Share the Fracking Wealth

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We must carefully understand and balance the effects of fracking on the economy, society, and the environment for all time.

Thousands of trillions of cubic feet of natural gas that has accumulated over millions of years can now be extracted using recently improved hydraulic fracturing technologies. Heated debates rage in town hall meetings and statehouses as some fight to allow fracking and others fight to ban it.  The debate is often framed as a false choice between jobs and energy independence on one hand, and safety and environmental protection on the other hand.

We can resolve this conflict by agreeing to share the fracking wealth. We can recognize that the natural gas that has been accumulating since life began on earth is owned by all of humanity. We can afford to extract it safely and to share its bounty among the extraction companies, energy users, today’s citizens, and future citizens. The Alaska Permanent Fund and the Law of the Sea can guide us. The “Common heritage of mankind” can inspire us. Closing the Halliburton Loophole and removing other exemptions from federal environmental law can be the first steps in proceeding safely.

Here is the broad outline of a plan. Begin by requiring permits for extracting natural gas. These can be created by the State as “Carbon Certificates” each authorizing extraction of 1,000 cubic feet of natural gas. Designing these to have similar characteristics to Silver Certificates and backing them by the guarantee “in natural gas rights payable on demand” can help us regain some of the security and stability provided by a currency backed by a tangible and valuable asset.

The price of these certificates is set by a citizen-advised agency that works to balance the needs of the economy and the environment now and in the future. Certificates can be resold on the open market. The price could begin at zero for limited time to allow for a smooth transition.

Revenue from the original sale of these certificates goes into a trust fund administered by the State to create a Citizen’s Dividend. These funds are used to:  1) pay a direct dividend to current citizens, 2) offset State budget deficits, reduce taxes, fund environmental conservation, improve government services, and 3) accumulate for the benefit of future State residents. The allocation of funds to these various purposes is directed by a citizen-advised administrator.

Years ago as our nation was being formed Thomas Paine recognized that “Men did not make the earth. It is the value of the improvements only, and not the earth itself, that is individual property. Every proprietor owes to the community a ground rent for the land which he holds.” No doubt Thomas Paine would be pleased to see us sharing the fracking wealth. It is only common sense.

When we decide to share the wealth fracking proceeds safely and the ancient bounty now released by modern technology is shared fairly among citizens for the long term. We all benefit.

6 thoughts on “Share the Fracking Wealth

  1. Who decides, Percy Mark ?
    Doh! We do, we our broadest constituency, who else is there ?

    John T Mayer ” … but humans actually need to cease use of all energy and discontinue their ways of life, indeed even discontinue their lives, … ” Get real John, you sound like the Irishman who wished we didn’t have to start from here.

    Lee, I agree. For “wealth” maybe “value”, but they’re only words. By choosing “fracking” in your headline you pick the provocative meme of our times, but the basis question remains what’s the best value use of the finite resources available to our planet.

    Personally, like Percy but with a different emphasis, I think the core question is “how” we decide such questions – in the sense “we” all know the energy resources question is an important one with complex pros and cons of any possible decisions and actions. In my own working, the last couple of decades, I’ve reduced this to the “governance” question.

    The problem – the John T Mayer vs Lee Beaumont experience above – is the “memetic” problem. Falling for the easy critical thinking “if you’re not for us your against us” argument (false dichotomy) that fills all aspects of life and channels for debate, from the highest house in the land to the lowliest social media thread. That’s the problem that requires a solution.

    How do we “govern” our actions in the face of complex value-based decisions?

    • I actually started my thinking with your mode of analysis in mind and I can totally see from whence you come. The problem is that there now exists a temporal and overwhelming imperitive for humans to think and act in extreme terms. I am not fighting with Lee so much as questioning her assumptions. As for the extreme thought, it may be characterized in humanist terms as the same imperative Phillipa Foote wrote about in her discussion of the Siege of Stalingrad (which reasoning she rejected latter in life): we need to reduce human population to save the humans. I view the problem as extending beyond humans and welcome your words as they focus the issue. One thing I will say is this issue is a microcosm and not dismissible as a meme subject to an internet half-life as it would be if all other variables were humming along in steady state. The comment you make is precisely the sort of dismissiveness with which the world seeks to deny the imperative for change? How to overcome that? I say this is situation is more akin to your hypotheical Irishman having to contend with the idea of sacrifice during the Potato famine in deciding which child to feed and which to allow to starve. How does philosophy tell society that it must make a choice about who lives and who dies?

  2. Thank you for your response. Not sure I see much common ground between our respective positions except the imperceptive to literally leave NG in the ground. I have come to realize that discussions of rights are necessarily artificial and strained in both law and philosophy.

    Your comment “But we do need energy solutions” goes to the heart of the matter. I may sound like a crunchy teenage anarchist or something but humans actually need to cease use of all energy and discontinue their ways of life, indeed even discontinue their lives, if global warming can be halted and all life is to survive i some form. But how to convince others and ourselves to sign onto the lemming approach, voluntarily or involuntarily? Maybe the highest form of philosophy is to reorganize human intervention so that it is in equilibrium with its ecosystem. Maybe that is flourishing: choosing who and ow many are sacrificable in order to ensure species equilibrium and survival. No doubt humanists will object — and I do not advocate shotgunning the neighbors within the next ten minutes although that may happen in actuality, as opposed to as a rhetorical flourish, in a few decades — although there may be more “value” in reducing human population than extracting NG through fracking. Humanists may consider such thinking outside of their value system at this point in political time, but even humanists will shortly be forced to confront the extent of their humanism because ecological collapse appears to be immediate in material and existential terms. And no I am not someone who hopes for this such as the millennial and Mayan apocalypse nutters and would very gladly be totally wrong about the whole imminent collapse which appears to be getting started. Some traditional societies ritualized human sacrifice to control population although it seems that the ritual was later fetsihized and divorced from its original purpose. Maybe those cultures appreciated what humanists remove from their mythology.

    A note on the law: It is schizophrenic. Water, mineral and property rights are not strictly contiguous and there is a further divide between what is permissive in the US and the UK. Angular drilling, the odious “Halliburton loophole you mention, and leases in the City of London as opposed to “ownership” in fee simple are all examples of this.

    Your comment “paying fairly for the fuel that you are extracting makes it unprofitable, then please leave it in the ground until we can properly benefit from it” I hope does not exclude the possibility of permanently leaving it in the ground as the terms “paying fairly” and “benefit” are subject to philosophical and economic disambiguation here as opposed to mere uncertainty and quibbling.

    You raise an interesting point about value, which requires ecosophical consideration as opposed to mere market analysis. I hope you will expand on that.

    In the meantime I will read about Thorium but it seems that proposed technological salvation, mirabile dictu, will likely make matters worse at an accelerated rate which is why one is so wary of geoengineering quick fixes such as giant solar umbrellas or dropping iron filings in the Pacific as their inherent indeterminacy is their cone onstant.

  3. I am going to respectfully disagree with Lee here. In toto there is no “fracking wealth”. Economically the cost of extraction is on average currently higher than the market cost at which NG and NLG — and those costs are artificially low because the social and environment costs to humans and animals and other life is not figured into the cost of fracking which is excluded by a special Bush era law from liability under the Clean Water Act and certain other enviro laws. Rather than merely state that I have economic and environmental objections to share the wealth which does not exist, I question why disturbing the ecosystem should be considered an allowable means of wealth extraction? Some within the Global Circle consider interests other than human interests. What about the fact that fracking harms all life? Why is wealth considered to exist when each unit of fossil gas fracked brings our planet closer to a total ecosystem collapse? How can there be said to be wealth accumulation when each incremental unit accreted brings us closer to destroying all life? Do we get richer as we approach Thanoplois? Philosophers should embrace the economic concept that there is no free lunch and certainly no wealth will ever be accounted for either in utopian or strict capitalist terms — fracking companies have already started defaulting on lease payments and royalties in Illinois and you can bet that accounting will be used as a sword to prevent any so-called wealth from ever registering on a balance sheet. Maybe wealth can be conceptually said to exist as a result of solar power but surely not fracking.

    • John,
      Thanks for your comments.

      I believe we share important common ground.

      Fossil fuels, including Natural Gas, that have captured solar energy and accumulate under the earth over millions of years belong to all of humanity. Unfortunately this concept gets lost (at least in the US) when Gas and Petroleum companies claim to “produce” natural gas although they are only extracting it. Claiming ownership of the Gas because you have leased some land is a form of conquest not production. Yet not only do so many tolerate this, many encourage it. When bank robbers drill horizontally into a bank vault it is clearly a felony. Why do we call it “production,” “energy independence,” and a “technological breakthrough”, when energy companies drill horizontally for gas and petroleum? It is important for us to recognize that fossil fuels have value even before they are extracted—indeed this is the hard part, their unique value—they have been storing solar energy for millions of years.

      Ownership rights to Natural Gas and Petroleum residing under the surface of the earth needs to be clarified in both time and in space. It accumulated over vast timeframes, so humanity deserves to benefit from it over long timeframes. Boundaries are especially meaningless when applied to fluids. What part of the atmosphere do you own? Trying to project static land boundaries onto an underlying fluid makes no sense. Sticking your straw into the well does not give you the right to extract it all and claim to have produced it.

      Regarding safe fracking, I regard the Halliburton Loophole as outrageous. I mention the need to close this and other exemptions as a first step in proceeding safely. Part of sharing the wealth is paying to extract safely.

      I do not advocate the use of fossil fuel. But we do need energy solutions. If natural gas can be extracted safely, and all of humanity can be paid fairly for what is consumed now, then that is a step in the right direction. If paying fairly for the fuel that you are extracting makes it unprofitable, then please leave it in the ground until we can properly benefit from it. The fuel has been waiting patiently for millions of years, there is no hurry.

      You may also enjoy my review of the book SuperFuels which advocates using Thorium as an energy solution. See: http://www.globalcircle.org/blog/?p=155

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