No Fracking Way: The Natural Gas Boom Is Doing More Harm Than Good

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Sunday, July 1, 2012

Natural gas, touted for its environmental, economic, and national security benefits, is often thought of as the fuel that will “bridge” our transition from oil and coal to renewables. The ability to extract natural gas from shale formations through a method called hydraulic fracturing has unleashed vast, untapped sources—by some estimates, the U.S. now sits on a 100-year supply. But contamination from toxic chemicals used in the fracking process has been the source of increasing health and environmental concerns. Can natural gas be part of a clean energy solution, or is it a dangerous roadblock to a fossil-free future?

  • For The Motion

    For

    Deborah Goldberg

    Managing Attorney at Earthjustice

  • For The Motion

    For

    Katherine Hudson

    Watershed Program Director at Riverkeeper

  • Against The Motion

    Against

    Joe Nocera

    Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times

  • Against The Motion

    Against

    Sue Tierney

    Managing Principal at Analysis Group


    • Moderator Image

      MODERATOR

      John Donvan

      Author & Correspondent for ABC News

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For The Motion

For The Motion

Deborah Goldberg

Managing Attorney at Earthjustice

Deborah Goldberg is a Managing Attorney at Earthjustice, the world’s first and largest nonprofit environmental law firm, where she focuses on legal advocacy and litigation related to global warming and environmental health. Originally established as the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund, Earthjustice provides legal representation—at no cost—to more than 1,000 clients, ranging from large national groups such as the Natural Resources Defense Council and the National Audubon Society, to smaller community coalitions, such as Friends of the Everglades. Before joining Earthjustice, Goldberg was the Democracy Program Director of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law.

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For The Motion

For The Motion

Katherine Hudson

Watershed Program Director at Riverkeeper

Katherine Hudson is the Watershed Program Director at Riverkeeper, a member-supported watchdog organization dedicated to defending the Hudson River and protecting the drinking water supply of nine million New York City and Hudson Valley residents. It is led by President Paul Gallay and its Chief Prosecuting Attorney Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Hudson joined Riverkeeper after nearly 25 years spent in government protecting the environment of New York State. Hudson has been Assistant Attorney General in the office’s Environmental Protection Bureau, and has served in the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, working in all program areas, including air quality, water quality, solid and hazardous waste and mining.

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Against The Motion

Against The Motion

Joe Nocera

Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times

Joe Nocera is an op-ed columnist. Before joining The Opinion Pages, he wrote the Talking Business column for The New York Times and was a staff writer for The New York Times Magazine. He also serves as a regular business commentator for NPR's Weekend Edition with Scott Simon. Before joining The Times, Nocera spent 10 years at Fortune Magazine, where he held a variety of positions, including contributing writer, editor-at-large, executive editor and editorial director. His most recent book, co-written with Bethany McLean, is All The Devils: The Hidden History of the Financial Crisis, their bestselling account of the financial crisis.

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Against The Motion

Against The Motion

Sue Tierney

Managing Principal at Analysis Group; Former Assistant Secretary for Policy at U.S. Dept. of Energy

Susan Tierney is a Managing Principal at Analysis Group, where she specializes in the electric and gas industries. She has consulted to companies, governments, non-profits, and other organizations on energy markets, economic and environmental regulation and strategy, and energy facility projects. A former Assistant Secretary for Policy at the U.S. Department of Energy and state public utility commissioner, she is a member of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s energy project and the Secretary of Energy's Advisory Board. She was appointed to the National Petroleum Council and serves as an ambassador for the U.S. Clean Energy Education & Empowerment program, an initiative of the Department of Energy and MIT.

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Declared Winner: For The Motion

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    49 comments

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    • Comment Link Hune Saturday, 27 October 2012 16:52 posted by Hune

      , I think it is generally true that pelpoe look at oil and old technology and wind power as new technology, under the presumption that learning rates are exponential and so cost decreases are going to be larger in the newer technologies. Unfortunately, all the arguments you make about oil also apply to alternative energy sources, be they biofuels or wind/solar power. There are physical limits, significant unknowns, likely unintended environmental consequences, etc. and some of them will see radical cost decreases while others will not.I agree with you 100% on the effect of extreme events in the US in shifting the policy space. If you would have seen another major hurricane or two hit the US coast the year after Katrina, I don't think there is any question that you would see much more stringent climate policy in the US and you would see a much more active role from the US on the international scene. You could ask the question of whether aggressive climate policy is more likely to happen with high oil prices, but I think the better question is to ask whether we have reasonable substitutes for carbon-based fuels if you believe in triple-digit and increasing oil prices, you are implicitly saying that the substitutes are much more expensive (true) and this also makes climate policy more challenging. On your second point, I don't think that at all. I think most pelpoe (myself included) have their favorite technologies that suit their lifestyles and preferences and would like to see those take over. It isn't a big surprise to me that you are anti-electric-car, but you are certainly in favour of a different urban infrastructure model which is in many ways a bigger challenge than throwing some 30amp feeds out to pelpoe's detached garages in the burbs. I am all in favour of more integrated planning (we must talk about Edmonton's Green Plan soon) and building environmental valuation into these decisions directly. We don't disagree on as much as you think.

    • Comment Link Kevin Saturday, 27 October 2012 10:37 posted by Kevin

      Interesting article, aotlhugh I'm not sure I follow your main argument. You seem to be saying (and correct me if I'm wrong) that high oil prices are bad for the environment because they make things like oil sands and shale gas profitable. I follow that part, aotlhugh (as you point out) high oil prices also provide incentives to develop alternative energy technologies. But then you say that low oil prices indicate that either we've found a cheaper way of extracting oil (which you suggest would produce lower GHGs) or we've more or less switched off oil. The first part of that doesn't make sense to me, because most GHGs are produced by burning fuel (not producing it) and lower prices will mean higher consumption. In any case, I think this scenario is not realistic, since we aren't going to find magical ways of extracting unconventional oil and gas as cheaply as conventional: it inevitably takes more energy because it's a lower quality deposit (and we're unlikely to discover more giant conventional fields). The second part (we've switched off oil) seems like an outcome for the distant future which would have to be preceded by higher oil prices. We're not going to magically switch to cleaner technology if oil is at 30$/bbl without massive govt intervention.So, living in the present (as opposed to the distant future), low oil prices (which are a bit hard to imagine) would just indicate higher consumption and less investment in renewable energy. However, I do think that extremely high oil prices would be bad for renewable energy development because it takes energy to develop new technologies and 200$/bbl oil would likely shift a lot of capital to the oil sands. So, I think gradually rising prices would be the best scenario. If some new information hits the market that drastically increases the price of oil (say, Saudi Arabia writes down their reserves and cuts production dramatically), that would be bad.

    • Comment Link Alexis Saturday, 20 October 2012 15:23 posted by Alexis

      Fracking's safety and eifnctfveeess is all about the quality of the operator and the exercise of power by the state. Interview the Shell Oil experts who are confident fracking can be safe and effective. Interview the Sierra Club of Texas to find out how the state's environmental "protection" agency is unlikely to impose on all operators the higher standards of fracking that dependable companies like Shell Oil espouses. Interview the Governor of Texas and ask him why he protects Wyoming and Montana coal interests to supply dirty Texas coal fired electric plants instead of creating clean air and low cost energy and most importantly lasting jobs, jobs, jobs, for Texas, by turning to a domestic natural gas energy policy. These are the issues you should be addressing. Domestic natural gas production can be safe. Until the cost and efficiency and technological gap of solar, wind, and clean low cost alternaives are achieved, it is our nation's only realistic hope in the near future for jobs, clean air, energy independence, and the national security all of that brings to us.

    • Comment Link Stuart Saturday, 20 October 2012 11:21 posted by Stuart

      Rather than the Fracking for Natural Gas, we should use the Nitrogen meohtd see my patents which pulls all the fuels from oil shale. Why leave 80% of the fuel in the ground. It is that portion that is contaminating the water sources. Yes, CryoRain Inc.'s Hydrocarbon Harvesting brings out the Natural Gas along with the ethers, gasoline, kerosene (jet fuel and diesel) and heating oil. That solves the fuel problem from home heat to the highway as well as the Natural Gas to power electric generators.

    • Comment Link Hassen Saturday, 20 October 2012 10:28 posted by Hassen

      BHP said the technology was “safe when coplued with sound operating practices”, adding that it “has joined more than 20 other companies to voluntarily disclose the chemical additives used in the hydraulic fracturing process”.Jill Wiener, an anti-fracking activist in Livingston Manor, New York, echoed sentiments evident in US anti-fracking blogs and citizen groups. “It’s nice to say they will voluntarily disclose the chemical additives, but at the end of the day we are still dealing with toxic substances that foul our water and taint our aquifers.”

    • Comment Link Pojok Friday, 12 October 2012 21:09 posted by Pojok

      BHP said the technology was “safe when cpouled with sound operating practices”, adding that it “has joined more than 20 other companies to voluntarily disclose the chemical additives used in the hydraulic fracturing process”.Jill Wiener, an anti-fracking activist in Livingston Manor, New York, echoed sentiments evident in US anti-fracking blogs and citizen groups. “It’s nice to say they will voluntarily disclose the chemical additives, but at the end of the day we are still dealing with toxic substances that foul our water and taint our aquifers.”

    • Comment Link Titto Friday, 12 October 2012 21:07 posted by Titto

      Fracking's safety and etfecfiveness is all about the quality of the operator and the exercise of power by the state. Interview the Shell Oil experts who are confident fracking can be safe and effective. Interview the Sierra Club of Texas to find out how the state's environmental "protection" agency is unlikely to impose on all operators the higher standards of fracking that dependable companies like Shell Oil espouses. Interview the Governor of Texas and ask him why he protects Wyoming and Montana coal interests to supply dirty Texas coal fired electric plants instead of creating clean air and low cost energy and most importantly lasting jobs, jobs, jobs, for Texas, by turning to a domestic natural gas energy policy. These are the issues you should be addressing. Domestic natural gas production can be safe. Until the cost and efficiency and technological gap of solar, wind, and clean low cost alternaives are achieved, it is our nation's only realistic hope in the near future for jobs, clean air, energy independence, and the national security all of that brings to us.

    • Comment Link Alyssa Thursday, 30 August 2012 20:16 posted by Alyssa

      Fracking's safety and efinvtfceeess is all about the quality of the operator and the exercise of power by the state. Interview the Shell Oil experts who are confident fracking can be safe and effective. Interview the Sierra Club of Texas to find out how the state's environmental "protection" agency is unlikely to impose on all operators the higher standards of fracking that dependable companies like Shell Oil espouses. Interview the Governor of Texas and ask him why he protects Wyoming and Montana coal interests to supply dirty Texas coal fired electric plants instead of creating clean air and low cost energy and most importantly lasting jobs, jobs, jobs, for Texas, by turning to a domestic natural gas energy policy. These are the issues you should be addressing. Domestic natural gas production can be safe. Until the cost and efficiency and technological gap of solar, wind, and clean low cost alternaives are achieved, it is our nation's only realistic hope in the near future for jobs, clean air, energy independence, and the national security all of that brings to us.

    • Comment Link Sheila Cohen Tuesday, 14 August 2012 09:02 posted by Sheila Cohen

      The request here is to vote for or against the motion which, apparently is confusing some people.

      If you are against fracking, you vote FOR the motion.

      Deborah Goldberg was the most knowledgeable of the group and presented brilliant arguments. Learn something - listen to her arguments carefully!

    • Comment Link Pat Mulligan Sunday, 12 August 2012 18:15 posted by Pat Mulligan

      I think both sides did a poor job of arguing the case with the exception of Ms Tierney. I think it would be good for them to give their sources -- their could not have been "hundreds" of drill rigs around Erie, CO. Their are only 1900+ total in the U.S., and last week their was 61 in Colorado. Also, no way does it take 4,000 trucks to haul in equipment and supplies for one well. Just a couple of the things I remember that were blown out of proportion.

    • Comment Link Rationalist Friday, 10 August 2012 10:02 posted by Rationalist

      For all of you AGAINST FRACKING, there is an even more ominous threat.

      Every day, Billions (not Millions!) of gallons of scarce water are used, thousands of pounds of unidentified petrochemicals are dispersed on unprotected soil, untold native species of plants, animals, and insects are purposely displaced (or even killed!), a huge fraction of the Earth has been clear-cut to support this horrible scourge! The US Government is even proud to subsidize this affront to nature. We should write regulations to make them STOP until the government spends more time/money studying what they are doing!

      Who are these evil people? They are called "Farmers."

    • Comment Link Rationalist Thursday, 09 August 2012 18:09 posted by Rationalist

      It seems there is a great fear of chemicals among those posting on this subject. I wonder how many of those same people have the same fear of what is in their laundry room (acids, bases, surfactants) or in their cars (glycols, carcinigens in rubber and lubricants) since it is mostly the same stuff as is used in fracking. And what starts in your laundry room eventually ends up in the drain, and what's in a car accident ends up in a storm sewer. To be consistent, shouldn't we outlaw washing and driving?

    • Comment Link kevin Monday, 30 July 2012 15:22 posted by kevin

      drill baby drill

    • Comment Link Richard Blackmore Monday, 30 July 2012 03:51 posted by Richard Blackmore

      One thing which really irritates me in a debate is the false argument of straw manning. Taking an opponents position, exagerating it, and then arguing against the exageration rather than the actual position. Mr. Tierney did this very quickly, right after she essentially argued that slowing down the boom can't be done anyway ( a clearly false argument). To me her argument failed miserably.

    • Comment Link Andrew Friday, 27 July 2012 18:40 posted by Andrew

      I don't understand why so many are confused with the voting. ok, so maybe the website designer screwed up on rendering the images, but if you actually bothered to *watch* the debate, the moderator explained very clearly how it works. If you are against fracking, you vote for the motion. If you are for fracking, you vote against the motion. Why is that so hard to understand?

    • Comment Link Nathan Sobo Monday, 16 July 2012 21:50 posted by Nathan Sobo

      Higher energy prices don't seem like the end of the world to me. That price signal will incentivize increased efficiency, which ultimately means greater productivity. Our industries are ultimately going to need to compete on a world stage. Bathing them in cheap energy is a guarantee that they'll be less efficient than foreign competition, which is risky.

    • Comment Link Mathew Hudson Monday, 09 July 2012 14:32 posted by Mathew Hudson

      I support closer regulation of the fracking process, and the materials used. Natural gas is an plentiful resource, but clean water the most precious.

    • Comment Link Kris Sunday, 01 July 2012 23:44 posted by Kris

      I am not sure why the For and Against are switched on this page. All I know is I am AGAINST FRACKING.

      The environmental issues that come with fracking are enormous and heavily outweigh the pros of fracking. The unsafe disposal of waste water and the carcinogenic chemicals being released into our natural systems will be detrimental to the health of our environment and the well being of human and animal life. If you would not allow your children to drink water found alongside the fracking process that I urge you to vote AGAINST FRACKING.

      Many people have voted incorrectly on this page. I'd like to see a true comparison where it is clear which issue is which.

    • Comment Link Ben Wold Sunday, 01 July 2012 23:41 posted by Ben Wold

      I watched the debate and in the beginning i supported the motion. At the end of the debate i supported the motion even stronger. Its too bad the economy is in the state it is and doesn't allow for slower, more thought out planning on this issue. One thing that had bothered me was i believe in the opening remarks for the "For" side, they stated that some of the chemicals used had no data to suggest how they will react to the environment over time. That concerned me. haven't we learned about environmental issues and industry ie: clear cut logging, over fishing for instance. Penicillin comes to mind as well. Governments must take the initiative and ensure proper testing and guidelines are in effect before any proposed action such as fracking take place.
      Just My Thoughts
      Ben

    • Comment Link John Campbell Sunday, 01 July 2012 22:47 posted by John Campbell

      We need to continue the development and control the risks.

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