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The framework keeps shifting

January 26, 2012

An idea that would have been unthinkable four years ago has been gaining public traction. It is the idea that maybe hydrofracking for natural gas should be banned entirely—and not just in a single municipality, but in an entire state.

We have several times on this page discussed the concept of the Overton window, a framework that helps activists who want to influence public policy to map out their game plan. It consists of a continuum of public evaluations of any given policy position ranging from “unthinkable” at one end to “popular” at the other. In between come gradations like “radical,” “acceptable” and “sensible.” The name of the game is to move the position you favor toward the “popular” end.

Back in 2009, we noted that a barrage of talk from grassroots organizations had succeeded in moving the idea of limiting gas drilling activity via increased regulation away from the “unthinkable” end of the spectrum toward “radical” and even “acceptable.” The idea of a complete ban on drilling at that time wasn’t even on the radar. But a number of recent news stories make it clear that Overton shifts on this issue are still occurring.

The first indicator is an article in The New York Times, dated January 9 and titled “Drilling Critics Face a Divide over the Goal of Their Fight.” The article reports that “the antifracking movement itself has become divided over what its goal should be: securing the nation’s toughest regulations, or winning an outright ban,” and notes: “Whatever the result, the split among the industry critics reflects how the opposition has exponentially hardened since fracking emerged as a statewide issue in 2008.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s recent statements on provisions in the New York State budget for oversight of hydrofracking are also of interest in this regard. “You would not be hiring staff to regulate hydrofracking unless you believed you were going ahead with hydrofracking, and we haven’t made that determination. So the budget won’t anticipate hydrofracking,” he said.

Admittedly, this is far from an endorsement of a drilling ban. But Cuomo is known as a canny political player, and one who may well have presidential ambitions. The fact that he refuses to commit himself to funding related to this activity over the coming year suggests that he believes that the portion of his constituency that opposes it may be more substantial than that which favors it.

Things change.

The world was once flat? The sun revolved around the earth?
Independently minded women who spoke out were burned as witches? Abraham Lincoln was a republican?

Many people still live in a flat world, but things change, with, or without, us, and a great deal can be accomplished in twenty years.

But, if it is left up to the black energy companies, and the people who make money off their extractions, and burning, it will take a lot longer.

So, we can't leave it up to them.

Thanks to TRR for the editorial.

Iran is threatening to close

Iran is threatening to close the Strait of Hormuz through which 20% of the world's oil flows. When gas soars to $8 a gallon, it will be interesting to see if attitudes towards natural gas change a little.


Thank-you for putting it out there!