Rest of the story on damage from mining, fracking

J. Steven Gardner is president/CEO of ECSI, LLC an engineering firm in Lexington.
J. Steven Gardner is president/CEO of ECSI, LLC an engineering firm in Lexington. Photo provided

George Gibson’s Nov. 23 commentary demands a response to defend the integrity of thousands of proud Kentuckians working responsibly in both public and private sectors providing energy and natural resources for society.

Gibson’s claims, based on a handful of stories, perpetuate the myths that anyone involved in mining or gas drilling is criminal and anyone involved in overseeing industry is corrupt. Editorials based on less than accurate or complete reporting perpetuate this storyline.

Gibson responded to the Nov. 11 editorial criticizing Kentucky’s water quality regulation that was based on Erica Peterson’s WFPL series alleging declining environmental enforcement. Tom Eblen’s Nov. 14 column was also prompted by the series. Gibson attempted to connect Eastern Kentucky water problems with hydraulic fracturing and mining.

While there are facts presented in Peterson’s reporting, there is a proverbial rest of the story.

Alleging lax enforcement of mining does not account for the fact that standards have changed in recent years. Parameters that once were not of concern have been imposed, almost retroactively, making compliance more difficult. While mistakes have been made by some for a variety of reasons, an entire sector is branded as outlaws.

As with any industrial or development activity, mining and energy development have impacts on the environment. Urban areas, highways, industry and yes, even development of wind and solar energy have significant impacts on the environment. Permitting, monitoring, enforcement and other regulatory actions are designed to minimize impacts.

People who work in coal are unfairly profiled as polluters, although they provide resources modern society demands. The misconceptions about mining are perpetuated by repeating incomplete or unsubstantiated claims.

As an engineer I have investigated hundreds of damage claims alleged from mining. Where mining caused damage, property owners were properly compensated. In far more cases, mining did not cause the alleged damage, but property owners and attorneys were unjustly paid just to settle cases.

Gibson’s statement about 80 percent of Knott County wells being impacted by hydraulic fracturing or mining is simply wrong. These propaganda claims are repeatedly made by special-interest groups until people believe.

Merriam-Webster.com defines propaganda as “statements that are often false or exaggerated and that are spread in order to help a cause.” Propaganda works by forcing the right brain (emotional) to overpower the left brain (logical). Marketing theory states for messages to be remembered, consumers have to hear them seven times. As emotional images and disinformation pump up the right brain, the left is overpowered, no longer questioning information. I hope there are those who will begin to look for truth when outlandish claims are made.

The one fact in Gibson’s commentary that deserves attention is the E. coli problem. Appalachia’s widespread sewage problem is largely the fault of homeowners themselves, not mining.

Can mining and energy developers do a better job? Yes. Government, industry and academia are continuously striving to find better ways to provide natural resources that society demands. However, no other human activity is currently being held to such a no-impact criteria as mining. Good science, innovation and engineering are solutions to problems, not retroactive regulations, misconceptions, demagoguery and propaganda.

The war on coal is actually going to have a detrimental effect on the worldwide environment. The rest of the world is dramatically increasing the use of coal. However, that increased use of coal is not always utilizing the latest mining techniques and generation technology. (As the Economist of Nov. 28 points out; wind, solar and geothermal account for only 1.3 percent of the world’s energy.)

The worldwide environment would be better served in the short term if the U.S. continues to improve its coal technology to export to the rest of the world.

J. Steven Gardner is president/CEO of ECSI, LLC an engineering firm in Lexington.

At issue: Nov. 23 column, “Eastern Kentucky water degraded by fracking, mining” and other reporting and commentary.