‘Fracking’ debate pits science against ideology

Science and common sense, not ideology, needed in hydraulic fracturing discussion


Science and common sense are in a pitched battle against ideology here in California, where activists are pressuring state and local officials to ignore science and common sense and ban a hydraulic fracturing — a safe and proven technology that’s been used to stimulate oil and gas wells all over the United States for more than six decades.


How do we know that the anti-fracturing activists are on the fringe? Because Gov. Jerry Brown – one of the nation’s most celebrated environmentalists and a man whose political career has been enthusiastically supported by for decades by groups like the League of Conservation Voters and the Sierra Club – has flatly rejected activist calls for a halt to hydraulic fracturing in California. At a recent press conference on renewable energy, Brown said he would not climb aboard the “ideological bandwagons” of anti-industry activists, and threw his support behind state oil and gas officials who are developing updated regulations that allow hydraulic fracturing to continue under tougher oversight and disclosure requirements.


But when a reporter asked Brown to respond directly to activist demands for a halt to hydraulic fracturing, the governor went a step further – he completely dismantled the arguments of the activists who falsely claim that cutting greenhouse gases and promoting renewable energy aren’t possible without an immediate end to domestic oil and gas production.


“Do you want to get the oil from Venezuela?” Brown asked. “We have 30 million vehicles in California. That’s a lot of oil. So I think we have room to supply our need even as we reduce oil consumption. We should be reducing it much faster than we are, and hopefully we can get some national policies to do that, but that still doesn’t mean that in the meantime there isn’t oil under the ground in California that can’t be made very useful.” Brown also noted: “We want to get the greenhouse gas emissions down, but we also want to keep our economy going. And that’s that balance that’s required.”


California has a proud tradition of environmental stewardship. We have also had a robust oil and gas industry going back more than a century. The fact that we have not experienced the environmental harms that the activists claim is a testament to the fact that we have achieved that “balance” to which the Governor refers.


In other states, producing energy from shale is creating jobs, spurring economic growth, and generating much-needed tax revenue for state and local governments. According to a recent study from the University of Southern California, our own state could see hundreds of thousands of jobs created and tens of billions of dollars in new revenue from the development of the Monterey Shale, which lies beneath much of the Central Valley. That’s incredibly good news for one of the hardest hit regions in the state.


Activists claim that fracturing is unsafe.  However, scientists, state regulators, senior members of the Obama administration and many other authoritative sources have said for years that the technology is fundamentally safe.


For example, President Obama’s former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has described opposition to hydraulic fracturing as “hysteria,” because it “can be done safely and has been done safely hundreds of thousands of times.” The U.S. Department of Energy and the Ground Water Protection Council have concluded hydraulic fracturing is “safe and effective.” Mark Zoback, a Stanford geophysicist and senior adviser to the DOE, says hydraulic fracturing fluids “have not contaminated any water supply” and the technology poses a low earthquake risk because it releases about the same amount of seismic energy “as a gallon of milk falling off a kitchen counter.”  Even President Obama himself has hailed the domestic energy production made possible by hydraulic fracturing and said “we can do it in an environmentally sound way.”


Governor Brown noted that any decisions that California regulators make will be “based on science, based on common sense, and based on a deliberative process that listens to people, but also wants to take advantage of the great opportunities we have in this state.”


Science and common sense. Those beat ideology every time. — Ed’s Note: Dave Quast is California director of Energy in Depth (www.energyindepth.org), an education and research project of the California Independent Petroleum Association.

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