TED Conversations

Ernesto Villasenor

Social Justice Fellow, LA County Education Foundation (LACEF)

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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 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.

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