The Shale Revolution and the Industrialization of the CountrysideJuly 22, 2013
Michael Levi has been traveling the nation, promoting his new book The Power Surge: Energy, Opportunity and the Battle for the Future of America. While the environmental concerns about fracking are legitimate, the policy and technical means of accounting for them exist, so they are not really that much of a philosophical issue for those of us most informed about the topic (policy implementation, of course, remains an issue in many places). Levi is among those who believe that the Shale Revolution can continue and expand in an environmentally responsible manner. However, he reports that he has been hearing a new argument against fracking: Do we really want to industrialize the countryside? I do not find this argument surprising – our urban populace is divorced from rural life and undeveloped land, and they tend to romanticize an imagined pastoral life and sentimentalize an imagined serene natural landscape. Indeed, I believe the main contemporary political divide in the US is no longer over economics, but geography – a shrinking rural populace that remains in daily connection with the land, and a growing urban populace that is disconnected from the land and its natural rhythms. While those who live in rural areas are definitely sensitive to the dangers of industrial development, I believe that an argument about the “industrialization of the rural landscape” will hold far more sway among the urban “pastoral romantics.” Indeed, in my brief review of last year’s fracking-themed film “Promised Land,” I noted that the main argument against fracking in the film was a cultural argument. Not that fracking would damage the environment, but rather that it would “destroy a way of life” – a way of life, mind you, that none of the film makers actually lives. The title of the film – “Promised Land” – gives away this romantic view of rural life, and the film as a whole presages the arguments that Levi is now encountering – arguments that I believe are both patronizing and founded largely in ignorance of the way of life supposedly at risk.
Full disclosure: I grew up in, went to college and, save for a single enlistment term in the Air Force, spent most of the first 32 years of my life in New York State’s rural Southern Tier, right on top of the Marcellus Shale formation. I currently live in Los Angeles, and, although we still live and work primarily in the city, my wife and I own and operate a horse ranch in the mountains north of LA. So, while I have a foot in both worlds, I consider myself culturally a “rural American.”