Yesterday, I received a petition asking the federal government to forbid fracking in government forests and similar lands. My readings on fracking indicate fracking has a number of possible dangers. I'm a scientific person, and I'm not aware of conclusive determination of some dangers. However, lack of conclusive evidence of harm doesn't mean you should do something.
Part of the problem we face today on matters such as fracking is the voracious search for new sources of profits by billionaires. Their desperate efforts to be the first to have personal assets of $100 billion causes them to be reckless bullies. They are exerting a lot of pressure on the government to let them proceed on ventures that may very well be hazardous.
I have a perspective on this which I think is worth the consideration of the progressive community. We would like to have fracking postponed at least until we better understand the risks. The spokespeople for the billionaires argue we need this source of energy so desperately we can't wait. We should make clear a basic non-negotiable principle on any such resource which is so critical to the public good that we should ignore dangers.
If placing the public at risk is necessitated by an even greater threat to the common good, these are extraordinary times that demand extraordinary measures. We've seen the profit-hungry recklessness of companies like BP. We've seen the supposed financial experts devastate the world's financial markets through reckless irresponsibility. We've seen companies like Johnson & Johnson hide the dangers of their products from the public. Any extraordinary need to rush into fracking demands the fracking operations be carried out on a non-profit basis by the government*.
Consider the specific petition which motivated this article. The immediate question wasn't whether fracking should be allowed in general, whether it should be regulated or whether it should be studied. The question was should it be permitted in government forests. This presents us with two other factors: (1) If and by who fracking should be allowed on any kind of government land, and (2) More specifically, fracking on government lands which are forests or other areas which deserve special attention.
Even in a case of operations which have been well established to pose no risks, it is reasonable to ask why those operations should be run by private companies when it takes place on government property. Does the government own land for no reason other than to be a landlord that rents it out to others? Why should the government provide low-cost natural resources on government land to big business? If it's government land - and all the more so if it's government forests - any operations which the common good genuinely requires be done there should be run by the government.
If the progressive community makes very clear this was a principle they were promoting to the public and expected support from politicians who wanted to be considered "friends", we might just completely scare them away from letting business exploit government lands. I think most elected officials would rather make fracking companies unhappy by denying them use of government land than to make the whole business community unhappy by letting a public debate start over government running non-profit operations for the public good. It's not only a reasonable principle, it could be an effective tool in stopping moves to let business exploit government lands.
* Some may question the constitutionality of the federal government carrying out such an enterprise. If the US Constitution doesn't permit the federal government to operate facilities for the public good during extraordinary times, it's time that was corrected. In the meantime, the federal government could regulate the fracking and require that the fracking operations be done by state governments on a non-profit basis.