A Primer on Social Insurance
Econ 210a: Readings for April 20, 2011: World War II, the Mixed Economy and Actual Existing Socialism (DeLong)

Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps?: Joe Nocera of the New York Times Edition

Indeed. In his first paragraph Nocera complains that his critics are "unimpressed with the idea of substituting natural gas for imported oil... [to] wean the country from its dependence on OPEC." It is only further down that Nocera admits that the complaints are that he has "gnored the environmental dangers of drilling for gas, particularly the use of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking." Those two are not the same.

Ed Cone has some advice that Nocera really should listen to:

EdCone.com: Fracking Nocera: [Joe] Nocera, fresh to the big stage of the oped page, responds to legitimate questions about a recent column by throwing a hissy fit.

Joe, Joe, Joe. You wrote a column about natural gas without mentioning environmental concerns. Readers pointed out the omission. The proper response is to concede the oversight and deal with the issues at hand, not to snark at your critics and wave the bloody shirt ("...the Middle East, where American soldiers continue to die") as if drill, baby, drill was the only true expression of patriotism.

Indeed. Joe Nocera:

About My Support for Natural Gas: Some readers of The New York Times are unimpressed with the idea of substituting natural gas for imported oil, even though such a move would help wean the country from its dependence on OPEC. Or so it appears after I made that argument in my column on Tuesday, noting that natural gas is a fossil fuel we have in abundance and is cleaner than oil to boot.

After that column was published, I was buried under an avalanche of angry e-mails and comments, most of them complaining that I had ignored the environmental dangers of drilling for gas, particularly the use of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, a technique that involves shooting water and chemicals into shale formations deep underground.

“No mention of the disastrous consequences of fracking?” read one e-mail. Many readers pointed to a study by a Cornell scientist — reported in The Times the same day my column appeared — claiming that methane gas emissions posed a bigger threat to the environment than dirty coal. Another reader called my column “a disgrace.”

Really? Let’s take a closer look. To begin with, fracking is hardly new. In Texas and Oklahoma, it has been used for decades, with nobody complaining much about environmental degradation. It must be a coincidence that these worries surfaced when a natural gas field called the Marcellus Shale was discovered in the Northeast, primarily under Pennsylvania and New York. Surely, East Coast residents wouldn’t object to having the country use more natural gas just because it’s going to be drilled in their own backyard instead of, say, downtown Fort Worth. Would they?

As for the actual environmental questions.... In Dimock, Pa., where methane appears to have leaked into the water supply, state environmental officials say that the problem was not fracking but rather sloppy gas producers who didn’t take proper care in cementing their wells.... In the Southwest, producers bury the waste in sealed containers deep underground. The geology of the Marcellus Shale, however, makes that much more difficult.... Ultimately, producers in the Marcellus Shale will have to do a better job getting rid of the waste. Finally, there is the concern raised by Robert Howarth, the Cornell scientist, who says that natural gas is dirtier than coal. His main contention is that so much methane is escaping from gas wells that it is creating an enormous footprint of greenhouse gases. His study, however, is not exactly iron-clad. Industry officials have mocked it, but even less-biased experts have poked holes in it. The Environmental Defense Fund, for instance, has estimates of methane gas emissions that are 75 percent lower than Howarth’s....

The truth is, every problem associated with drilling for natural gas is solvable.... The country has been handed an incredible gift with the Marcellus Shale.... You can play the Not-In-My-Backyard card, employing environmental scare tactics to fight attempts to drill for that gas.

Or you can embrace the idea that America needs the Marcellus Shale, accept the inconvenience that the drilling will bring, but insist that it be done properly. If you choose this latter path, you will be helping to move the country to a fuel that is — yes — cleaner than oil, while diminishing the strategic importance of the Middle East, where American soldiers continue to die.

It’s your call.

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