess these communities are just supposed to wait for that brilliant federal regulation to come along any day now, right?

For a better perspective, I recommend Naomi Klein’s remarks given recently at the Vatican.


Jen Sorensen is a cartoonist for Daily Kos, The Nation, In These Times, Politico and other publications throughout the US. She received the 2023 Berryman Award for Editorial Cartooning from the National Press Foundation, and is a recipient of the 2014 Herblock Prize and a 2013 Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award. She is also a Pulitzer Finalist.



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