Thursday, June 2, 2011

Fracking Unbelievable

Presented for your cringe-worthy reading...well..."pleasure" just doesn't seem to fit, as you will see. 

Recently, a not-very-close relative (by marriage) whom I will refer to as "Moderate," (as she risibly refers to herself in her Facebook profile...though between pretty much her every position and that of the DNC there's not enough daylight to support the photosynthesis of a forest-floor fern) posted this NYT (Natch) story about hydraulic fracturing (and, the gods help me, I fear the day will never come when my BSG-loving soul will cease to chortle like Beavis when I hear the word, "Fracking," [huh-huh...see?!]). She commented thus:

"Moderate": Drill baby drill....our EPA Chief says there's no evidence of fracking threats to water. Anyway, who cares? It's Texas and no amount of scientific evidence will prevent them from drilling for black gold. Florida will even send over the Sweet Tea...just stay away from our Coasts. :-)  [Gee, I wonder how she feels about Texans...and why...]

NOOCYTE: Billions of dollars of domestic revenues, thousands of American jobs, more supply on the global markets (and so less gelt for glorified Bedouins and socialist nut-jobs), and thus far no convincing evidence of environmental damage. What's the down-side? Am I missing something?

Moderate”: It's in Texas and, acknowledging all the upsides, as you've enumerated, I'm all for it. Where we differ is I don't believe for one minute that fracking is not a hazard, regardless of Lisa Jackson's testimony. It took Medical gurus decades to determine Eggs are GOOD for us. Seemed a no brainer to me, which is why we've always eaten them. Have the opposite, no brainer instinct on fracking, where scientific analysis is in its infancy. As long as it's not happening off the Florida Coasts, and my drinking water isn't being piped in from Houston, I'm happy to support it. ;-) [heart-warmingly altruistic, innit?]

Occam's Stubble (“Moderate's” husband [Note: English is not his first language, so no fair judging on writing fair, and hardly necessary, as you will see...]): There are 1000 "secret" chemicals used in Fracking.

Noocyte: It's a fairly straightforward matter to test groundwater on an on-going basis. The proprietary nature of the chemicals involved in the activities of companies engaged in highly competitive extraction procedures does not change that. If impurities are found, then investigations will ensue, and countermeasures implemented. It's not like there is any shortage of watchful environmentalist eyes on this (informed by the aesthetic, "instinctive" aversion to industrial development which is their stock in trade). Given the lack of evidence of harm thus far, and the immense benefits of the technology, it seems only sensible and sane to proceed. And, for once, that sense and sanity appears to be winning the day.

Occam's Stubble: Lack of evidence? So why all the secrets? Its not a competitive issue that IP ["Intellectual Property] can not cover. As a Chemical Engineer, I understand the process and there is much harm. There is marketable value and benefits, but there is much harm to the extent the industry was made exempt legal action. See the documentary GasLand on HBO. [BWAAAA-hahahaha!!!]

Noocyte: Thousands of wells, years of data, sworn testimony of numerous experts (from across the whole political spectrum), and the lack of ONE case of demonstrable harm tied to the process itself (as opposed to localized mishandlings of safety procedures).....versus one widely-discredited piece of cinematic agitprop. I'll take Door #1, thanx.

Not all secrets are conspiracies; industrial espionage is a real threat viz an emerging technology where any slim advantage can score a company (which is investing $tens of billions) critical market share.

Random Drone: gasland explains it all. It is devestating [sic{k}]

Moderate”: If a substantial number of GOP members on the Hill had their way, there would be no investigations of anything and the EPA wouldn't exist, so who/what would be conducting investigations? We should trust the gas industry to police itself? <>

To reiterate, Texas is welcome to Frack away and let's give them massive tax subsidies to carry out their environmental hazards. I'll be happy to reap the benefits and none of the health risks. ;-) [After all, they're only Texans!]

Occam's Stubble: [NOOCYTE], you surprise me. Pulverizing, liquefying the underground with water, mud and tons of "secret" chemicals, poisoning aqueducts [citation?], gas leaking all over the place [ibid], into the water wells, the air, etc, etc, [ibid, ibid]  there is harm [because I say so] . To say this is safe for the areas people around it, it is ludicrous. You probably also believe the Golf spill caused no harm as well [based on...]. No sea mammals dead. No pollution for years to come. Yes, when a secret group of oil, gas executive met with Cheney [I was WONDERING when he'd show up!] , hide their agenda, created new laws exclusive to them, bending existing laws, effectively making them exempt to the Clean Water Act and many other EPA mandates, then its corporate conspiracy to weigh the risk of benefits vs harm [HORRORS!]. To say, there is no harm is ludicrous [not necessarily...but then, I never did say that, did I?]. There is no corporate conspiracy, beside the fact IP is good enough, the land was divvy up even before they had the land deeds. And when it couldn't be taken for the cheap, they went in sideways underground to quicksand the earth [that is, there are fewer drill points, and a smaller above-ground footprint...and this is a BAD thing...]. There are clusters of environmental and health issues, and many close settlements. Hey, we live in the society and we all need the energy. But so suggest it is clean, no harm, you surprise me. Thought you were more smarter than that.

Noocyte: So, by way of arguing your point, you simply repeat your assertion, but include more adjectives, in order to make hydrofracturing sound more like rape (since everyone knows that the best way to make a scientific argument is to evoke an emotional/aesthetic reaction), and to throw in the perception of consensus/authority (technically known as the "C'mon! *EVERYBODY* knows this; whatsamaddawitchoo?!" mode of argumentation). And in a final flourish to make a logician leap with glee, you throw in the venerable "I thought you were smarter than this" variant of the "No smart people would disagree with me" argument. Real tour-de-force, there.

Let me try: These companies are engaged in a contest with each other to find the best formula for most effectively flushing the goopy black (and potentially explosive...can you *PROVE* that it's not a mortal danger down there?...) tarry stuff from between the layers of Mother Earth's otherwise pristine crystals, infusing these ingredients in such a way that spider-web-like filigrees of delicate fissures spread and grow to allow the toxins to flow out. What sensible and sensitive person would want to stand in the way of this cleansing ritual? It's perfectly *OBVIOUS* that this is so, regardless of what anyone (with questionable motives and uncertain moral fibre) might say to the contrary.

Better yet: Point me to a SINGLE conclusive bit of evidence that Fraccing has contaminated drinking water (hint: you won't find one), released levels of methane into the air and water that exceed what happens naturally (ditto), or had any other higher-than-error-variance effect on any natural system whatsoever (trifecta!). Talk to me about the results of the EPA study, when they come out in 3 months or so.

And please try to do better than "Gasbags" or whatever by way of supporting documents. If I had $100 for every documented falsehood and distortion in that sad waste of videotape, I could drill my own damn well.

Possibly Sensible Skeptic: [Noocyte].. ?: to what do you refer to to prove your point: an article, TV documentary, personal work experience or all of these? JA [Ed: “JA” = Just Asking”]

Noocyte: [Potentially Sensible Skeptic]: multiple sources. Can provide sample links later, but I'm on mobile at the pool, and wee keyboard is a PITA for such things. Suffice to say, I don't single-source anything, not even/especially not the things with which I agree. Multiple sources and layered vetting insulates me against...well...against things like Gasland.

Potentially Sensible Skeptic: [Noocyte]...Thx

Moderate”: Science is not my strong suit [clearly] and I won't pretend to know this technology. That's why I married a chemical engineer. :-)) [Well, then....nah, I'll be good...] I'm convinced fracking is detrimental [what was that part about not pretending...?] but Texas is a state with a mindset that doesn't care about environmental hazards as evidenced by history. Let them frack away, and I'll be happy to be a recipient of more plentiful US Oil.

Noocyte: [Potentially Sensible Skeptic]: As promised, here is a slice of the sourcing I've done so far on this subject:

Scientific American article raises legitimate questions, debunks assorted “Gasland” myths, and indicates no evidence of groundwater contamination:

And here's a report from the Geological Society of London, drawing on both US and UK data, again showing no evidence of environmental harm from hydrofracturing:;jsessionid=BB88DCFA6E9CB1D16C42E5438165C91C

Here's a link to an EPA study from 2004, which actually deemed fracking to be sufficiently low-risk as to merit no further study (which it's subsequently getting anyway, which is a GOOD thing...but which paints a picture of the history of the subject's treatment):

Finally this article from Popular Mechanics discusses a fracking-related accident in PA, showing that the contamination which resulted from that accident was related to specific hardware problems at the site, and NOT to the process itself:

That should do for now, as I have no wish to SPAM this thread. But it's a fair sample of the sorts of vetting which needs to be done on...well, ANY subject, but especially on one which partakes of such strong emotions and connects with so many fundamental (and generally unspoken/unacknowledged)

Occam's Stubble: [Noocyte], you're wrong and there is plenty of evidence [which I will now proceed to NOT provide], but more importantly, for any scientist, its common sense [Funny, here I was thinking that science was one of the ways we protected ourselves from the "Common Sense" of "Authorities..." What a silly peon I've been. To the Camps with me, then!]. I think my credentials as a chemical engineering [Hey, I wonder if this guy might be a Chemical Engineer or something...]  suggest I do know more about "pollution" than you do, so I won't bother wasting my time with such nonsense.[QED, GIGO]

Otherwise Smart Person: I have no comment on fracking; I simply don't know enough about the technology to say. *But* as for the downside, 4 words: burning more fossil fuels! In the short run, and for my lifetime...I'll be selfish and say let's do it and get off the Saudi, er, tit, as it were, and lower the fuel prices. the (not so) long run, and I mean in another 50 years - after I'm gone hopefully - God help those on this planet who will be dealing with all the fallout from our ever worsening global warming scenario!...If we can plow $$$ into this, we can also plow money into alternative energies! The technology is there. ....and please don't ask me to provide sources for global warming due to burning of fossil fuels. That shipped sailed long ago. Basically 98% of the world climate scientists say so - that's good enough for me....!


Noocyte: [Otherwise Smart Person]: The fossil fuels are going to be burned anyway, within any reasonable time frame. The alternatives lack the reliability, energy density, and scalability to change that to any meaningful degree in the near term. The question, then, becomes: "who profits from them?" As you note, the Saudi udder leads back to a metabolism which adds nothing to the world but cultural and geopolitical flatulence. If instead that voluminous lucre were to flow into American coffers, it would serve to enrich a society which is unmatched for innovation and inventiveness. If *any* society stands a chance to take the increase in economic dynamism which such profits would provide, and leverage it toward the development of such things as core taps, tidal power, on-orbit solar generation, evolved fission (thorium and pebble-bed systems, as well as reprocessing+), and eventual fusion power, it's certainly NOT the Clown Princes of the dune states. And it's sure as shootin' not that basket-case Chavez and his sulfurous sludge (not to mention his oil).

+...and, alas, as I noted on another thread, we can scratch Germany from that pursuit!

Occam's Stubble: [Noocyte], Go visit a Petroleum Plant, geez, don't you smell that crap when you on 95 or near the airport [because everyone knows that nothing in nature smells bad, and everything that smells bad is a hazard]. This stuff is BAD and weighing it against the society gains/risk is a DIFFERENT matter altogether, but quit the bullshit that this stuff isn't harmful [ummm...No?]. You are talking to a Chemical Engineer and I've worked on Coal, Oil and Nuclear and the waste factor is the common problem and there is simply a long history of the cluster side effects. Pleezzzzz.

Occam's Stubble: And for the layman, Gas was also part of my work, including extractions from all known sources including COW MANURE! [Seriously, what could I possibly add at this juncture?!]

[Ah hell: So I threw in one more comment. What can I say: I'm a tinkerer...] 

Noocyte: Final note: I'm dismayed to have to point out that, were one to re-read my posts on this thread, nowhere would one find me making the definitive assertion that hydraulic fracturing is *harmless.* The reason for that is that.... I. Don't. Know.  What I *have* said is that scientific analysis had thus far quite failed to demonstrate harmfulness (that is, failed to disprove the null hypothesis), and, given this, it is sensible to proceed, with continued study and oversight, in light of the ENORMOUS benefits to our society of exploiting these PRODIGIOUS indigenous energy reserves.

But, if subsequent analysis were to show statistically significant evidence that fracking is as harmful as gargling plutonium at an outdoor Cher concert...without sunscreen, then I'd be first in line to demand substantial modification --or outright dumping-- of the procedure.

Funny thing about science: one of its chief benefits to our civilization is the degree to which it *protects* us against the "Common Sense" of those who cloak themselves in the mantle of one sort of Authority or another, and demand that we acquiesce to the "no-brainer" assertions which they deem themselves to be above having to support with such dreary minutiae know...*evidence*.