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Earth Science

Finding Fault With Anti-Fracking Science Claims 505

Posted by timothy
from the grain-of-salt-reads-like-an-editorial dept.
A widely carried Associated Press article (here, as run by the Wall Street Journal) reports that some of the convincingly scientific-sounding claims of opponents of fracking don't seem to hold up to scrutiny. That's not to say that all is peaches: the article notes, for instance, that much of the naturally radioactive deep water called flowback forced up along with fracking-extracted gas "was once being discharged into municipal sewage treatment plants and then rivers in Pennsylvania," leading to concern about pollution of public water supplies. Public scrutiny and regulation mean that's no longer true. But specific claims about cancer rates, and broader ones about air pollution or other ills, are not as objective as they might appear to be, according to Duke professor Avner Vengosh and others. An excerpt: "One expert said there's an actual psychological process at work that sometimes blinds people to science, on the fracking debate and many others. 'You can literally put facts in front of people, and they will just ignore them,' said Mark Lubell, the director of the Center for Environmental Policy and Behavior at the University of California, Davis. Lubell said the situation, which happens on both sides of a debate, is called 'motivated reasoning.' Rational people insist on believing things that aren't true, in part because of feedback from other people who share their views, he said."
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Finding Fault With Anti-Fracking Science Claims

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  • by broginator (1955750) on Sunday July 22, 2012 @07:56PM (#40732437)
    I see what you did there...
  • by Tanktalus (794810) on Sunday July 22, 2012 @07:56PM (#40732443) Journal
    I've always just called it "confirmation bias." I see it just as much in the left wing as the right, and nearly every other area of human interaction. Why should sciences be exempt?
    • by JoshuaZ (1134087) on Sunday July 22, 2012 @08:32PM (#40732639) Homepage
      Confirmation bias certainly exists throughout the political spectrum. However, it does seem that political partisanship has made it worst in the right end of the political spectrum than the left end. In particular, the more educated self-identified conservatives are, the more they doubt climate change is real. http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1871503&http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1871503 [ssrn.com], but the reverse occurs for nuclear power and liberals, or vaccines and liberals, the more educated they are, the more likely they are to agree with the scientific consensus despite the views associated with their end of the political spectrum that run against it. This breaks down pretty badly outside the US though http://www.esds.ac.uk/doc/5357/mrdoc/pdf/5357userguide.pdf [esds.ac.uk]. Similarly, there's some evidence that conservatives respond more poorly than liberals to data that undermines their ideological claims (there was a Slashdot article that linked to this but I can't unfortunately find it right now). The upshot is that while there's definite political tribalism and confirmation bias throughout the political spectrum, at present there seem to be cultural issues that are making the problem more extreme among self-identified conservatives, although why is not at all clear.
      • by Belial6 (794905) on Sunday July 22, 2012 @08:43PM (#40732705)

        Confirmation bias certainly exists throughout the political spectrum. However, it does seem that political partisanship has made it worst in the right end of the political spectrum than the left end.

        I see what you did there....

      • by khallow (566160)
        Conservatism in particular is not a right wing phenomenon, but can happen to any belief system. The Precautionary Principle is the ultimate expression of conservatism, yet it's a left wing, environmentalism thing. And there's always people complaining that if we remove minor social programs, that we're revert to 19th century societies with sweat shops, pea soup smogs, and such.

        And as long as we're considering such research how about the stuff kicking around that allegedly shows the right wing being more
    • by 1u3hr (530656)
      It's not a science journal, it's the fucking WALL STREET Journal.

      What could be the motive behind an article in the Wall Street Journal implying that opponents of fracking are a bunch of superstitious self-deluded fools for opposing this wonderful technology. The same WSJ that periodically "debunks" global warming as a conspiracy.

  • One Sided science (Score:3, Insightful)

    by jmorris42 (1458) * <`jmorris' `at' `beau.org'> on Sunday July 22, 2012 @07:58PM (#40732457)

    When some of us question the shaky science of AGW we are called anti-science, 'deniers' and worse. Hell, semi reputable idiots on the AGW team actually say we should be outlawed or otherwised silenced. I await with breathless anticipation the sudden 180, where dissent is again patiotic... and we have always been at war with Eastasia.

    Why not lets meet in the middle and admit what my team has been saying for a long time, that science, being a human endeavor, has been politicized. Then we can all agree that every idiot in a lab coat (or worse, a politican who wears one on TV) shouldn't be blindly trusted. That science, and more importantly the ways of science, are important tools to knowledge but that scientists should only be allowed to inform policy decision, never to use argument from authority to impose policy.

    • by drooling-dog (189103) on Sunday July 22, 2012 @08:23PM (#40732591)

      When some of us question the shaky science of AGW we are called anti-science, 'deniers' and worse

      Then perhaps you'd be well advised to start making formal scientific arguments in the peer-reviewed literature, rather than going through public relations firms hired to appeal directly to the public. If the data is on your side, then work it up to the same standards as everyone else and present it. Unless you do that, it's not science.

      Or, like the GOP, you could just claim that more research is needed before actionable conclusions are made, all the while trying to cut funding for the very research you say we have too little of.

      • by williamhb (758070) on Sunday July 22, 2012 @09:30PM (#40732913) Journal

        Then perhaps you'd be well advised to start making formal scientific arguments in the peer-reviewed literature, rather than going through public relations firms hired to appeal directly to the public. If the data is on your side, then work it up to the same standards as everyone else and present it. Unless you do that, it's not science.

        Sorry to use you as a data point, but half the issue is in public policy debates (which are the very definition of politics), "science" becomes a very slippery term. When someone wants to argue for something, the goalposts widen and almost anything is science (usually together with rallying cries of how great science is -- "science gave us the toaster, television, put a man on the moon. ..." -- quietly drafting the engineers, product designers, anything vaguely technical as being "science"). But when someone wants to argue against something, the goalposts narrow and we insist on journal publications, and which journal ("of course not the Journal of Field I Think is Flawed").

        Fundamentally, these debates put the cart before the horse. Slashdotters and others like to insist that "if it's science, policy should follow it" -- ie that science has a right to have more impact. In academia (currently the home of science) however, impact is a metric not a right. Whether your science has impact is a measure of its value and you have no automatic right to people listening to you whatsoever, regardless of where you are published.

        • by drooling-dog (189103) on Sunday July 22, 2012 @11:34PM (#40733503)

          Well, you're just wrong about that. "Science" is not some oracle out of the Wizard of Oz that pronounces on the truth and falsehood of things. I don't know a single scientist who thinks that way, and I've known quite a few.

          But you're right about not expecting science - or reason - to be a universal value that dictates (or even informs) policy. Politics is about balancing interests, and the weight of an interest is measured in dollars, not papers. I've heard people say that Republicans are scientifically illiterate, but I don't think that's true at all, at least not at the top. The GOP rejects science and reason not because they're ignorant, but because once you commit to a rational basis for government, your power is immediately diminished. Real power is power you can exercise arbitrarily, according to the side your toast is buttered on at the moment. You don't want a bunch of eggheads with their studies forcing your hand in one direction when the big money wants something else. We've been through this with the tobacco industry, we're going through it now with the fossil energy industry, and we'll go through it again with other moneyed interests.

          The petroleum industry can afford to hire all of the scientists they want and more, but they know that won't get them the results they need. So why not just knock science off of its pedestal completely, in the eyes of the public?

      • by A nonymous Coward (7548) on Sunday July 22, 2012 @11:28PM (#40733469)

        Take, for instance, the recentish revelations that climate models weren't taking clouds into consideration very well, if at all.

        Or look at the spread of predictions, with the extreme ones predicting 20-30 foot sea level rise by 2100.

        Or the 1970 (?) climate models which predicted global cooling.

        It's all just science, nothing remarkable in its variability, but the left wing fanatics take the extreme predictions as gospel and refuse to even admit there's any uncertainty, while the right win uses the uncertainty as excuse to doubt everything.

        I figure that all those who take definitive positions are the true fanatics, whether left or right, refusing to recognize the reality that the future is not as predictable as they would wish.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by MightyMartian (840721)

      The problem here is that reality doesn't give a fuck about middle ground or accommodation. If AGW is happening, and the vast majority of experts say it is, then you're rather disingenuous attempt at being "reasonable" is utterly worthless in the long run.

    • Re:One Sided science (Score:5, Informative)

      by docmordin (2654319) on Sunday July 22, 2012 @09:34PM (#40732933)
      And I await, with breathless anticipation, the day that many of the AGW deniers can actually form a cogent argument and start to refute the underlying mathematical models, e.g.,

      J. M. Murphy, et al., "Quantification of modelling uncertainties in a large ensemble of climate change simulations", Nature 430: 768-772, 2004
      J. M. Murphy, et al., "A methodology for probabilistic predictions of regional climate change from perturbed physics ensembles", Phil. Trans. R. Soc. A 365: 1993-2028, 2007
      D. A. Stainforth, et al., "Confidence, uncertainty and decision-support relevance in climate predictions", Phil. Trans. R. Soc. A 365: 2145-2161, 2007
      P. A. Stott and C. E. Forest, "Ensemble climate predictions using climate models and observational constraints", Phil. Trans. R. Soc. A 365: 2029-2052, 2007
      C. Tebaldi and R. Knutti, "The use of the multi-model ensemble in probabilistic climate projections", Phil. Trans. R. Soc. A 365: 2053-2075, 2007
      J. D. Annan and J. C. Hargreaves, "Efficient estimation and ensemble generation in climate modelling", Phil. Trans. R. Soc. A 365: 2077-2088, 2007
      M. New, et al., "Challenges in using probabilistic climate change information for impact assessments: An example from the water sector", Phil. Trans. R. Soc. A 365: 2117-2131, 2007
      H. Huebener, et al. "Ensemble climate simulations using a fully coupled ocean–troposphere–stratosphere general circulation model", Phil. Trans. R. Soc. A 365: 2089-2101, 2007
      S. H. Schneider and M. D. Mastrandrea, "Probabilistic assessment of 'dangerous' climate change and emissions pathways", Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. USA 102: 15728-15735, 2005
      F. Giorgi and R. Francisco, "Evaluating uncertainties in the prediction of regional climate change", Geophys. Res. Lett 27: 1295-1298, 2000
      M. R. Allen and W. J. Ingram, "Constraints on future changes in climate and the hydrological cycle", Nature 419, 224-232, 2002
      M. R. Allen, et al., Quantifying the uncertainty in forecasts of anthropogenic climate change", Nature 417: 617-620, 2000
      F. Giorgi and L. O. Mearns, "Probability of regional climate change based on the Reliability Ensemble Averaging (REA) method", Geophys. Res. Lett. 30: 1629, 2003
      N. G. Andronova and M. E. Schlesinger, "Objective estimation of the probability density function for climate sensitivity", J. Geophys. Res. 106: 22605-22612, 2001
      C. E. Forest, et al., "Quantifying uncertainties in climate system properties with the use of recent climate observations", Science 295: 113-117, 2002
      R. Knutti, et al., "Constraints on radiative forcing and future climate change from observations and climate model ensembles", Nature 416: 719-723, 2002
      J. Gregory, et al., "An observationally based estimate of the climate sensitivity", J. Clim. 15: 3117-3121, 2002
      R. J. Stouffer and S. Manabe, "Response of a coupled ocean-atmosphere model to increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide: sensitivity to the rate of increase", J. Clim. 12: 2224-2237, 1999
      D. A. Stainforth, et al., "Uncertainty in predictions of the climate response to rising levels of greenhouse gases", Nature 433: 403-406, 2005
      J. Reilly, et al., "Uncertainty in climate change assessments", Science 293: 430-433, 2001
      V. D. Pope, et al., "The impact of new physical parameterisations in the Hadley Centre climate model - HadAM3", Clim. Dyn. 16: 123–146, 2000
      K. D. Williams, et al., "Transient climate change in the Hadley centre models: The role of physical processes" J. Clim. 14: 2659–2674 2001
      G. C. Hegerl, et al., "Climate sensitivity constrained by temperature reconstructions over the past seven centuries", Nature 440: 1029-1032, 2006
      C. Piani, et al., "Constraints on climate change from a multi-thousand member ensemble of simulations", Geophys. Res. Lett. 32: L32825, 2005
      D. N. Barnett, et al., "Quantifying uncertainty in changes in extreme event frequency in response to doubled CO2 using a large ensemble of GCM simulations", Clim. Dyn. 26: 489-511, 2006
      C. Tebaldi and B. Sanso, "Joint project
    • by Paul Fernhout (109597) on Sunday July 22, 2012 @09:35PM (#40732937) Homepage

      From the mid 1990s by the Vice-provost of Caltech: http://www.its.caltech.edu/~dg/crunch_art.html [caltech.edu]
      "Peer review is usually quite a good way to identify valid science. Of course, a referee will occasionally fail to appreciate a truly visionary or revolutionary idea, but by and large, peer review works pretty well so long as scientific validity is the only issue at stake. However, it is not at all suited to arbitrate an intense competition for research funds or for editorial space in prestigious journals. There are many reasons for this, not the least being the fact that the referees have an obvious conflict of interest, since they are themselves competitors for the same resources. This point seems to be another one of those relativistic anomalies, obvious to any outside observer, but invisible to those of us who are falling into the black hole. It would take impossibly high ethical standards for referees to avoid taking advantage of their privileged anonymity to advance their own interests, but as time goes on, more and more referees have their ethical standards eroded as a consequence of having themselves been victimized by unfair reviews when they were authors. Peer review is thus one among many examples of practices that were well suited to the time of exponential expansion, but will become increasingly dysfunctional in the difficult future we face."

      More like that:
      http://www.pdfernhout.net/to-james-randi-on-skepticism-about-mainstream-science.html#Some_quotes_on_social_problems_in_science [pdfernhout.net]

      Also:
      http://www.counterpunch.org/2010/02/26/peer-review-as-censorship/ [counterpunch.org]

      All reasoning is also based on emotion, which relate to perceptions, assumptions, priorities and preferences which are, to some extent, outside of pure rationality (which why "technocracy" has many issues).
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Descartes'_Error [wikipedia.org]

      But the biggest issue is that our socio-economic-political system is not well-adapted to handle "externalities" including systemic risks.
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Externality [wikipedia.org]

      Any reasonable projection over the next twenty years shows we will almost certainly have dirt-cheap PV given exponential growth of that industry and rapidly dropping costs. We may even have hot or cold fusion in that time (and other things). With alternatives on the way, there is not a very good case to be made for risking destroy our groundwater for just a bit more fossil fuels:
      http://cleantechnica.com/2011/05/29/ge-solar-power-cheaper-than-fossil-fuels-in-5-years/ [cleantechnica.com]
      http://www.solarbuzz.com/facts-and-figures/retail-price-environment/module-prices [solarbuzz.com]
      http://bigthink.com/think-tank/ray-kurzweil-solar-will-power-the-world-in-16-years [bigthink.com]
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grid_parity#Solar_power [wikipedia.org]
      http://pesn.com/2012/07/19/9602138_LENR-to-Market_Weekly_July19/ [pesn.com]
      http://www.technologyreview.com/news/414559/a-new-approach-to-fusion/ [technologyreview.com]
      And so on...

      Accounting for externalities (including US defense spending for long oil supply lines), renewables (and energy efficiency) have been *cheaper* than fossil fuels since the 1970s... Two resources on that from around 1980:

  • by GrahamCox (741991) on Sunday July 22, 2012 @08:07PM (#40732499) Homepage
    Whether fracking is scientifically sound or not, we have just got to stop this desperate scrabbling to dig up any scrap of fossil fuel we can find.

    The world is acting like an addict that will do anything to get their next fix, no matter how damaging it could be, or what the consequences could be that we just don't care to think about. I'm no treehugger but even I think this is like raiding grandma's handbag to give to "my man" and it's embarrassing, undignified and immoral.

    The first step to recovery is to admit the problem. We're still in denial.
    • by Sarius64 (880298) on Sunday July 22, 2012 @08:20PM (#40732577)

      No rational person is in denial. In general, they marvel at the fact that our energy policy is still controlled by actors' feelings.

      Thorium: It is about three times more abundant than uranium and about as common as lead.

      http://www.hobart.k12.in.us/ksms/PeriodicTable/thorium.htm

      http://thoriumforum.com/explanation-lftr-liquid-fluoride-thorium-reactor

      The number one complaint I see about thorium is that we'll have to teach engineers new techniques and safety systems. Really?

      • by AmiMoJo (196126)

        The big problems with Thorium reactors are not technical. To build a commercial scale reactor would cost in the many tens of billions of dollars range and take about 10 years all said and done. That gets you a demo plant and certification. Then you have to convince companies to actually buy the things and run them for 30+ years when there are cheaper and proven alternatives, and at a time when the world in general is going of nuclear.

        There is also the issue of waste when the plant is decommissioned. Thorium

    • by The Mighty Buzzard (878441) on Sunday July 22, 2012 @08:22PM (#40732587)

      Whether fracking is scientifically sound or not, we have just got to stop this desperate scrabbling to dig up any scrap of fossil fuel we can find..

      Why, exactly? You have a specific reason in mind as to why we should avoid continued gathering of an existing resource when we've got no currently viable alternative?

      • Viable alternatives (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Gavrielkay (1819320) on Sunday July 22, 2012 @08:30PM (#40732623)
        I wonder how much more viable clean and renewable alternatives would be if the fossil fuel industry was not subsidized and was responsible for the clean up of its mess. I've seen smog and soot and smelled what thousands of gas burning cars do to the air. That has a cost that is hard to measure.

        Alternatives would become more financially competitive if more work were put into them. I'd love to see the money oil companies spent on defending their dirty businesses go to research and development of cleaner technologies.
        • by garett_spencley (193892) on Sunday July 22, 2012 @10:37PM (#40733237) Journal

          "I'd love to see the money oil companies spent on defending their dirty businesses go to research and development of cleaner technologies."

          I'd love to see their money go to paying my mortgage and buying me a corvette, but it's their money.

          You did mention subsidies and I agree with you completely. In the case of subsidies it's not their money. But instead of giving that money to some other business venture I'd rather give it back to the tax payers and let them decide who deserves to get it. Government and business need to be kept separate for the exact same reason that government and church do. When state and church lay in bed they tell us what to do with our minds, when state and business lay in bed they tell us what to do with our bodies. It amazes me that so many who are opposed to religion making its way into politics don't see the problem with government and business mingling; or maybe they do, they just don't see the similarities between regulating thoughts and regulating trade.

          I don't really care too much about "viable alternatives." I'm more worried about legal alternatives. As with all scarce resources, prices will rise as supply diminishes. When people are hungry for energy there will be a lot of money to be made in providing it. I'm not so worried about running out of fossil fuel as I am about legal barriers in place preventing new startups with mere millions from competing with the big boys who have the courts and police and politicians in their pockets.

          • by AmiMoJo (196126)

            I'd love to see their money go to paying my mortgage and buying me a corvette, but it's their money.

            What a bizarre attitude.

            I'd love to seem my neighbours clean up all the rat infested rubbish they keep dumping, but it's their yard.

            I'd love to see criminals not stabbing people, but it's their knife.

            I think we will find that we regulate people's behaviour for everyone's benefit all the time, and that includes big multinational companies. We just need to regulate them a bit better. Well, okay, a lot better.

            Business operates with license from us. We make the rules.

      • by GrahamCox (741991) on Sunday July 22, 2012 @08:34PM (#40732655) Homepage
        Because on a geological timescale, what we're doing is releasing all the CO2 that has ever been sequestered on earth ALL AT ONCE. If you can't see there could be a problem with that you are in denial.

        There are plenty of viable alternatives, they just need to be funded to the same extent as the fossil fuel industries.
    • by khallow (566160)
      The "fix" in this case produces an industrial civilization rather than a temporary high. That makes comparisons to addiction rather iffy.
    • by williamhb (758070) on Sunday July 22, 2012 @09:50PM (#40733021) Journal

      Whether fracking is scientifically sound or not, ...

      There is a mistake going on in the debate -- when someone tries to turn it into a scientific argument, which sounds very noble, what they are also doing is suggesting that the scientific conclusion should be the policy conclusion as a matter of course. If it's the best theory at the time, that's what we should go with. Unfortunately that is often a seriously bad idea as science and policy have very different risk profiles. If you try your scientific theory out and it is wrong, you revise the theory and move on. If you try your scientific theory out in a safety-critical environment, it is wrong, and everyone dies, you don't. This is why, for instance, pharmaceuticals have to jump through many hoops to prove their safety long after they have proved their efficacy (ie, long after they have become the best available scientific theory of their effect) and long after they have been shown to be theoretically safe. What we certainly do not want is policy being coerced by arguments that "there is no empirical evidence that it would cause (plausible catastrophic problem X)" which sounds rhetorically like it means "we've experimentally determined it wouldn't" but actually just means "nobody ran a decent enough experiment to find out it would".

  • Coincidentally.... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Phrogman (80473) on Sunday July 22, 2012 @08:09PM (#40732503) Homepage

    Some "Scientists" insist on presenting as "facts" things which are not necessarily true. As long as scientific studies are being produced with a pronounced bias towards a particular viewpoint, I think people will tend to disbelieve scientific studies that disagree with the view that they hold. When Corporations can pay for studies that "prove" their viewpoint but appear to be unbiased why should we believe everything we are told just because a scientist says its so. If they remain neutral then they gain credibility but the more biased opinions that get passed off as "scientific fact" the weaker their credibility. I am thinking here of some of the studies done with the financing of Big Pharma that just happen to support a product they are selling/developing, and then later we discover it was all a sham.

  • Sad saga. (Score:4, Informative)

    by Antony T Curtis (89990) on Sunday July 22, 2012 @08:14PM (#40732527) Homepage Journal

    The sad thing in this whole saga is that we can actually source a large amount of our demand for natural gas from our own waste using technology which has been known for centuries. Instead, we simply choose to landfill our waste. What a waste.

    We actually have the technology today to source almost all our needs for natural gas in environmentally sound ways. That there are crazy subsidies on continuing the status quo means that the environment loses.

    The best thing that any government can do for the environment is to eliminate all subsidies.

    • by Animats (122034)

      The sad thing in this whole saga is that we can actually source a large amount of our demand for natural gas from our own waste using technology which has been known for centuries.

      Not really. Most sewerage disposal plants generate methane and use it for power. There's more than enough to run the plant, but it's not a major source of power. Our local landfills in Silicon Valley capture methane to generate power. The big landfill near Google HQ used to do that, but over time, the methane decay slowed down, the generators were removed, and a golf course and rock music venue were put on top of the garbage piles.

  • by circletimessquare (444983) <circletimessquare&gmail,com> on Sunday July 22, 2012 @08:30PM (#40732629) Homepage Journal

    the marcellus shale has so much natural gas, we could all start driving cars powered by natural gas and all of the geopolitical headaches of oil would just go away. plus, with no incentive to safeguard foreign petroleum, we could just not care about security in the middle east

    however, that's all fine and dandy until you consider the possibility that you are trading energy security for poisoned underground aquifers. i like my water supply clean, thanks

    but the fracking goes on on a level far below the water table

    still, it's like puncture holes that can induce mixing between layers. the poisons are not necessarily just from the fracking chemicals, there are all sorts of completely natural nasty minerals you don't want mixed up and introduced into your water supply with some artificial mayhem underground

    the need then becomes that states and local governments REQUIRE drilling companies to go through a process whereby

    1. they absolutely guarantee they follow procedures to carefully puncture the water table,
    2. then seal their operations off from the water table, during operations,
    3. and finally, when operations cease, to make sure they have a seal that is inspected and certified as the best we can technologically do

    the problem is people acting too quickly and shoddy efforts and abandoned responsibilities, the usual lax standards when there is no fierce regulatory body around: you get the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico

    this is a case where strict government regulation is an absolute must. government regulation something that is apparently evil according republicans. i guess republicans don't have to turn the faucet on in their home!

    finally, there is the issue of the chemicals they are using your fracking. a lot of these mictures are trade secrets. well, that trade secret veil needs to be pierced: if it goes into the ground near my water table, i don't give a flying f*ck about your trade secrets, i want to know what you are pumping down there, and my right to know that my water is safe supersedes your capitalist imperative

    however, i was recently amused to find out one major componet of the fracking brew:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/17/world/asia/fracking-in-us-lifts-guar-farmers-in-india.html [nytimes.com]

    Guar gum!

    Yes, the same thing you see listed as a thickener on your ice cream!

    Which makes sense, you want to shove something down there thick and rigid and with a high viscosity to shove the natural gas back up: water laced with sand and thickeners. Makes sense.

    So this relieves my worry somewhat. But I still want to know every chemical going into the ground. I don't care about your trade secrets, it's my water!

    • by Teun (17872) on Sunday July 22, 2012 @09:44PM (#40732979) Homepage
      Well written.
      I work in the business and all this fracking panic in the US is justified for one simple reason, the US oil companies are not regulated.

      So at the same time I say fracking can technically be done in a controlled and responsible way but not with the present US legislation that has grown companies devoid of any moral.

  • by Okian Warrior (537106) on Sunday July 22, 2012 @08:37PM (#40732671) Homepage Journal

    There's no such thing as "motivated reasoning", there's only "reasoning", and it's not a good way to make policy.

    Science is based on observation, and as a result we get "evidence-based" decisions. Knowing the likely result because you've done it before makes for good decisions.

    When you have a lot of observations, you can sometimes discover underlying laws, rules, and insight into the mechanisms of outcome. This results in "analysis-based" decisions.

    "Analysis-based" decisions are only valid when the rules and insight are properly applied. In any situation, you have to correctly identify that the rules you use is valid, and you *also* have to know that no other rules apply. No one does this perfectly and at all times, and so "analysis-based" decisions are less likely to be correct.

    For an example, consider predicting the behaviour of an electrical circuit. The rules and insight for electronics are straightforward, but consider how often a real-life circuit fails to work as predicted. The same is true for software: setting aside bugs and misunderstanding of requirements, how often does a piece of software exhibit unpredicted behaviour?

    And finally, there's "story-based" reasoning. That's where you make predictions based on gut feel and experience using insights from other disciplines, and then make decisions based on that. Economics is reasoning based on stories, as is Intelligent design.

    For this example, in economics it's well known that a little inflation is good, a lot of inflation is bad, and negative inflation is very bad. What is the optimal value? Is the value exact, or can it be a little off (ie - is the plot of good/bad sharply peaked, or relatively flat)? How does one even *calculate* inflation?

    Economics is all opinions and "schools of thought" with no predictive power. It explains why something happened, but it never seems to tell us what will happen next.

    We need to get away from "story-based" decisions and rely more on evidence. Civilization is at a point where we now have unprecedented levels of information and data which could be mined for evidence and used to make decisions, so long as we ask the right questions.

    For questions for which we have no readily available evidence, we should be gathering it. In cases where the risk/reward equation yields a high risk, such as permanently damaging the water supply over a wide swath of the country, it might be prudent to hold off until proper evidence has been gathered.

    • by cpu6502 (1960974) on Sunday July 22, 2012 @09:24PM (#40732893)

      >>>Economics is all opinions and "schools of thought" with no predictive power.

      The Austrian school predicted the dot-com bubble would crash, which is did during Clinton's final year. Then they predicted another bubble based on housing before it happened, and while it was going-on they predicted it would burst and crash the economy. They got all three things right.

      They also predicted the TARP bailouts and stimulus and QE1 would create another bubble, which did indeed happen (the derivatives are leveraged at a higher rate in 2012 than they were in 2007), and now they are saying that bubble will burst too.

      • The Austrian school predicted the dot-com bubble would crash, which is did during Clinton's final year. Then they predicted another bubble based on housing before it happened, and while it was going-on they predicted it would burst and crash the economy. They got all three things right.

        They also predicted the TARP bailouts and stimulus and QE1 would create another bubble, which did indeed happen (the derivatives are leveraged at a higher rate in 2012 than they were in 2007), and now they are saying that bubble will burst too.

        Great! Glad to hear it.

        Just a couple of questions:

        1) When will the next bubble burst?

        2) Why don't all economists subscribe to the Austrian school of thought?

        Anxiously awaiting your reply. I enjoy gaining new insights into complex subjects.

        • by belthize (990217)

          That not how prediction works in economics, sure in physics and chemistry and those other blue collar sciences that's how it works. In economics it's much more accurate, or at least comforting, to look at events and then see that, with proper interpretation, your model was correct.

      • by the eric conspiracy (20178) on Sunday July 22, 2012 @11:04PM (#40733353)

        Hmm I thought the Austrian school's primary tenant is that you can't predict economic results.

        Also anyone with any market experience could have predicted the dot bomb market crash. It was OBVIOUS that there was a lot of excess in the market and it was going to end badly.

        The appropriate guideline here is "trees don't grow to the sky".

      • by Stirling Newberry (848268) on Sunday July 22, 2012 @11:12PM (#40733391) Homepage Journal
        They've also predicted hyper inflation in the US for decades. Still hasn't happened.

        And they were far from the only school to predict the burst of the dot.com bubble. They were also exactly wrong on the effects of monetary policy under Greenspan. There are plenty of etc. The best use for Austrian economics is to predict how gold bugs will invest, because a large percentage of gold bugs believe in it. Same for "Technical analysis" predicting chartists.

  • Flaming tap water (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday July 22, 2012 @08:42PM (#40732695)

    Course, I'm waiting for the frakking community to tell us that the flammable tap water is normal:
    "What you mean your tap water isn't flammable? You got yourself some defective water. After all, it's made of hydrogen and oxygen: one was responsible for the Hindenberg, and the other is used as rocket fuel."

    • Re:Flaming tap water (Score:5, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Sunday July 22, 2012 @09:34PM (#40732931)

      I'm not sure what your point is here.
      I remember hearing on tv / radio (NPR) reports of flammable tap water 30 years ago.
      Normal? No, I don't think anybody is making this claim.
      Naturally-occuring in some places? Yes.

      • by dbet (1607261)
        Someone did make this claim, it was the documentary "Gasland" (2005), but it was later discovered that the house shown in the movie was built on a natural gas deposit, and fracking was not involved.
    • Re:Flaming tap water (Score:5, Informative)

      by tomhath (637240) on Sunday July 22, 2012 @09:56PM (#40733049)
      Natural gas in well water is quite common in coal regions (e.g. much of Pennsylvania). It's also common for hydrogen to build up in water heaters. So yea, I wouldn't say "normal", but the flaming tap water is unlikely to have anything to do with gas drilling a few miles away.
      • by Grayhand (2610049)

        Natural gas in well water is quite common in coal regions (e.g. much of Pennsylvania). It's also common for hydrogen to build up in water heaters. So yea, I wouldn't say "normal", but the flaming tap water is unlikely to have anything to do with gas drilling a few miles away.

        Actually a number of wells they have admitted the gas in the water was from gas drilling but they claimed it was from pre fracking drilling and not the fracking. Not sure how they are so sure about that one.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by evilcoop (65814)

      In the farming community I grew up on 40 years ago, it was relatively common for some natural gas to come up with the tap water in some wells. South Western Ontario, Canada. No fracking back in those days.

    • by dbet (1607261)
      Flaming tap water is not from fracking, it's from wells being dug into natural gas pockets. The biggest problem with even discussing fracking is the people who will just outright lie to shock people.
  • by Beeftopia (1846720) on Sunday July 22, 2012 @09:58PM (#40733059)

    "One of the most common arguments against a scientific finding is confirmation bias: the scientist or scientists only look for data that confirms a desired conclusion." [arstechnica.com] And ignore data that doesn't support. It's how a high school term paper is written.

    Regarding fracking... yeah, it makes me uncomfortable. They pump large amounts of water and other "stuff" underground. It may or may not contaminate ground water supplies. It is capable of contaminating ground water if something unexpected happens. And unexpected things do happen. Also, they won't tell us what the "stuff" they're pumping exactly is.

  • by leftie (667677) on Sunday July 22, 2012 @11:16PM (#40733411)

    Duke - Historical center of the attack against medical evidence proving smoking and second-hand smoke was hazardous to one's health

  • by Grayhand (2610049) on Sunday July 22, 2012 @11:16PM (#40733413)
    Sorry but the fact the gas companies got exemptions from the clean air and clean water acts makes me highly suspicious they knew from day one this was risky and they wanted to limit their exposure to lawsuits and fines. Shattering bedrock releases the gas just like it's supposed to do. The fact it migrates upward isn't shocking. Why exactly would you assume gas would stay put once you shatter what was containing it.
  • by WaffleMonster (969671) on Monday July 23, 2012 @01:43AM (#40733915)

    It's always about cancer isn't it. Hey and you guessed it ... always impossible to prove any causal link to much of anything related to cancer but lets play that game and beat our heads against the wall even though we already know what the outcome will be.

    High barrier for rising above noise floor in which >20% of everyone dies of cancer anyway. You can focus on certain types of cancers to improve your chances except in most cases nobody really has much clue which those would be apriori.

    Lag time of onset... waiting 10 or 20 years for a statistically significant signal is too long and too late.

    Lack of ability to isolate cause and effect.

    Lack of will/funds/humans to conduct a large and long enough survey which could provide any statistically significant and therefore useful information.

    This makes the whole cancer angle moot... It is not falsifiable. Even if there was a real health risk in the form of increased cancer you won't find it unless things are really bad.

    What I do know is some pretty nonsensical language made its way into safe drinking water act and it is still there as far as I can tell. I'm not against fracking... I'm against government corruption. I'm against people doing sloppy work. I'm against corrupt regulatory frameworks which intentionally fail to properly internalize externalities.

  • "Facts" (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MacGyver2210 (1053110) on Monday July 23, 2012 @02:37AM (#40734121)

    You can literally put facts in front of people, and they will just ignore them

    Including such facts as "This benzene-toluene mixture we combine with diesel fuel and water, then pump at high pressure into the bedrock where your drinking water comes from is totally harmless. Trust us. No, of course we won't let you test the chemicals we use, that's proprietary."

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