When Politics Hits Reality

FILE - This Saturday, Aug. 6, 2011 photo shows a natural gas well operated by Northeast Natural Energy in Morgantown, W.Va. T
FILE - This Saturday, Aug. 6, 2011 photo shows a natural gas well operated by Northeast Natural Energy in Morgantown, W.Va. The well is the subject of a dispute over a drilling ban recently enacted by the city of Morgantown, which is directly across the Monongahela River from the well. On Wednesday, April 11, 2012, the price of natural gas has fallen to its lowest level in more than a decade, a remarkable decline for a commodity that not long ago was believed to be in short supply. Natural gas production has boomed across the country as energy companies employ a new drilling technique to tap previously untouched reserves. The process has raised concerns about water safety, and has been temporarily banned in New York and New Jersey. But where it has been allowed, it has led to increases in drilling, job growth and production. (AP Photo/David Smith)

In politics, there inevitably comes the dreaded time when politics and politicking run into reality. It is the point at which you can no longer appease two opposing parties and a decision must be made that chooses one party's interests over the other. I imagine politicians hate this moment because it shows their true character, for better or worse.

This time has come for New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and for President Obama. Governor Cuomo has tried to walk the line between natural gas interests, who want to open the state to fracking, and anti-fracking advocates who want to keep New York free from the practice. Earlier this year, Cuomo extended the state's moratorium on fracking in order to study its health impacts. Then, word leaked out that Cuomo was considering allowing limited fracking in the state and now, it seems the whole rule-making process may have to start over due to the Department of Environmental Conservation missing a deadline.

What Cuomo is coming up against is the uncomfortable reality that there is no middle ground on fracking. As soon as he allows any fracking in the state, all the negative environmental and economic consequences that accompany the practice will be realized. The thing about pollution is that it refuses to remain stationary. Pollutants in ground water systems tend to migrate to other areas, causing an impact zone that reaches beyond the immediate area. Worse, limiting it to a certain part of the state dooms those residents to bear the burdens of fracking so that the rest of us can reap the benefits.

As for the other side, they won't be satisfied with drilling only in the Marcellus Shale for long. The Energy Information Agency estimates that there is about a six-year supply of gas in the Marcellus. Once that starts to be depleted, the natural gas industry will want to explore other areas of the state. Trying to limit fracking to one area of the state is like trying to stop poison ivy from spreading by scratching it.

President Obama faces a similar crossroads with the Keystone XL permit. In January, the White House rejected TransCanada's permit application, in part due to the massive outpouring of opposition from anti-pipeline advocates that included 10,000 people surrounding the White House calling on the president to stop the project. Yet, just a few months later, the White House backed TransCanada's plan to build the southern portion of the pipeline. Given that the northern section is already built, it's not hard to see how building the southern portion makes the entire pipeline a done deal. Currently, advocates are using non-violent tactics to stop pipeline construction.

Like fracking, tar sands mining is an environmental and economic step backward. It is incredibly environmentally damaging, doesn't create many jobs, let alone good jobs, and does little to put us on the path to energy independence, as there is no guarantee that the oil will stay in the U.S. once it is refined. Neither of these energy sources helps us move to a stable, clean energy future. They are not strong economic engines, as most of the profits from oil and gas mining are concentrated in the hands of a few wealthy individuals. And, they do nothing to help stave off the impending climate crisis. If anything, they will make it worse.

So, as decision time looms, on whose side will the governor and president stand? Will either have the courage to stand up to the oil and gas lobby and put us on the path to a true clean energy future? Or, will they capitulate to the monied interests and leave the rest of us behind?