Thursday, April 12, 2012

Skepticism and Fracking

There seems to be little doubt that fracking can be an unmitigated environmental disaster. I know quite a few people, some of whom I respect, who are opposed to fracking in any and all forms. But I have also heard it said -- though now I can't recall where -- that fracking, if properly regulated, can be reasonably environmentally-friendly (as environmentally-friendly as any technique whose sole purpose is to harvest fossil fuels, of course...). And it doesn't help matters that there has been some anti-fracking hysteria which is just clearly bullshit.

Whether fracking is ever a good idea turns out to be a pretty technical topic, and I just don't know where to start on it. I honestly have no idea. I know there are at least some people on the anti-fracking side who are completely full of it, and I know there are at least some people on the pro-fracking side who are perfectly willing to tell egregious and damaging lies to make a buck. In such a situation, facts must be the ultimate arbiter, but I just don't know the facts.

I haven't read barely anything about fracking in the skeptical blogosphere. I know it is distinctly anti-skeptical to want other bloggers to tell me what to think... but, hell, I'll be honest: I just sorta hope somebody else -- hopefully somebody whose work I already trust so I can be reasonably sure they aren't cherry-picking -- does the legwork so that I can bone up on the facts with having to, you know, find them for myself.

Really, given the prominence of the controversy in the media, I'm somewhat surprised I haven't read about it on, e.g. Bad Astronomy or something. Anybody got any links?


  1. Nice fracking post.

    I wonder if the controversy over fracking might move to the back burner in the near future.

    I read the other day that over production (largely as a result of fracking) combined with an usually mild winter has resulted in depressed prices for natural gas (lowest in a decade) that could go a lot lower/collapse if we max out our storage capacity. The economic incentive to produce natural gas isn't as strong right now as is it once was.

  2. Around here, at least, fracking as almost become a proxy war for the larger culture war. I could see people continuing to argue about it even after everybody decided there was no economic incentive to do it :)

  3. Well, from what I heard on NPR the other day, the price of methane may be moot. Apparently the value of some of the byproducts/co-products of methane fracking (petroleum liquids, propane, etc) makes fracking profitable even if the price of methane is $0.

    1. ... and the companies have to keep the wells in operation to maintain their leases.