11/16/2011 05:19 pm ET | Updated Jan 16, 2012

In Industry We Trust

The fracking lobby just moved into new territory. Back in 2003, the columnist David Brooks wrote an article for The Atlantic Monthly in which he described himself as a "recovering secularist." Certainly, with his latest piece on the issue of shale gas extraction [Shale Gas Revolution, November 3, 2011], the New York Time's resident conservative has officially found his faith -- in fracking. In a country where at least three of the current presidential candidates have announced that God told them to run, we now have industry apologists like Brooks declaring that fracking is a "blessing" and a "most wondrous gift."

Brooks' op-ed is filled with other religious overtones. According to him, those of us in the environmental arena who have well-founded fears about the undeniably harmful human health and ecological impacts of fracking simply view fossil fuels, including natural gas, as "morally corrupt." Our collective voiced concerns "wax apocalyptic."

It's an idealogue's typical fallback position. When they don't have the law or the facts or the science on their side, they attempt to reduce the argument to one of right vs. wrong and invoke the will of God as their backstop. It's an approach that is familiar to those of us who care about our environment, recently employed when Minnesota state representative Mike Beard declared earlier this year that God gave us coal so we could tear up the earth, flatten mountains and burn it with abandon regardless of the dire consequences because God will make sure that things rebound -- eventually. His proof? Hiroshima and Nakasaki. "Yes, it was pretty horrible. But can we recover? Of course we can."

If Brooks is going to "wax religious" about the gift of fracking, perhaps he should have started his op-ed piece the same way the Old Testament begins: "Let there be light" -- because the fracking industry could certainly use a good blast of sunshine on its under-the-cover-of-darkness practices. While Brooks blames the documented ills of this industry on a handful of "rogue companies," he conveniently fails to note that the entire industry, with the help of corporate hacks like ex-VP Dick Cheney, has manipulated and conned their way into a wholesale exemption from our nation's environmental laws. He ignores the fact that it's not a few "rogues" who refuse to disclose what poisonous chemicals they're pumping into our drinking water sources to extract gas profits, it's every fracking company in the country working hard to keep the communities where they operate in the dark. And in Brooks' own state of New York, Governor Cuomo, whose stated number one priority upon taking office was transparency, has convened a secret panel to determine the future of fracking in the state.

For a profession that thrives on openness and transparency, where journalists formed the front lines in the battle to force government accountability under freedom of the press ideals, one would expect more than blind faith from Mr. Brooks. His article should have said that the proper first step in the fracking debate has yet to be taken. Until the fracking industry provides scientists and the public with a list of the toxics it wants to pump into the earth, until the exemptions are done away with and all of our human and environmental regulatory safeguards are uniformly applied to this industry and until there are thorough and detailed environmental impact statements and assessments of all the possible public health threats caused by fracking, this activity simply should not be allowed anywhere. Of course, that's a nonstarter for the industry. Because they know if this fundamental first step were ever taken, the truth about their filthy practices would come to the surface like so much of their polluted wastewater and fracking would never be allowed. Instead of pushing against this dead end, we should ban fracking.

If Brooks is going to invoke higher powers and place his faith in fracking without having all the facts, then maybe he needs to harken back to the ancient Greek pantheon. His blind embrace of fracking as a "wonderous gift" can't help but remind one of the tale of the Trojan Horse and the ensuing destruction that resulted from such an eyes-wide-shut approach. This time, the secreted offering contains not Greeks with swords, but contaminated drinking water, an absence of federal oversight and plummeting property values wherever fracking occurs. In his pious eagerness, Brooks fails to note these significant cracks that disfigure the fracking horse now standing outside our communities.

Before opening his arms wide to fracking, perhaps Mr. Brooks should relocate from Manhattan to a community in upstate New York that would bear the brunt of the oil and gas industry's irresponsible actions. In fact, there's a small city up there called Troy that would be perfect for him.