Why New York’s fracking ban matters

The science is not in on fracking. There is lots of anecdotal evidence that fracking causes all manner of  problems, including contaminated water supplies and possibly even earthquakes. But especially when compared to other conventional energy generation techniques, including tar sands and nuclear power, it is unclear if banning fracking should be an environmentalist’s top priority.

There is, for example, no evidence at all the fracking leads to breast cancer (contrary to the borrowed graphics in my Pinkwash post). Yes, there are lots of nasty chemicals in fracking fluids, and certainly lots of them are toxic. But as my toxicologist and environmentalist friend Will Forest is fond of reminding me, “The first rule of toxicology is that the dose makes the poison.” Volumetrically, the amount of these chemicals being put into the water supply may well be so tiny as to not be a huge problem.

We do know there are better ways

We do know there are better ways

We can still unhesitatingly celebrate the New York ban anyway, for several reasons. At the top of the list is that fracking technology in the US has been promoted by the oil industry with a principal focus on profits. Dick Cheney famously exempted fracking companies from the Clean Water Act, creating what is oft referred to as the Halliburton Loophole, after the company he once ran. Fracking companies have successfully avoided even listing all the chemicals they use in the process, siting the importance of their “trade secrets,” again prioritizing profits over public health, while also impeding the investigation of health science. The EPA has been a tool of the oil industry, and not just under Bush/Cheney, revising their critical findings almost whenever the industry complains.

Gasoline prices in the US are low, largely because of fracking. The US enjoys a significant competitive advantage over both Europe and Japan, with natural gas prices of 1/3 to 1/4 respectively. The oil industry estimates that unconventional oil and gas production will more than double the current 1.7 million jobs it provides by 2035. But none of this economic “good news” should change our mind about the NY fracking ban, or any other state’s effort to ban this controversial process.

The end of peak oil, for now.

The end of peak oil, for now.

What is the absolute worst case here? Let’s assume the industry is right. If it turns out that there are no or only minimal environmental effects due to fracking, the science comes in and proves that this fear-based campaign to stop fracking in New York was a complete mistake. Then the fantastically powerful oil industry will simply get the next governor of NY to reverse the ban (which they’ll likely attempt anyway) and all that will have been lost is next quarters profits.

We can afford to wait.

Congrats to NY activists who won this fight

Congrats to NY activists who won this fight

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About paxus

a funologist, memeticist and revolutionary. Can be found in the vanity bin of Wikipedia and in locations of imminent calamity. buckle up, there is going to be some rough sledding.

3 responses to “Why New York’s fracking ban matters”

  1. Nekk says :

    “The dose makes the poison” is not universally accepted! Many scientists will tell you that the problem with environmental toxins is that their effect is cumulative, sometimes manifesting in diseases passed on to offspring. Small doses over time can have a dramatic impact.

    And the precautionary principle rightly protects us when, decades from now, it turns out that the harm does come to many, by which time it’s too late to fix it and there’s also nobody to hold accountable.

    Yeah, what if industry is right, and what if the studies they publish are actually honest? I mean, they never have been before. But let’s try trusting them this time. We might as well gamble all our collective futures on a segment of the population which only has a history of doing things in the collective worst interests. Because…I can’t think of why, actually.

  2. Will says :

    I wonder why I have never seen data showing the actual levels of specific contaminants in water contaminated by fracking. It could be that environmentalists (my side of the argument) mostly don’t understand the importance of dosage levels, or that we know that talking about poisons is more compelling than talking about dosage levels. And it could be that oil companies know perfectly well that the amounts or contaminants really are a problem, or it could be that they know that it’s no use explaining that the amounts are very low because most of us don’t understand that that really can make them not a problem. In any case, I encourage anyone with actual data on contaminant levels to publicize it so that we can really evaluate the issue.

    • Nekk says :

      That’s called framing the issue. Industry is who decided that this is the question.

      The question really is, can industry be trusted this time? Does industry have a horrible track record? Who benefits? Who will care when a town is poisoned?

      These questions have clear answers. Thus, industry reframes the debate with a question that doesn’t implicate them so immediately.

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