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Look who’s cooking with gas

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From an anti-fracking group, hypocrisy of the first order

NEW YORK DAILY NEWS Tuesday, July 31, 2012, 4:09 AM Julia Schmalz/Bloomberg

Anti-fracking activists are trying to have it both ways — ban drilling but keep on using gas.

A group of anti-fracking foodies threw an interesting fund-raiser at the Brooklyn Winery last week.

Their gimmick was to showcase the culinary bounty of the upstate region that’s allegedly in jeopardy if Gov. Cuomo green-lights gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale. They call themselves Chefs for the Marcellus.

Guests were treated to eggplant-stuffed okra, smoked lamb belly with fermented tofu and whipped ricotta jewel on toast — along with wines from the Finger Lakes and beers from Cooperstown’s Ommegang brewery.

The only thing more delicious than the menu was the irony, because many if not most of those dishes were cooked over the bright blue flame of natural gas.

That’s right, the Chefs for the Marcellus saw nothing wrong with using the very same fuel they portray as a dire threat to the upstate countryside.

Plus, there’s all the electricity they needed to refrigerate the okra and air-condition the patrons who had paid $125 a pop. Most of those kilowatts, in New York City, were produced by gas-fired power plants.

And every last cubic foot of gas they consumed originated from a hole drilled in the ground. Based on national averages, roughly a quarter of it was extracted from shale formations using the high-volume hydrofracturing method that anti-frackers are working overtime to demonize.

And some of it, in all likelihood, came from non-New York areas of the Marcellus Shale, such as Pennsylvania.

But too many anti-frackers are trying to have it both ways — to completely ban the practice in their own backyard, while continuing to take enjoy the food-cooking, house-warming, juice-generating benefits of gas drilled elsewhere.

“We all cook with gas. We all use gas,” acknowledged Chefs for the Marcellus organizer Hilary Baum. “But we have to be looking at developing alternative energy sources and not be so stuck on fossil fuels.”

Ah, but we are stuck on fossil fuels, at least for the foreseeable future. It will be decades, if not centuries, before we can fully replace them with renewables such as wind and solar or, if it were up to me, greenhouse-gas-free nuclear power.

Even when that day comes, I doubt any windmill will ever be able to properly char a steak or saute a salmon fillet.

Of the fossil options, natural gas is by far the greenest. Drilling has its risks, but they’re minimal compared with the damage caused by carving the top off a mountain in coal country or risking an oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico.

Gas burns cleaner, too. It causes nowhere near as much smog or acid rain as oil or coal. It wasn’t long ago that environmental types were clamoring for New York’s power industry to burn more of it.

Gas also releases much less planet-warming carbon dioxide than other fuels. According to the International Energy Agency, the United States’ CO2 emissions dropped 7.7% between 2006 and 2011 — faster than any other country or region — in part because of “a substantial shift from coal to gas in the power sector.”

What made that shift happen was high-volume hydrofracturing, a technology that’s allowing the U.S. to tap vast reserves of clean fuel that were previously out of reach.

The benefits for the economy have also been huge. As Manhattan Institute energy expert Robert Bryce points out, fracking has helped lower the price of gas from about $10 per thousand cubic feet in July 2008 to about $3 today. That’s saving the American economy $264 million a day while creating thousands of jobs.

Of course fracking can cause pollution. Every large-scale human activity does. The anti-fracking folks at the Ommegang brewery, for example, suck millions of gallons from the Susquehanna River watershed, burn propane to run their boilers and dispose of wastewater containing cleaning chemicals into leach fields on their own property.

“We try to be as clean as we possibly can,” spokesman Larry Bennett told me.

The same cost-benefit logic should apply to fracking in New York — and will apply, if the Cuomo administration moves forward with what would be the toughest drilling regulations in the nation, if not the world.

“It’s easy to demonize the oil and gas industry,” said Bryce. “But getting along without the fuels they provide takes us back to the Stone Age.”

Nobody, not even hard-core environmentalists, wants to live there.

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