Fear trumps science

Helen Slottje

How greens squelch fracking

Gov. Cuomo’s rumored retreat on fracking shows just how powerful an anti-science, fear-based campaign can be.

If reports are right, Cuomo will restrict fracking to a few counties in which gas shale is far below the water table, and allow localities a veto — all in the name of ensuring the safety of drinking water.

The anti-frackers’ “study it to death” strategy has proved distressingly effective. The goal is to create the illusion that horizontal fracturing pollutes drinking water — even though the Environmental Protection Agency has publicly (if reluctantly) acknowledged that there is not one documented case of such pollution.

In three places where activists recently launched grandiose scare campaigns — Pavillion, Wyo.; Dimock, Pa., and Parker County, Texas — the EPA reflexively sided with protesters, claiming industry was at fault for polluting groundwater. In each case, it funded expensive studies to prove it — then backtracked when scrupulous scientific research showed fracking did not threaten drinking supplies.

From a scientific perspective, no reason exists to even suspect unknown health or environmental issues will turn up — because hydraulic fracturing is not new technology. It has been perfected over decades and tweaked in recent years to horizontally access deeply buried shale gas.

Fracking is basically pressure-pumping soapy water mixed with minute amounts (a fraction of a percent) of chemicals into wells 3,000 feet or more below the surface — far below the water table. (The mix suspends sand particles so they flow into the fissures generated by the enormous pressures, cracking the shale so gas can escape.)

The mix is then pushed into a holding pool next to the well and disposed of under regulations that have been dramatically tightened. Residue remains, but only at the well depth, far from water supplies.

Comprehensive restrictions in place in such states as Pennsylvania, and proposed for New York, will further limit potential problems.

Why, then, do environmental groups demonize fracking?

Actually, most of them welcomed the shale-gas revolution just a few years ago. The Sierra Club, for one, helped fund a breakthrough study at the Green Design Institute at Carnegie Mellon University that concluded that shale gas is a fantastic, low-carbon replacement fuel for higher-carbon-generating oil and coal.

But now, abundant natural gas has made the alternative-energy industry economically uncompetitive. That — and the success of dishonest anti-fracking propaganda like the film “Gasland” — prompted an about-face.

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About the Author

 

Jon
Entine
  • Jon Entine, a former Emmy-winning producer for NBC News and ABC News, researches and writes about corporate responsibility and science and society. His books include No Crime But Prejudice: Fischer Homes, the Immigration Fiasco, and Extra-Judicial Prosecution (TFG Books, May 2009), about prosecutorial excesses; Abraham's Children: Race, Identity, and the DNA of the Chosen People (Grand Central Publishing, 2007), which focuses on the genetics of race; Let Them Eat Precaution: How Politics Is Undermining the Genetic Revolution in Agriculture (AEI Press, 2006), about the genetic modification of food and farming; Pension Fund Politics: The Dangers of Socially Responsible Investing (AEI Press, 2005), which reveals the effects of social investing on pension funds; and the best-selling Taboo: Why Black Athletes Dominate Sports and Why We're Afraid to Talk about It (Public Affairs, 2000), based on an award-winning NBC News documentary. Currently, Mr. Entine is an adviser to Global Governance Watch (GGW), a project that examines transparency and accountability issues at the United Nations (UN), in nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and in related international organizations. GGW also analyzes the impact of UN agencies and NGOs on government and corporations. He is also working on a book exploring the revolutionary impact of genomic research on medical treatments and traditional perceptions of human limits and capabilities.


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