Emotion vs Science in the Fracking Debate
There was a very revealing moment at last week’s public hearing on fracking in North Carolina. The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) had heard from a couple of dozen people – a mix of scientists, medical professionals, researchers, landowners in the shale zone, and concerned citizens – all opposing fracking, when Lew Ebert, the CEO of the N.C. Chamber of Commerce stepped to the microphone.
He delivered a general plea for more economic growth and offered that the gas deposits represented a wonderful opportunity for the state. As he concluded, he made a remarkable statement. He implored the officials not to “believe the opinions of scientists”.
During the previous hour he had heard a geologist who had worked for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission describe the unique diabase dike formations in the Triassic Basin of central NC. The fissures run vertically, not horizontally as in most places, and would allow fracking fluids much more direct access to groundwater.
Another scientist explained that air quality is negatively affected by this type of mining and that high ozone levels have been detected at fracking operations.
He heard a physician speak about the lack of knowledge concerning the health effects of the chemical soup that is injected into the rock to liberate the natural gas.
Two people who had lived in Dimock, PA, where extensive fracking is ongoing, presented sobering data on the radical increase in heavy truck traffic with resultant road damage, the exploitation of the worker population through rent increases (which altered the housing costs for all), the increases in violent crime and DUI’s, the extensive consumption of imported water because of contaminated wells, and more.
Alternative energy researchers highlighted the burgeoning solar and wind activity in NC and the great potential for this trend to far surpass natural gas extraction in job production, without the intensive disrupting effects of fracking.
Amongst these presenters were a small handful of fracking proponents. For comic relief, a climate science denier took the microphone and seemed to say that since there is no climate change then we should have no concerns about fracking in that regard.
A former Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection staff member and current industry consultant assured everyone that, if the proper regulations were in place, that fracking could be done safely. The few that actually offered public statements decried the uninformed emotion of the naïve environmental crowd and urged the rejection of dogma over science. They offered vague paeans to jobs, prosperity, and energy independence.
From the tea party “drill, baby, drill” crowd wearing matching red t-shirts and waving matching signs that greeted drivers at the road to the few pro-fracking speakers, the total lack of any data or scientific information to bolster their position was inescapable.