Thursday, January 12, 2012

Fracking Is Too Dangerous For New York by Gerard Koeppel

Many New Yorkers don't want fracking to come to their state - and with good reason, the author says.

Last August in Denver during the keynote speech at an energy industry conference, Dave Lesar, the CEO of Halliburton, conducted a remarkable demonstration: drinking from a glass of hydraulic fracturing fluid. This was done apparently to prove how safe fracking fluid is, for people individually, underground water supplies particularly and the environment generally.

Lesar did not do the drinking himself; for reasons that are unclear, he passed the glass to another Halliburton executive, who quaffed and did not drop dead. The corporate food tester was subsequently identified publicly as Halliburton Chief Financial Officer Mark McCollum. He reportedly pronounced that fracking fluid “tastes like beer.” McCollum presumably has been a teetotaler since.

This antic recalls Richard (Dicky) Riker. Back in the early 1830s in New York City, Riker claimed that he drank a pint of Manhattan Co. water every morning and that he and his family “enjoy good health.” Riker was the city’s longtime chief legal officer and, in that capacity, was also an ex officio director of the Manhattan Co., the notorious water business founded 30 years earlier by Aaron Burr.

Burr’s water company, established with the unwitting blessing of the state Legislature, proved to be a cover for his chief purpose, founding a bank. The company’s monopoly water operations, employing foul local wells and leaky wooden pipes, were deficient and deplorable and, after preventing a proper solution to the city’s freshwater needs for 40 years, eventually ceased; the company’s bank, however, matured into what is today JPMorgan Chase.

Riker’s drinking claim, given during Common (now City) Council debate in 1831 on whether the Manhattan Co. should be stripped of its charter, made him the subject of lampoon and ridicule as a company apologist until the end of his days in 1842, amid citywide celebrations for the completion of the Croton Aqueduct. The iconic Croton, supplying pure and abundant water from the Westchester mainland, delivered the city from disease and was the first piece in the city’s now vast modern supply that fracking opponents and certain public officials are concerned about preserving.

The Manhattan Co. was the first water tragedy for New York City. Its monopoly water powers, fiercely defended by company lawyers to preserve the company’s associated banking rights, prevented the emergence of a better private or public supply until Asiatic cholera killed 3,500 — one in 70 — New Yorkers in 1832 and prompted civic-minded political leaders to secure the Croton over diminishing Manhattan Co. resistance.

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