It's rare that a movie gets me to thinking about hockey, but today was such a day. And I wasn't even watching "Slap Shot" or "Miracle."
I saw "Gasland." This is a documentary about fracking.
Fracking is the short-hand name for the technique of drilling under ground and taking natural gas out. There are huge reserves under much of the United States, although it's a little difficult to get at them. And things can go wrong.
Josh Fox made the documentary, touring the country to interview people and show problems. The natural gas industry has spent some time knocking down some of the film's contents, and there's little doubt that the motion picture could have been put together a little better and more orderly.
Still, Fox makes the point that there do seem to be some dangers and issues involved. There are enough scenes of tap water looking like motor oil and rivers catching on fire to get that across. To play movie critic, it's probably worth your time to see it if you want to learn more about the matter, particularly from one side. In fact, I'll bet it convinced some viewers that we need to stop, or at least slow, fracking in ecologically sensitive areas. Like, my back yard, and yours.
That brings us to Terry Pegula.
He was in the energy business, eventually selling East Resources to Royal Dutch Shell for $4.7 billion. That's billion, with a B.
Since then, Pegula has purchased the Buffalo Sabres and lifted all financial restrictions from the franchise. He says his goal is to win multiple Stanley Cups; he added that if he wants to make more money he can always drill another well.
This approach has made Pegula more popular than anyone else in Western New York in record time. None of the area's franchise owners have ever done that, And Pegula, who on a personal level seems like a good person, put his money where his mouth is, shelling out enough money to put the Sabres right up against the salary cap. And making major improvements to the Sabres' arena. And buying the Rochester Americans in order to move the team's minor-league affiliate there.
And thus the conflict, for some. To quote a Philadelphia Inquirer article, "The sale of East Resources included a Marcellus Shale lease hold for more than 650,000 acres in the Appalachian Basin, a major contributor to the natural-gas supply in the United States." The area roughly extends north to a line in upstate New York going from Buffalo to Syracuse, thus covering much of Erie County and all of Cattaragus, Chautauqua and Allegany Counties for starters.
There are plenty of people out there who are fighting the establishment or expansion of fracking in certain areas. It's been talked about in Western New York. I'll bet some of them are hockey fans.
Does it matter to them that the money spent to improve the hockey team was gained through fracking? Does the fact that Pegula has sold his business make a difference, even if he remains a firm advocate of the concept?
I don't recall this sort of issue popping up in sports before. No one complained that Ralph Wilson made major money from trucking, or that the Knox brothers picked their parents well. Once we learned what John Rigas did, he was in jail ... and thus a moral conflict never came up.
Sometimes, it's not easy to be a fan.
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