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6:07 PM, Dec 31, 2012  in  Written by  Bob Tiberio

’Tis the season to be jolly. But instead of spreading peace and good will, each side in the natural gas debate accuses the other of deceit. Gas opponents claim all sorts of unholy things will happen if “fracking” is allowed in New York. Gas supporters say opponents are fear-mongering. Environmental activists accuse landowners and the gas industry of greed, irresponsibility and even malfeasance. Say, isn’t that what George Bailey was accused of in the classic holiday movie “It’s a Wonderful Life”?

Before horizontal drilling was perfected, natural gas from vertical (and fracked) wells was getting scarce and very expensive. The fact is, if there’s going to be plenty of affordable natural gas in the future it’s going to be produced mostly from shale. So in the spirit of the season and that beloved Jimmy Stewart movie, let’s see what things would be like if shale gas technology had never been “born.”

To begin with, the air would be more polluted. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, thousands of people would die prematurely from asthma, bronchitis, lung cancer and heart disease because of the increase in air pollutants like sulfur, mercury and nitrogen oxides produced by burning more coal. But breathe easy, because natural gas produces almost none of these harmful chemicals.

Unemployment would increase and the economic recovery would be even slower. Shale gas development has added tens of thousands of jobs directly and hundreds of thousands indirectly, including 44,000 in New York. Shale gas has made U.S. manufactured goods such as steel more competitive and has fueled an industrial resurgence in states such as Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Poverty and debt would also increase. In 2009, natural gas cost utility companies roughly three times what it does today. Without low cost natural gas for heating and electricity some folks on fixed incomes simply couldn’t pay their utility bills. And without tax revenue from shale gas development, many debt-ridden towns would have less money for teachers, libraries, police, fire protection and public works of all kinds. Many communities would look more like “Pottersville.”

Without shale gas, greenhouse emissions would be significantly higher. Burning natural gas produces only half the carbon dioxide of coal and oil. U.S. carbon emissions are at a 20-year low thanks to increased use of natural gas. With plentiful domestic shale gas, U.S. energy independence and security can finally become a reality.

Like Bedford Falls without George Bailey, the world without natural gas would be a poorer, dirtier and less healthy place to live. No fuel is perfect, but like the saying goes, you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone. So let’s all appreciate the many benefits of natural gas development, put New York’s thoroughly reviewed SGEIS safeguards in place and move forward toward a more wonderful life.

Tiberio is a Vestal resident.

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