Environmental Science Involves a Comprehensive View of Fossil Fuels

by Duane Nichols on June 30, 2015

Please, Please, No Environmental Science for the Fracking Industry … !

Commentary by S. Tom Bond, Retired Chemistry Professor & Resident Farmer, Lewis County, WV

Science is a system for getting a narrative, an explanation of phenomena, closer to reality.  It works by using measurements, samples of the real world, and a procedure for debating proposed explanations.  It is a huge debating society, now so diverse there are many branches.  People spend their lives learning what is known, and adding to it.  It is written down and new ideas are debated world wide.  One makes points by suggesting new explanations for data, or by finding errors in new suggestions.  Competition is fierce.  It is a very social enterprise.
Rarely, people falsify data, and present new ideas based on false data.  But one of the key principles is that experiments must be repeatable by others, so they will eventually be found out.  Basic ideas change, too. At one time it was thought the planets go around the sun in circles.  More careful measurements showed they move in ellipses.  Most additions are not very large, but sometimes there is a tremendous change, such as when it was realized that the surface of the earth consists of plates that move, Plate Tectonic Theory, a cornerstone of  Geology today.  Or the Quantum Theory, which is now a cornerstone of both chemistry and physics.

So sampling, careful measurements, and active, open debate bring science as close to the real world as anything today.  Unlike money, it has only indirect connection to power, however.  It must be financed, it doesn’t pay directly for itself, like so many things that affect us collectively, rather than individually.

The public narrative about fracking is not science.  It is the device of individuals, not even checked with connections to reality, quite like literature.  It is a good, heartwarming story, claims of abundance, jobs, affluence.

Here is a good example. It is widely promoted by those who hope to have a piece of it’s benefit, and by those who are afraid not to be a valued follower.  There is, however, a lot left out.  This particular article uses the percent increase in O&G jobs, not actual figures.  The hydrocarbons for burning industries are high in investment, but actually low in labor, in contrast to solar and wind.  The US gas industry has smaller reserves, much smaller, than places overseas, which already have production equipment in place, ready to pump. You can check this out yourself. 

The four nations ahead of us have 12.7 times as much gas, and Russia in particular hasn’t even prospected it’s area completely.  The nations following the U. S. also have half-again as much as the four ahead of the US.  So the natural gas industry is pumping gas from a smaller reserve with a bigger straw, which must be paid for with new money.  Plus, they are building gas liquefaction plants and ships to move it across the ocean.

Then there is the matter of denial of ill effects on the environment and our people.  Some examples of relevant research are the following:
>>> Why is there a huge methane hotspot in the American Southwest?
>>> Lancashire fracking in doubt following UK critical report

>>> Stanford biologist warns of early stages of Earth’s 6th mass extinction event. 

>>> Impact of Natural Gas Extraction on PAH Levels in Ambient Air.

>>> Perinatal Outcomes and Unconventional Natural Gas Operations in Southwest Pennsylvania.

>>> Evaluating a groundwater supply contamination incident attributed to Marcellus Shale gas development.

>>> And from Science, the premiere publication of the AAAS, United States Ecosystem Services Lost to oil and gas in North America (24 April 15, p.401).
The quantity of such research doubles each year, in spite of the failure of cooperation from the industry, which is not interested in verifiable facts, but in promoting it’s narrative. And, this is quality research, most in peer reviewed journals.
It is amazing how poor the education of many people making important decisions really is.  My guess is there are few climate change deniers whose knowledge of the physics involved is at the level of a first year student.  They don’t know enthalpy of vaporization, enthalpy of fusion, heat capacity, coefficient of expansion.  Nor do they know the Earth Science of the Global Ocean Heat Conveyor, or the Hadley, Farrell and Polar cells.  You shouldn’t worry if you don’t know these terms and how they relate to global warming, unless you are writing contradictions to climate scientists.  It is all available to those who want to take the time, however.
Very few fracking executives or midstaff understand elementary toxicology. Nor does the industry as a whole have such expertise.   And it’s well understood that any employee who is not loyal to the objectives of the firm gets the boot.  That is hard on one’s professional standing.  If trained in petroleum science and you loose a job by being a whistle blower, it will be hard to find another.  CIA employees aren’t the only ones who have to “go along to get along.”
And the same with politicians.  As I’ve said before, they don’t have time for research or going out in the field and talking to constituents.  They have to spend their time raising money and getting re-elected.  It’s all power brokering. This results in monstrosities such as the WV Senator who is on the Senate Clean Air Committee AND fighting to preserve Coal.  In Pennsylvania they have bills that removes liability for drillers who use acid mine drainage for fracking.  Isn’t that a cracker jack?
There is no long-term view, hardly more than the next quarter, certainly none as long as it will take to pay off the debts. And no depth beyond “common sense.”  If “ignorance is bliss”  this must be the finest hour for the hydrocarbon burning industries.  They have pumped up a “full head of steam,” but can’t see beyond the current wave.

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