CBS producers and network television reporter Lesley Stahl devoted about a minute of last night’s “60 Minutes” to the people of Dimock, in Susquehanna County, where the Marcellus Shale natural gas rush is about to get worse.
Of course the good, law-abiding taxpayers of Dimock deserve better. But they’re getting used to being ignored. If nothing else, after last night’s show they at least no longer feel alone.
A national viewing audience now knows that the natural gas drilling fervor is increasing with all the corporate frenzy of a great white shark attack. Good, law-abiding taxpayers across America are suffering the same kind of quality of life abuse that Dimock residents know all too well.
They know that sinking feeling in Texas. They know that sinking feeling in Louisiana. And each day we in Northeastern Pennsylvania are also learning about that sinking feeling that comes when a multi-billion-dollar international industry invades.
And I do mean sinking – as in when drillers known as “roughnecks” sink a well about two miles into the ground before “fracturing” or “fracking” the shale deposits that protect the precious reserve.
Gas drilling is billed as blessing and curse.
So please don’t burn the village to save it.
Reasonable people stress to the gas industry that regulations must be in place and enforced because our local history teaches the dismal record of coal companies who served as precursors to the gas industry.
Coal bosses and robber barons abused and killed our workers. They pillaged the environment. They executed the Mollies on trumped up charges and called it a victory for democracy and capitalism.
Now their corporate descendants are ready to have another go at humble coalcrackers with a poor self-image whom the bosses believe have lost their will to fight.
Maybe the bosses are right. Big money usually wins. Most people shy away from fights in which the odds are against them, fights they simply can’t win.
But countless spiritual descendants of the Mollies are alive and well in hard coal country. Many of us hail from good stock where fighting a noble fight is far more important than even thinking of winning. Standing against unfairness and even tyranny matters most. Integrity is measured by your willingness to stand alone on principle rather than by the size of your bank account.
Still, risk comes to those who publicly challenge authority. Money equals political power in Pennsylvania and wealthy gas drillers have successfully purchased themselves a governor.
Governor-elect Tom Corbett – no relation to me, thankfully – accepted close to $1 million from the gas drilling industry in his bid for the governor’s mansion. Once elected, he quickly named the owner of a Commonwealth drilling company as co-chair of his transition team.
Corbett also hired an ex-convict to head up his inaugural committee but that’s another story.
Did Corbett sell out? Sure he did. But too many good people who voted him into office fell for his promise of riches so far denied to most people he already serves as state attorney general.
Will Corbett protect the environment?
Environmental activist Robert F. Kennedy Jr. won’t even commit to fight for Dimock. He made one pithy trip and then disappeared. Since then, his environmental defense fund public relations office won’t return my phone calls.
And I’m on their side.
The gas barons will do their best to marginalize the good people of Dimock and wherever else dissent arises. Their public relations experts will also try to defuse state and federal government leaders who expressed a desire to unite to protect the nation from the dangers of drilling.
Most of the new majority Republicans in Washington and elsewhere will join the gas rush.
And if they win, your kids and grandkids might no longer be able to hunt and fish and live quality lives in the rural splendor of Pennsylvania in decades to come. But at least investors from China, Denmark, India and other developing nations might be able to buy new custom pick-up trucks and lake houses in the Poconos with money gleaned from gas drilling in hard coal country.
Remember to thank the masters when your children take jobs as houseboys and domestics for the new robber barons. Remember to be grateful for whatever crumbs fall from the gold-trimmed plates of the new ascendancy.
The producers at “60 Minutes” might gleefully return to record that segment of our peasant existence, as well.
Maybe your great-grandson can serve tea to Miss Lesley's great-grandaughter.