Fracking dialogue has been a classic case of nobody listening

Politics are Newtonian.

That is, they follow ol’ Isaac’s Third Law of Motion.

To wit: For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

Partisanship on one side breeds partisanship on the other side.

Grievance-mongering by one clique fosters grievance-mongering by another.

A failure to listen by government engenders a comparable stone-headedness by those petitioning the government for change. If you believe power won’t listen, you tend to shout and to settle for theatrical, rather, than productive gestures.

Which brings us, of course, to the fracking issue in Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania’s government has been … (how shall I put it?) incurious about possible environmental impacts from the violently effective process of hydraulic fracturing used to extract natural gas from the Marcellus Shale.

It has also been uninterested in levying the energy taxes that are used in other energy boom states to turn a natural gas windfall into a gusher of public revenue. It seems to respond to cries of anguish from Frackland with talking points that could have been drafted in a corporate suite.

This has agitated some of the normally unassuming residents of the mostly rural counties where fracking goes on. Meanwhile, environmental activists already predisposed to despise drilling are apoplectic.

So what do you get? Showy protests, over the top documentaries, and lawsuits. What you get less of is public grasp of the full shape of a complicated situation.

The overall calculus of the natural gas windfalls, economic and geopolitical impacts is very complicated; what’s not complicated is the fear that something a company is doing in your backyard may be destroying the value of your home and harming your children.  If no one seems to be listening to your legitimate fears, then you’ve got no patience for formulas purporting to figure out how natural gas usage relates to climate change.

This is the kind of mess the Bernard Wolfman Civil Discourse Project was born to wade into. Run out of Beth Sholom Congregation in Elkins Park, and named after a late synagogue member, the project seeks to model useful conversations on controversial topics. Last year, Obamacare. This year, the shale.

Its event this Thursday is called “A Frank Conversation About Fracking,” and is co-sponsored by WHYY. Free and open to the public, it’ll start at 7:30 p.m. at the synagogue. Panelists will be William Freeman, a consultant formerly associated with the Marcellus Shale Coalition, and Deborah Rogers of the Energy Policy Forum. He thinks natural gas drilling is a boon; she thinks it’s not.

Moderating their conversation, trying to make it candid, pointed but productively civil will be .. well, me.

We invite you to attend. To register, go to www.whyy.org/events. Let’s leave the synagogue that evening with a better grasp of the moving parts of this vital issue.

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