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letters | Sunday forum

Nod to growth in US oil and natural gas is irrationally exuberant

 A sign protesting hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, was posted in Tunkhannock, Penn. The Northeast’s underground shale has been mined for its natural gas.

JULIA SCHMALZ/BLOOMBERG/FILE 2011

A sign protesting hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, was posted in Tunkhannock, Penn. The Northeast’s underground shale has been mined for its natural gas.

In his exuberance over reports of growing US petroleum production, Tom Keane has set aside his usually careful approach to complex policy questions (“The energy glut,” Op-ed, Dec. 2). It is true that dependence on production elsewhere has led to dangerous entanglements in oil-producing areas, which in turn have justified excessive military spending and reckless engagements. Those bells are going to be difficult to unring, however, and just as military contractors did not suffer from the promised post-Soviet “peace dividend,” so too will a way be found to sustain support for the military-industrial complex in the absence of strategic petroleum interests.

Keane’s analysis also raises, but too blithely dismisses, important concerns about the environmental geography of petroleum production. Nothing has changed to discredit peak oil as a principle. Even if heroic (and dangerous) measures prolong the inevitable decline of production in a region, the decline will come, and as it does, increased costs will push us toward alternatives.

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In the case of natural gas, hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, simply means that even more disruption of the carbon cycle will take place in the meantime, with costly and deadly consequences. Fracking is affordable only if the costs of contamination and dwindling water supplies are borne by water users in producing areas. The optimistic production forecasts are based on straight-line extrapolation from recent production increases, which occurred in a regulatory vacuum.

It is strange that Keane cites unspecified regulations as an obvious remedy to the catastrophic environmental costs of fracking, and mentions the risks taken with BP’s offshore production as evidence. The failure of evidence in the Deepwater Horizon case should make us worry more about fracking, not less.

James Hayes-Bohanan

Bridgewater

The writer is a professor of geography at Bridgewater State University.

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