Niagara Gazette

November 29, 2012

HAMILTON: Ecology, fracking, economy and water bills in the balance

By Ken Hamilton
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Coming out of Scranton, Pa., and on page 8A of Monday’s Gazette was the story “Natural gas drillers target the truck and bus market.” The very interesting article included information concerning not only drilling, but also on the controversial technique of so doing called fracking; and energy production, the environment and the economy should be of a particularly balanced concern to all Niagarans.

Why? Because dispersed throughout many other editions of the paper are articles on the tax increases that the residents and businesses of Niagara Falls are facing — a 3.7 percent at the county level, a 6 percent increase for water and sewer, 8.3 percent at the city level, a potential tax increase for education and schools — and who knows how the state is going to finance the SOS recovery from Superstorm Sandy?

Given all of these factors, then any frack water treatment in the city would merely be lost amongst all of the other deep doo in which we will fiscally find ourselves drowning. And drowning we are, so we have to do something in those same terms of what former House of Representative Speaker Tip O’Neill often said: “All politics are local.”

After all, life is about balance, balance in all things. And I cannot help but to think that when all factors are equal that we would take the one that would most benefit ourselves; and I will let you come to your own conclusions on that. Without laying out the facts themselves, I will describe, and maybe define the factors.

There are those who think that fracking and frack water processing is absolutely and inherently dangerous, and that it cannot be made safe under any conditions; and those people “may” be right. I just don’t agree with very many “absolutes” in life, particularly given the technological progress that we all have seen, even in our own lives.

Couple that with my personal experiences of working in the electrochemical industry within the city itself, and understanding that highly toxic substances can be manufactured, handled and safely shipped, if given the proper regulation, technical expertise, engineering and administrative acumen that is necessary to so do.

While that technology for fracking and frack water treatment may not adequately exist today, I find it difficult to believe that it will not be so when it becomes a commitment to get it done.

The ecological sector says that fracking will destroy the environment. Again, balance. If we don’t get natural gas out of the ground, then in order for America to be energy independent, as the president says that he wants it to be, then we will have to burn coal in order to make that happen; and through demanded technology, even the air quality associated with such burning has dramatically improved; however, nowhere close to the clean-burning natural gas that fracking produces. And while frack water treatment in Niagara Falls, given the proper technology, will be non-contact with the city’s drinking water supply, we all breathe the air that coal-burning produces; even coal-burning that is hundreds of miles from us. Are these ecologist balancing out fracking and coal-burning on the scales of “all things equal, but this part is closest to me” as we should?

Probably. But one of the factors that we must look at, in Niagara Falls, is that we are a tourist city; and has our mayor not said that we must continuously develop that sector of our economy? It would appear that we must do that now more than ever.

Ironically, virtually all of our tourists arrive here as a result of the price of energy. As the AP article pointed out, and I quote, “... the drilling boom, spurred by the new technology that unlocked vast reserves of natural gas in deep rock formations like the Marcellus Shale underneath parts of New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio – created a gas glut that depressed prices. That, in turn has made natural gas more attractive as a transportation fuel.” And I cannot help but to think how that can only help us, as O’Neill pointed out, locally.

Again, Rubinkam’s comments, “If the trash truck or bus rolling down your street seems a little quieter these days, you're not imagining things. It's probably running on natural gas.”

Perhaps we should take a ‘wait and see’ stance on the issue; and by so doing, perhaps we will one day see more of those buses here, but with out of town license plates.

Email me and tell me your balanced thoughts on the subject, please.

Contact Ken Hamilton at