Saturday, April 10, 2010

The wrong way to embrace the future of the energy industry

Fourteen months ago I wrote something. I believe I sent it to Senator Arlen Specter, and Representative Paul Kanjorski, and the Wilkes-Barre Citizens' Voice and Times-Leader. This is what I wrote:

Northeastern Pennsylvania and the world of tomorrow

Someday every rooftop will be covered in solar cells. Every mountain ridge will sport a chain of wind turbines. Every car will be powered by Lithium-ion batteries.

Northeastern Pennsylvania has a long and proud history of industry. Coal mining. Manufacturing. People who know what it is to work hard.

All that is becoming a thing of the past. Coal mining ended with the Knox Mine Disaster, when corporate greed placed short-term profit above the safety of the miners - and the long-term sustainability of the industry. The number of manufacturers in this area has dwindled to just a handful. One of the largest employers in the area, the Tobyhanna Army Depot, was on the short list for closures on September 10th, 2001.

The economic crisis that has gripped the rest of the nation, and the world, is nothing new here. We have coped with hard times off and on for decades. Now, those hard times are mostly on.

Northeastern Pennsylvania is home to many institutions of higher education. King's College. Wilkes University. Misericordia University. Marywood University. The University of Scranton. We educate students from throughout the region and from places farther afield, and then we send them off into the world - but do not encourage them to stay here, where the primary industries have become call centers, warehouses, and distribution centers.

The world of tomorrow needs to be built somewhere. There need to be facilities for manufacturing solar cells and wind turbines and Lithium-ion batteries. These are the things that will power the future. These are the technologies that will make the future possible.

We have the industrial know-how. We have the skilled workforce and the tradition of doing hard work. We have the brainpower and management training, if we can manage to hold onto it.

The world of tomorrow needs to be built somewhere. Why not here? Why not Northeastern Pennsylvania?
I never heard back from Specter. I never heard back from Kanjorski. I didn't even think the newspapers took note of this, although a text string search revealed that it was at least published on the Times-Leader's website.

Still, I wasn't worried about this. Maybe I had put a bug in someone's ear, planted a seed which would germinate in time. I counseled myself to be patient.

Patient, my ass.

From today's Wilkes-Barre Citizens' Voice:

Kanjorski: W-B could host energy institute

Published April 10, 2010

By Michael R. Sisak
Staff Writer

U.S. Rep. Paul Kanjorski's vision for the future of natural gas drilling along the Marcellus Shale centers on a proposed energy institute in Wilkes-Barre - a national laboratory where scientific, economic and environmental research would shape public policy and a cohesive master plan.

Kanjorski shared details of his proposal during an interview Friday with The Citizens' Voice editorial board. He said he would present the plan to President Barack Obama - whose approval could direct millions of federal dollars to fund the institute - at a White House meeting on April 19...
Yep, that's it. Sure, we have the work force, we have the infrastructure, we have the educational resources to take on the future energy needs of the world. We have wind generators springing up throughout the area, using parts manufactured elsewhere and trucked in. We have several competing solar panel installation firms, most of them importing their solar panels from China. (One of them imports them from Delaware.) Hybrids with lithium-ion batteries are not uncommon sights on our roads and highways. And what does Kanjorski (D-Nanticoke, for crying out loud!) put his political muscle behind? Setting up an "institute" boondoggle - "a public-private partnership between the federal government and regional colleges and universities which would support a 'smart growth' approach to the gas drilling and infuse the region with more than 1,000 jobs."

In other words: create a dependency relationship that will result in an infusion of millions of dollars and over a thousand jobs - but if and only if the people of Notheastern Pennsylvania bend over and allow their region to be raped, again, but this time by gas extraction giants like Chesapeake Energy and Encana instead of the coal barons of old.

Of course, such an institute - "a national laboratory where scientific, economic and environmental research would shape public policy and a cohesive master plan" - will take time to create, and it will take even more time for it to produce a "cohesive master plan." But Marcellus Shale extraction is happening now, right now. Wells are getting contaminated. Bad things are happening. And the people who stand to profit from all this aren't about to wait for any "cohesive master plan", unless they are forced to. (Cue the cries of "TYRANNY!") Shutting down or even slowing Marcellus Shale extraction activity would certainly obviate the need for any such "institute" - and the "millions of dollars" and "over a thousand jobs" that come with it. (I would bet a shiny nickel that the "private" side of the "public-private partnership" would involve major contributions and controlling interests from such groups as Chesapeake Energy and Encana.)

Coal mining has left Northeastern Pennsylvania horribly scarred, both by a blighted landscape and by the perception of the "coal miner mentality" - a term which no two people use to mean exactly the same thing, but which is always used detrimentally. At this point the coal mining industry should be seen as mature and developed to the point that no institutes would be needed to draw up cohesive master plans. Yet the events of this past week in West Virginia have shown that the industry, or at least individual companies within the industry, are still not to the point where their "best practices" do not result in a massive explosion and the deaths of twenty-nine miners - and the likely shutdown of the primary income source for an entire community. How much longer will it take for the fledgling Marcellus Shale extraction industry to even reach that point?

Dear Representative Kanjorski: WTF? So many opportunities to bring industry and jobs and - well - opportunities to Northeastern Pennsylvania, and this is what you've chosen to embrace? Time for this voter to start researching alternatives.

See also:
Circumlocution for Dummies: Kanjo is out of it


Anonymous said...


D.B. Echo said...

And I just had a visitor from Cheasapeake Operating in Oklahoma. Say, for a company based in Oklahoma, how did you get the name "Chesapeake"? Kind of ironic, since the wastewater that leaks out of your drillholes will eventually be contaminating the Chesapeake, huh? But you never seem to mention that in your commercials.