Alum Speaks On Global Fracking

By Emilie Munson

On Tuesday, Feb. 12, international freelance journalist and Middlebury alumnus Dimiter Kenarov ’03.5 spoke to students and community members in a lecture titled “Shale Gas: from Poland to Pennsylvania.” Recently, Kenarov spent six weeks traveling Eastern Europe and the United States researching fracking as a global phenomenon — the first report of this scale on fracking.

Kenarov particularly focused on Pennsylvania and Poland, where mineral rights to approximately one-third of the country have been sold to gas companies that use fracking. He started his project seeking to explore the social, environmental and economic costs of fracking.

Kenarov explained how today’s energy crisis and fracking are some of the most controversial issues in the public sphere today.

“It’s so polarizing,” said Kenarov. “It’s a real madness. A real war actually.”

Kenarov became interested in the issue in January 2012, after the arrival of fracking caused thousands of people in 12 cities to take to the streets in protest in his native country of Bulgaria.

“My first interest […] had to do mainly with the growth of environmental movements in Eastern Europe and how they were revitalizing civil society,” explained Kenarov. “After the end of the Cold War, people became politically apathetic […] and it seems like in the last couple of years that common space has become important once again.”

The issue of fracking has caused environmentalists around the global to protest. Fracking requires the use of thousands of gallons of fresh water in order to create the pressure to break the rock that separates the underground gas reserves from wells. This water will later flow back out of the wells as waste but contaminated with gas and chemicals that often make it radioactive. Additionally, six percent of the casings — intended to contain oil and chemicals within the well — of all new wells fail, resulting in contaminated groundwater for the area.

Other issues resulting from fracking wells include occasional methane emissions, which dangerously pollute the air, and the disruption of natural habitats — an inevitable side effect of the large clusters of wells and immense pipelines necessary to make fracking lucrative.

Economic arguments often favor fracking. Farmers in Pennsylvania can sell the mineral rights to their land to interested gas companies often for significant profits. Yet Kenarov is hesitant to place too much emphasis on fracking’s economic benefits.

“On one hand, there is no doubt that this has really given an economic boost to [regions of Pennsylvania],” said Kenarov. “Fossil fuels are a fluctuating commodity: it goes through booms and busts,” he said. “It is very dangerous, I think, to build up an economy around a commodity, a resource, that is so unstable.”

Kenarov does not believe, however, that fracking is the solution to countries’ energy and economic problems.  He explained that the industry does provide revenue, but is already declining. Companies are leaving Pennsylvania in search of other gas sources. Additionally, no one knows when the supply of gas will be used up.

“Some people say 100 years of supply, some say seven years,” Kenarov noted.

Charlie Koch ’13, an environmental studies major who attended the lecture, was surprised by the instability inherent in the fracking industry.

“I had not previously considered the vulnerability of many of the new businesses and communities reliant on fracking to price fluctuations,” said Koch.

Both the economic instability and destructive environmental impact of fossil fuels have been influential factors in the College’s recent considerations of divesting its endowment from fossil fuel companies.

Kenarov, though hesitant to state an opinion on a would-be divestment initiative, said he did not think divestment would be effective in stopping a large-scale issue such as fracking. Rather, Kenarov advocates pushing large gas companies to improve their green divisions in order to develop alternate energy options. Students, however, are moving forward with their promotion of divestment — several student groups are set to pitch divestment initiatives to the College’s Board of Trustees this Saturday, Feb. 16.

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