Dramatic education sometimes the best antidote for fear

Bob Tippee
OGJ Editor

Because antidevelopment environmentalists know how to manipulate fear, advocates of oil and gas development need to know how to combat it.

Fear and its environmentalist promoters are impeding development of the huge Marcellus shale gas resource in New York and Pennsylvania.

Opponents to drilling have raised fear about hydraulic fracturing, the technique that has been used safely and often since the 1940s, modern refinements to which make shale development possible.

But use of hydraulic fracing is new to parts of Pennsylvania and New York, and drilling opponents say it threatens subsurface drinking-water supplies.

Gas operators and industry associations have made commendable efforts to educate the wary public, pointing out how technology and geology make fracing safe.

Yet fear persists. Education isn’t enough.

New York state regulators have proposed rules that Chesapeake Energy Corp. says will discourage Marcellus shale drilling (OGJ Online, Jan. 14, 2010). And Exco Resources Inc.—although still actively drilling in the Marcellus shale in Pennsylvania—was under pressure from a zoning issue trumped up by environmental opposition (OGJ Online, Jan. 15, 2010).

Fear thus imperils development of a resource that some say represents 500 tcf of recoverable gas—and all the economic goodness that comes with it.

When education fails, what’s left? Drama. That’s what.

Fear gripped California in 1981 when an infestation of the Mediterranean fruit fly—the medfly—threatened agriculture.

After other eradication efforts failed, then-Gov. Jerry Brown ordered aerial spraying of the insecticide Malathion over an area that included Palo Alto, Los Altos, and Mountain View.

In the uproar that followed, with environmentalists threatening to shoot helicopters spraying the chemical, officials began a massive educational campaign about Malathion’s safety.

In the middle of it all, Brown’s chief of staff, Republican Brien Thomas Collins, a wounded Vietnam War veteran, held a news conference during which he drank a beaker of Malathion to assure reporters they’d be safe covering the story up close.

The Malathion assault proceeded, stopped the medfly infestation, and created no health crisis. Collins died on Mar. 19, 1993, of a heart attack.

That’s drama. That’s education. Anyone for a glass of frac fluid?

(Online Jan. 15, 2010; author’s e-mail:

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