Stephen A. Fuqua (saf)

a Bahá'í, software engineer, and nature lover in Austin, Texas, USA

Fracking: a Great Distraction from Renewables and Conservation

lighting tap water on fire

The Sky Is Pink, from the director of Gasland, makes a potent argument that we need to resist ANY gas drilling, but particularly fracking with its permanently toxic benzene, toluene, etc. In middle school I recall writing a paper for science class, about sources of groundwater pollution in Texas. Improperly-capped oil and gas wells were a major source. I was able to find the scientific research there in my middle school and public libraries. This short film reminds us that a significant increase in the number of wells translates to a significant increase in the number of leaking wells that pollute our water supplies.

The United States’ levels of greenhouse gas emissions have gone down dramatically, thanks to fracking (Discovery News). Fracking produces cheap natural gas, and thereby supplants coal. The coal industry executives that are lashing out at President Obama in recent days are blaming him for their woes, when the root causes are competition and a poor track record in basic mine safety. But, as both The Sky is Pink and this Discovery article point out, the low cost of natural gas also undermines the market for further development of renewable energy sources.

Furthermore, because the environmental / health costs of fossil fuel use are so completely “externalized” (paid by no one, the government, or individuals), the cost of natural gas can be seen as artificially low. Basic economics suggests that artificially low prices induce greater use of a product. But this is a product whose use needs to be reduced significantly. We need to turn not only to alternatives, but more importantly to further reduction in use of energy and increase in transmission efficiency so that we simply do not need to develop an ever-increasing number of wells, turbines, and fields of solar arrays.

The film talks about the strategy of distracting the public with misleading science, so that they think there is a debate going on about the health-effects of natural gas drilling (or tobacco, or climate change). Although it might not be an explicit part of the strategy, perhaps we are also becoming too mired in a debate about fracking when we should be focusing our human resources on eliminating the need for more fossil fuels altogether.

So — what have you done to reduce your energy consumption this week? Or decided not to do? I turned off my A/C on Thursday and let my office heat up to 81 deg F, with a fan sitting in the open window. Oh, and I walked the 1.5 miles to my polling place on Tuesday! But lest you think I’m being overly self-congratulatory: I got lucky. Most other weeks would not have had such data points, meager though they are.

Posted with : Social Discourse, Climate Change