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 konza Saturday, 24 May 2014 19:37 posted by konza

      This vulcano the moderator is talking about exists. It's called geothermal energy.

    • Comment Link John Tuesday, 18 March 2014 19:05 posted by John

      I know 2 people that had their wells polluted from fracking and had to dig new ones.

    • Comment Link dick wall Thursday, 13 February 2014 20:55 posted by dick wall

      Watching greenies talk about Fracking is like watching 12 year olds watch their first magic card trick and some are edumacated.

      # Hydraulic fracking has been around for 60 years. Developments made by U.S. engineers around 2008-9 have simply made the process much more commercially viable.

      # Since fracking was introduced in 1949, over 2 million frack treatments have been pumped without a single documented case of treatments polluting a water aquifer.

      # 90 percent of all gas wells drilled in the United States since 1949 have been fracked.

      # The depth of most shale gas deposits drilled is between 6,000 and 10,000 feet – water aquifers exist at an average depth of 500 feet.

      # Claims of ‘migration’ between the shale gas layers and water aquifers due to fracking or for any other reason, are patently absurd as the gas would have to pass through millions of tons of impermeable rock. If the rock was that porous, neither the water nor the gas would have been there in the first place. (As the hard data in fig. 1 from a study of 15,000 frac treatments in the Barnett Shale Field reveals plainly.)

      Gasland is a total fraud. Other anti-fracking films have been supported by oil producing nations, good job damon, fooled again, just like Zinn.

    • Comment Link Ben Sunday, 15 September 2013 11:32 posted by Ben

      To all of you sold a bill of good by the movie Gasland, you should have the courage to watch the movie FrackNation. Those wells with burning water have been that way for decades before fracking was even started. There is a continual burning water fountain in the city square, it is a natural condition there.
      sad that a propaganda film can change so many minds and people are to closed minded to see the other side of the issue and find the real truth for themselves.. Fracking can help our country. I hope all the emotion and outrage from the environmentalist resulting from lies and propaganda can be countered by the truth.

    • Comment Link David Monday, 18 March 2013 22:05 posted by David

      I think Fracking for natural gas should be outlawed in all states . Sounds like our Government officials and those who favor Fracking , want an other Love Canal type of thing to happen or something like what is going on with that nuclear thing that is going on in Washington state where the A-Bomb was built , that nuclear waste is now under 200 miles of land where the storage tanks are leaking and they have 177 tanks full of the waste and each tank holds between 55,000 and 100,000 gallons of that stuff. That is crazy to inject chemicals like that in our ground , it will eventually get into our water , just like they are afraid of out in Washington state.

    • Comment Link Rodolfo Tuesday, 12 March 2013 16:27 posted by Rodolfo

      Some of the many threats from hydro-fracturing have already been documented in the Oscar nominated Gasland film. The compelling movie illustrates how the chemical and gas pollution from this destructive mining process is so pernicious, as well as totally unregulated, that in some regions local household tap water actually catches on fire.

    • Comment Link David Friday, 28 December 2012 13:00 posted by David

      Simply put, in the minds of moderate democrats and moderate conservatives, it sounds like Natural Gas is a plus in the next 100 years for the US. In the mean time, we continually develop renewables via government policy (tax incentives), etcetera. The future will be OK as long as we continually think about it.

    • Comment Link Mary Ann Walker Tuesday, 27 November 2012 12:01 posted by Mary Ann Walker

      Please see Josh Fox's Gasland, or better yet, take a trip to Dimock, PA as I did, and see a lovely bucolic village plundered and divided by the Cabot Company's fracking.

      Yes, their water will light on fire.

      And, by the way, while you're there take a drink of their brown water and propose a toast to the the fracking industry and its supporters!!

      To your health. Mary Ann Walker

    • Comment Link Marwan Friday, 16 November 2012 18:36 posted by Marwan

      amWayne, I'm not sure you realize how nacsseery and important nuclear power is to this planet. Do you realize that nationally, fossil fuels and nuclear account for over 90% of the electricity? Since there is no power source capable of replacing this baseload electricity anywhere in the foreseable future, any substantial reduction in greenhouse gas emissions is absolutely dependent on keeping nuclear as part of the generation portfolio. One need look no further than the energy policies of Denmark, Germany, and France to see the relationship between cost, emissions, and grid reliability. If you are not an expert in energy matters, then it's far too easy to simply say No more nuclear or No more coal or No more natural gas but when it comes down to it, you can't eliminate any one of these without substantially raising one or both of the others. I'd be happy to help you understand this, if you indeed are curious about the complexity of energy supply and demand.

    • Comment Link Suzan Tuesday, 13 November 2012 06:01 posted by Suzan

      Fracking's safety and effectiveness 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 alternatives 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 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.

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