Ernesto Villasenor

Social Justice Fellow, LA County Education Foundation (LACEF)

This conversation is closed.

Are the short-term gains of hydrofracking worth the short & long term burdens of environmental/social injustice, as stated by the industry?

The reason why I pose this question is because, as a social science researcher/student within the STS field, such technology has posed questions with regards to risk assessment and how the industry perceives the disparities created by unconventional gas extraction. In addition to this, I've personally traveled and have done extensive research with respect to unconventional gas extraction in the Tri-State region (West Virginia, Ohio, and Pennsylvania), where the environmental and public health burdens are abundant to say the least. Issues of public health, environmental degradation, disenfranchisement of rural communities- all come with an economic cost, both in the short-run and long-run. Although there are no industry-neutral publications and/or research conducted in this field (there is little research available that has been conducted without favoring the industry), it has been an issue in the US and elsewhere in the world where energy independence dominates the conversation with regards to the environment and public health.

What are your thoughts on hydraulic fracturing?

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    Apr 22 2013: IMO: What is my profit and WTF cares about US folks? This remains the down and dirty of dis-representative government for US folks.
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      Apr 22 2013: I couldn't have said it better. But, how can we help shift this governing body mindset to one that actually cares about their members of society? Up until when will we have to shift this mindset?

      If recent events tell us anything, using the Keystone Pipeline spill in Arkansas and BP, it seems like it's going to take much more than that to actually get massive change going on.

      Obama's energy policy is a fluke, exempting the industry from major environmental and public health regulations.
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    Apr 16 2013: to my understanding, fracking can not be reliably and directly linked to environmental harm. the harms that can be proven are connected not to fracking itself, but for example mishandling of toxic waste and such. the myriad of claims about harms of fracking itself are questionable and debated. after many hundreds of thousands of occasions, if we still have debated effects only, the effects can't be very severe.

    but here is my proposal. why not we get rid of all regulations, and have only one in place: require fracking companies to cover their activities with unlimited insurance. deaths and injuries must be "priced" extremely high. obviously, the insurance company has to be big enough to actually pay billions of dollars if it is due. if not one single company is willing to offer such an insurance, have them form some alliance, sharing risks. if still no insurance company is willing to cooperate, then bad luck, fracking can not be done.

    what are the benefits? for the company: they can do whatever they see fit to maximize output and minimize risk. the experts come up with solutions, not politicians. if their plans are sound, they will be able to find insurance coverage. for the people: all material harm is covered. all injuries and deaths are made very unlikely considering the huge cost associated with it. more to that, since both the drilling company and the insurance company have vested interest in avoiding harms, harm is not likely to happen at all. for liberty: politicians are excluded from the process, which in itself greatly increases the reliability of the process.
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      Apr 16 2013: Some of the harms associated directly with fracking include the seismic activity in some of the areas where it is present, with a notable case in Texas. And all of the associations attributed to fracking are properly linked to environmental harm as hydraulic fracturing includes of multiple processes, all which have a level of environmental degradation. The effects that come out in terms of health disparities and what not are ripple effects from the activity that induces them, as in this case, fracking.

      You bring a very good point, the insurance aspect of the work, and this has been an issue not only with fracking itself, but with other activities such as offshore oil drilling, the sands in the Keystone Pipeline. It is one of the things that has been discussed at different legislative levels throughout the US, and there isn't much information on this available online as far as I am aware. But it's a very good point, and this then goes on to the risk assessment associated with unconventional gas extraction, which is a whole different topic as to how the industry assesses the risks, how the community assesses it, etc etc.
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        Apr 16 2013: "associated" is a loose term. how? by whom?
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          Apr 16 2013: Loose term or not, as discussed before in this thread, I do not think that a lengthy paper on the harms caused by hydraulic fracturing- environmental, sociopolitical, health, etc.- is needed on this. There are communities, citizens, areas of land that are heavily affected and are being disenfranchised by the fracking industry.
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        Apr 16 2013: at least you say so. but for example wikipedia disagrees. it lists a lot of harms, both in line with my description. either mild, debated or related to processes supplementary to fracking, and not fracking itself.
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          Apr 16 2013: Really? Wikipedia as a primary source?

          The acquisition of my knowledge comes from working under world renowned professors, highly credible leaders in their field.

          The tech has been around 10 years or so with little regulation. Any harms created by fracking-whether directly or indirectly- are caused by fracking and were not present prior to the implementation of such tech in the area.
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        Apr 16 2013: did you know that wikipedia has a "References" section?
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          Apr 16 2013: I'm very well-versed in how the website functions, as much as I know that being the fact that the site is open to anyone to contribute, it does not necessarily mean that all credites references are reliable or industry-neutral references.
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        Apr 16 2013: so because "does not necessarily mean" we can conclude that it is all crap. congratulations. you have established yourself a denialist / crank.
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          Apr 16 2013: Haha. You're funny. I'll spend my time educating and emancipating those who actually care and know about unconventional gas extraction rather than argue with a one-minded individual who has brought up nothing but fallacious arguments. Good day.
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          Apr 16 2013: I invite you to visit the Marcellus Shale region in the Tri-State area of the Northeast US, speak with the residents there, speak with those who have been affected. Speak with the industrialists and learn about the technology. Then come back and contribute to this conversation.
  • Apr 16 2013: Where I live in Schoharie County we are on the chopping block for fracking; local communties have outlawed it but some homeowners and the gas industry have gone to court to overturn the local laws. The implications for the oil and gas industry are huge.

    We have widespread karst topography, and, if any fracking fluid gets into the ground water, it could contaminate hundreds of wells, not just one well.

    Fracking wells are industrial sites; when they are finished, the end product has a small foorprint.

    Why does no one point out that burning a century's worth of natural gas is the same as burning 50 years worth of coal? Is that really an improvement?
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      Apr 16 2013: Thank you for your input and feedback, Richard. One of the things that communities in NY State and elsewhere in the country are doing is developing penal codes that would ban fracking in their municipalities, as I've seen in numerous cases throughout the state (I'm a student at RPI in Troy). The moratorium that is in place can only withstand so much with the amount of power the industry has at every level of the government, but I do hope that the communities that will be most affected here in the state are prepared for it (even though the moratorium does not allow for fracking to occur, the state is still accepting the waste from the Tri-State region, where it is most active).

      You bring up an excellent point with the last two questions you mentioned. Is it really worth it? If anything, going to unconventional extraction methods for energy have posed more harm than good for what, only a few years' worth of energy supply? Nonetheless, even if we are extracting natural gas and all out here in the area, we still have to account for the harm done in the area with respect to mining, which is something the fracking industry is not taking into account for. It really is a complete mess to say the least.
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      Apr 16 2013: On the burning water propaganda, Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission says this:

      Gasland (group who created the specious video) incorrectly attributes several cases of water well contamination in Colorado to oil and gas development when our investigations determined that the wells in question contained biogenic [naturally-occurring] methane that is not attributable to such development.
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    Apr 15 2013: G'day Ernesto

    Not on your nelly. We have polluted the air, the ground, ground water now subterranean water supplies, we have got to be stupid or something.


    PS Some people might find the following links interesting some won't of course.

    Fracking links

    Suppressed invention links
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      Apr 15 2013: Hi Mathew,

      Seeing the fact that you're from Australia (looked at your page), has there been any fracking present over in your neck of the woods?

      You bring up a very good point though. To what levels do we have to go in terms of sacrificing other sources just to keep quenching our thirst for energy? Fracking is definitely not the way to go, that's for sure.

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    Apr 24 2013: OK, let's take this to the bottom.
    All fracking is now stopped. Now what? Do we go back to coal for electric power? Do we stop using coal, it's worse then gas and more environmentally challenging. Can't expand nuclear, that's got even more problems... Now what?
    While we are at it. All those oil wells working to make gasoline causing pollution. Let's stop that too!... Now what?
    Some wag once said that we could exchange one horse for one car, Of course, it would take all of Canada to grow hay for the USA and all of Gulf of Mexico to hold the horse "waste". Of course, we all have to raise bees for candle wax.
    Nothing is simple, no matter how noble.
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    Apr 17 2013: Ernesto: you come out of the paddock as a social scientist with problems with fracking. I was taken aback.
    Seriously, I lived on top of the Pennsylvania dome where the first oil production came to be and now I live in Texas on the eagle ford dome.

    So, fracking can provide an economical source of badly needed energy and don't tell me about algae, or corn or wind or or or as sources of electrical power. Gas also has the ability to be transformed into a transportation fuel faster then about anything else...

    Now, the fracking industry does say that there are safety issues that they do address and the motivation for them is notable, because wasted gas into the earth crust is gas not sold. There are issues with the proprietary recipes used to hold the broken rock open to allow gas to escape. They have to report the materials to the Federal Government, but not the recipes which seem to cause great consternation.

    For those who are "not happy" about fracking, the dangers are earth shattering, global ending events that will have us all choking on burning water laced with strange chemicals and/or being buried alive under massive earthquakes.

    I got to believe the truth is somewhere in between. According to the talk by Mr. Pickens, the country needs more and more low cost energy to sustain our economy. Several lawsuits against fracking in Pennsylvania were dismissed due to the lack of evidence. Even the state environmental offices could not substantiate claims made by "fracking injured" parties.

    I believe that, we should keep an eye on fracking operations and benefit from the abundance of natural gas that we have available.
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      Apr 22 2013: Mike, even if we keep an eye on fracking operations and jot down the issues, disasters, and accidents that are occurring with fracking (or unconventional gas extraction, whatever it may be), the exemptions that the industry is saved from being brought to justice would not help us bring about the right regulation for the technology itself.

      In this case, as in much of the unconventional gas extraction that is occurring elsewhere, we cannot wait for the technology to better itself. We cannot wait to provide solutions to the issue: in fact, we need to implement regulations that would prevent from issues to occur in the first place.
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        Apr 23 2013: OK, but, what you are saying is not quite accurate. BP is on tap for tens of billions. There have be individuals in the past that have been jailed for screwing up the environment. One can say we can do more.
        On the other hand, what regulations can you pass for future actions. Can you write a reg to cover everything?
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      Apr 16 2013: You would be more believable if you could figure out how to use the reply button...
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      Apr 16 2013: Mark and Brian

      A similar thing happened locally in the city of Hinkley. It cost the customers of PG&E 333 million dollars. Note PG&E simply raises the price of their service to cover the cost. The causality remains dubious 50+ yr later.

      A worker got sick when first experimenting with X rays with Tesla. He did not know that x rays would cause sickness. But look at how many lives were saved by experimenting with x rays.

      Anecdotal stories are not science.
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        Apr 16 2013: It's funny how you use the Tesla example on this one. It only involves one individual and one discovery.

        Fracking involves communities and tens of thousands of people being affected, all for a short-term energy gain that is not sustainable in any way whatsoever. Is it worth it? I don't think so.
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    Apr 14 2013: Where is the proof of the dangers?
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      Apr 14 2013: I'd like for you to view this video that my Professors and an Emmy award-winning producer Branda Miller have developed:

      I went out there to the affected areas myself about a weekend ago, and just the exposure that I received within three days have left me with problems breathing. And I'd like to add that I grew up in an area where unconventional gas extraction is not even occurring, and this was only for three days. I can produce studies, articles, and reports if you'd like.
    • Apr 15 2013: Pat, do you believe fracking is worth it?
      With every well drilled- and 32,000 wells per year are planned- a couple million gallons of freshwater are transformed into toxic fracking fluid. Some of that fluid will remain underground. Some will come flying back out of the hole, bringing with it other monsters: benzene, brine, radioactivity, and heavy metals that, for the past 400 millions years, had been safely locked up a mile below us, estranged from the surface world of living creatures. No one knows what to do with this lethal flowback- a million or more gallons of it for every wellhead. Too caustic for reuse as is, it sloshes around in open pits and sometimes is hauled away in fleets of trucks to be forced under pressure down a disposal well. Snd it is sometimes clandestinely dumped.

      By 2012, 100 billion gallons per year of freshwater will be turned into toxic fracking fluid. The technology to transform it back to drinkable water does not exist.
    • Apr 15 2013: Pat where is the proof of its safety?
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        Apr 15 2013: Nope nor anything else.

        The alternative is to do without oil.

        Do you realize how much oil contributes to the economy by it's labor savings?
        • Apr 15 2013: Oil is like 100 energy slaves per capita.
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        Apr 15 2013: and the ramifications of that?
        • Apr 16 2013: Ramifications are many positives and many negatives. Certainly our economy depends on it. I am guessing that is the holy grail in your mind?
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        Apr 15 2013: Thanks for those facts on fracking, Brian.

        One of the things and conversations that I am trying to bring up is that we need more than the scientific method when exploring for unconventional energy supplies, fracking being one of them. To what extend do we have to sacrifice other things just to quench our energy thirst? Is the short-term gain of energy supplies worth the long-term issues in health, the environment?
        • Apr 15 2013: no they're not, and we learned that a long time ago. still it doesn't stop a bunch of people declaring that fracking is great even though it is currently creating more problems than it is solving. history is a great teacher unless you willfully ignore it, and people do that either because they honestly don't understand, or are deliberately dishonest because they have a stake in the profits.
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        Apr 15 2013: Am I that obvious? Oh good then I have achieved my goal.

        No doubt some people will suffer as with any new technology. But if it does more good than harm it is worth it. The alternative is to languish, but not everyone gets that.
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          Apr 15 2013: Pat, world-renowned engineers, environmentalists, scientists, sociologists, and the average citizen knows that unconventional gas extraction does more harm than it does good. As I've said before in a summit: it doesn't take rocket science to figure it out. Let's say it generates x amount of capital in terms of energy, but at the same time it creates a+b+c+d+e+f+g...n of health care costs, environmental clean-up, and the whole nine yards. Will it then be worth it?

          Such good example would be the Keystone XL Oil Pipeline. Look at what happened in Arkansas not so long ago. Are we going to wait until everyone gets messed up until elected leaders and the industry say, "merde, it wasn't a good idea afterall" ?
        • Apr 16 2013: no, the alternative is to find a better way.
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        Apr 15 2013: Your right it does not take rocket science, but it does take science, which is my objection to your conjecture.
        • Apr 16 2013: Where is the science you stand behind? Any cost benefit analysis?
        • Apr 16 2013: you've used that word conjecture again, but you don't seem to understand what it means. conjecture is what you're doing, making a baseless claim. a well-substantiated point is the opposite of conjecture.
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        Apr 15 2013: Is that a threat?