Dennis Persica: Republicans the latest critics of energy exploration

The schadenfreude in liberal circles was so thick last week you could cut it with a knife and serve it on a bed of kale.

Maybe “schadenfreude,” German for taking joy in someone else’s misfortune, is too cynical a word here. Maybe the reaction to what happened last week was just a celebration and validation of the idea that we’re all in this together.

What happened last week was this: St. Tammany Parish residents at a public meeting in Mandeville were shocked — shocked! — that an energy company wants to use the natural gas extraction process commonly known as fracking in their homeland.

Yes, in St. Tammany Parish, where Republicans make up 45 percent of registered voters and Democrats rank third behind independent voters, there is concern about the harm that energy exploration may bring. Republicans, you’ll recall, were the ones who six years ago celebrated a candidate for national office who thought the words “Drill, baby, drill” comprised a sound and nuanced public policy.

At the St. Tammany Parish gathering last week, though, even a video about hydraulic fracturing was met with skepticism because it was produced by the American Petroleum Institute. If conservatives are losing faith in energy companies, this can’t bode well in November for candidates who are perceived to be in the thrall of the oil and gas industry — like, say, U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La.

The Tammany hearing came on the heels of a lawsuit filed recently in Bartonville, Texas, by Dick Armey, the former Republican leader in the U.S. House, and Rex Tillerson, chairman and CEO of Exxon Mobil. Their suit objects to a 160-foot water tower built near their property.

The tower wasn’t supposed to be built so high, they contend, and it creates an eyesore that will attract invasive bird species that will “befoul” their properties.

However, one line in their suit points to another objection: The tower’s owner “will sell water to oil and gas explorers for fracking shale formations.” This, the plaintiffs say, will bring “traffic with heavy trucks … creating a noise nuisance and traffic hazards.”

Note that they aren’t saying fracking itself is dangerous. But the CEO of an energy mega-corporation and one of the guiding figures of the tea party movement are conceding that energy exploration brings with it some associated hazards and nuisances, and they don’t want those anywhere near their homes.

I wonder if that means Tillerson and Armey will be supportive of other communities that don’t want those hazards near their homes, either.

Look, I’m not na├»ve about the need for energy exploration. I drive a car; I use electricity; I depend on products to be shipped to stores where I buy them or to my front door. But if we have an admission on the part of Exxon’s CEO that energy exploration brings with it some dangers and annoyances, that resets the conversation.

In the past, even the smallest objections to the hazards of energy exploration — or transportation, as in pipelines or tankers — have been met with derision among the supporters of full-bore drilling, as if those who were objecting were nothing more than tree-hugging hippies. But Tillerson and Armey? Hard to picture them in beaded headbands.

We shouldn’t want a country where only those who can afford expensive lawyers get to push the burden of energy exploration out of their own backyards and into those of others.

We are, indeed, all in this together. So why can’t we act that way?

Dennis Persica’s email address is dpersica@theadvocate.com.