The debate over natural gas development, or rather hydraulic fracturing, as the opposition to development has singled out this one short aspect of the process to oppose, is a relatively new occurrence. But, the question of what to do with our nation’s natural resources isn’t new by any means, and a quick history lessons reveals much of what is discussed in this new debate has been pondered and solved time and again.
It is within just this past decade that Americans really began debating the topic of natural gas and oil development in the public eye, most notably with the release of the very flawed film Gasland. The question of what should be done with our nation’s resources is age old, though, with debates between preservationists and conservationists dating back to Gifford Pinchot in the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries. What’s most interesting is if we take a step back in time and look at what Pinchot represented, we find many of the same arguments today for the responsible development of our nation’s natural resources.
Who was Gifford Pinchot?
Gifford Pinchot was one of the first people in our country to differentiate between conservation and preservation, one of the first to obtain a degree in forestry when one did not exist at American schools, and a true environmentalist as the commonly accepted “Father of Conservationism.”
Pinchot also served two terms as the Governor of Pennsylvania, was the fourth chief of the Division of Forestry, and the first chief when it was moved to the Department of the Interior as the Forest Service in 1905 under President Theodore Roosevelt.
“When I came home not a single acre of Government, state, or private timberland was under systematic forest management anywhere on the most richly timbered of all continents….When the Gay Nineties began, the common word for our forests was “inexhaustible.” To waste timber was a virtue and not a crime. There would always be plenty of timber….The lumbermen…regarded forest devastation as normal and second growth as a delusion of fools….And as for sustained yield, no such idea had ever entered their heads. The few friends the forest had were spoken of, when they were spoken of at all, as impractical theorists, fanatics, or “denudatics,” more or less touched in the head. What talk there was about forest protection was no more to the average American that the buzzing of a mosquito, and just about as irritating.” —Gifford Pinchot (From Breaking New Ground, Washington, D.C.: Island Press, 1998, page 27.)
It was under Pinchot’s direction that President “Teddy” Roosevelt established our national park system.
During his period in office, the Forest Service and the national forests grew spectacularly. In 1905 the forest reserves numbered 60 units covering 56 million acres; in 1910 there were 150 national forests covering 172 million acres. The pattern of effective organization and management was set during Pinchot’s administration, and “conservation” (an idea he popularized) of natural resources in the broad sense of wise use became a widely known concept and an accepted national goal. ForestHistory.org
This was one of the first national efforts at conservation of our natural resources. The effort acknowledged the need for responsible development of the resources, while ensuring in this case lumber, would not disappear forever because of overuse. It laid the ground work for finding ways to reduce environmental impacts when developing energy sources so as to allow for productive use and environmental protection. Today, developers of natural resources, such as the natural gas industry, are still inventing ways to further reduce impacts while meeting consumer demands.
What Did Pinchot Stand For?
“Without natural resources life itself is impossible. From birth to death, natural resources, transformed for human use, feed, clothe, shelter, and transport us. Upon them we depend for every material necessity, comfort, convenience, and protection in our lives. Without abundant resources prosperity is out of reach.” —Gifford Pinchot (From Breaking New Ground, Washington, D.C.: Island Press, 1998, page 505.)
Gifford Pinchot knew we need the natural resources abundant in America to not only prosper, but to carry on our day to day activities. That has only increased with time, technology, and the growing demand placed on these resources.
Across the energy sector, industries are continuing to find ways to meet these demands while improving the impacts on the environment carrying on Pinchot’s legacy of conservation. We have documented this over and over again, with everything from horizontal drilling (which has reduced earth disturbance by several magnitudes) to closed-loop production (which has enabling recycling of wastewater) to the development of water-saving technologies to alternative fracturing fluids based on food ingredients. We are constantly finding ways to use the resource and not waste it, proving the fossil fuel doomsayers wrong every time they predict it has peaked and we’re now on the verge of the U.S. being the largest producer of all.
As we move forward into 2013, natural gas will increase in its role, alongside other energy sources such coal, oil, biomass, wind, and solar to provide a clean, balanced affordable energy foundation for the American people. And, it’s great to see industries continuing to uphold and improve upon a philosophy of conservation and co-existence for our various needs, both functional and recreational, over 100 years later.