Friday, September 3, 2010


I am so freakin' sick of the hydraulic fracturing/groundwater debate.  The latest offender is an editorial cartoon I snipped out of the New York Times last week.

Great. Some cartoonist in Green Bay, Wisconsin watches the trailer for "Gasland" and blindly starts spreading its misinformation in major newspapers.  

I can't believe that the the logical fallacy that connects hydraulic fracturing with groundwater contamination has persisted this long.  Someone needs to prove it, because I don't know of any documented incidents of the process of hydraulic fracturing contaminating a water supply.  This is guilt by hearsay and rumor.  Unfortunately, the major defenders of the process are energy producers, the only group around with a lower approval rating than Congress.
Over the course of years, there have been drilling accidents - from spills to blowouts - that have caused environmental damage.  That is an unfortunate byproduct of any kind of mining (ask anyone who lives downstream from a coal mine!).  

The most sensational takeaway from the movie "Gasland" is that methane has infiltrated aquifers in some places.  That's not the fault of fracking and it is something that has been happening for decades in places where pockets of natural gas sit close to the surface.  It would happen even without gas drilling because the methane is already there.  Unfortunately, people see the images of a flame leaping from a faucet and blindly accept the filmmaker's flawed argument as truthful.  They look beyond the logical fallacy and don't correctly connect the dots.

As a "card carrying member" of the Sierra Club (seriously), I am pleased to see that the organization has taken a pragmatic approach to natural gas.  The organization sees it as a positive alternative to coal, which it rightly despises.  It is wary of the environmental impacts, but it is a pragmatic group and understands the trade-offs involved.  I hate to put it this way, but natural gas is the lesser of the fossil fuel evils.  Unfortunately, many of the the local Sierra Club organizations in the northeast have climbed aboard the anti-fracking boat and are espousing opinions that are in opposition to the parent organization.  The end result is that it dilutes the message of the Sierra Club if the group can't speak with one voice.  


PAPA ROACH said...

Nice! These are the same people screaming to convert cars to CNG and electricity and wipe away coal, "because gas is so cheap".

I would love to see the reaction to prices on the next bull market cycle as demand growth takes off and HBP forced drilling is over.


Anonymous said...

So none of the research efforts from ANY of the people concerned about the safety of this procedure are credible to you?

I really think that one must be quite stubborn to not consider any of their efforts, ANY of them, to hold water (clean or dirty).

Robert Hutchinson said...

To Anonymous,

My point is that there is no evidence that a frack job has tainted ground water. Over the past several years, there have been well publicized incidents of damaged casing (a potential problem for all wells) and poor containment of chemicals at the surface (abhorrent negligence), but nobody can point to an incident where hydraulic fracturing has impacted groundwater.

It just hasn't happened.

I'm not sure what "research efforts" you are referencing, but I don't want to confuse theoretical work with reality (although I don't know of any credible theoretical work on the subject).

My concern is that the issue is taking on the irrationality of the global warming debate (for the record, I do believe that man's actions are causing the planet's temperature to rise). When the debate turns towards fearmongering and threats, real progress dies.

There will always be risk with any kind of mining, but it is incumbent upon the natural gas industry to push for making the process of hydraulic fracturing as safe as possible and to make sure that the tiny amount of chemicals used in the process are more environmentally friendly.


Anonymous said...

Professor Anthony Ingrafea, a world authority on fracturing technology at Cornell University will soon be publishing in peer reviewed journals his findings, that hydraulic fracturing is dangerous.

Robert Hutchinson said...

I look forward to the report and its conclusions. It will be important to balance the theoretical data the empirical data.