Monday, September 6, 2010

Acceptable Risk vs. Precautionary Principle in Shale Gas Extraction

Reasonable science suggests:


In the search for "clean burning energy"
we could be at the brink
of making large areas of the Earth
inhospitable to human and all other life.

I was talking with Craig and Julie Sautner (of Carter Road, Dimock PA) yesterday, at a showing of Josh Fox's film, GASLAND in Callicoon NY.

Such nice and brave people, who have had their lives turned upside down, because they cannot drink their water.

I have looked at the evidence, and I feel there is a high degree of certainty
this was caused by nearby hyrdofracking operations.

I have come to the conclusion that

Here's why:

In the movie Gasland, PA Department of Environmental Protection
Secretary John Hanger says, "If one well gets polluted by
gas drilling, I will make sure they get replacement water".

What is the flaw with this way of reasoning?

Acceptable Risk vs. Precautionary Principle

I read something by Rema Loeb
which I think is very profound in understanding
the regulatory framework for what is going on.

Our government uses the "Acceptable Use" (or Risk) model
and generally not the Precautionary Principle.

Acceptable Use says,
  • "The fact that industry makes consumptive use of water is inevitable.
    Now, we have to determine what amount of use is acceptable." ... or...

  • "No gas drilling is without risk. Since we need to do the gas for our energy independence, we have to determine the acceptable amount of pollution".

The Precautionary Principle says,
"If there is even a small risk of grave, irreparable harm,
then it should not be done".

Let's take the example of
discharging a gun inside a shopping mall

If we apply our government's present regulatory model for
shale-gas drilling to this, it would be like this:

"Well, a certain number of bullets flying around in a mall is inevitable.
Let's find out just how many bullets flying through the air is safe.
If one person dies, we will make sure that the state will pay for
not only the funeral, but we'll also pay the fees for the widow to remarry."

NO! One bullet flying at the mall is unacceptable!

And JUST ONE polluted well is completely unacceptable!

The Precautionary Principle says,
There is certainly a small risk that many people and animals
could die or get sick, therefore, it should not be done AT ALL.

And the fact that already ONE FAMILY'S WATER corrupted
until the migration mechanism is understood
and thus the process can be shown to be safe.

Why has to do with the scale of this operations.

If we do not know the exact mechanism of WHY Craig and Julie's well
got corrupted, then there is a chance that this might be replicated
times 10,000 wells or more.

Where do we get replacement water for 10,000 bad wells?

Also, what is special about shale gas extraction is that this process
is a consumptive use of water on a massive scale.

(Most industial uses of water is NOT consumptive use. The water stays
in the water cycle of the earth. Rain, drinking, plants, evaporation, etc).

So shale gas extraction is harmful to water in 3 distinct ways!!!

  • Groundwater contamination, due to surface spills

  • Aquifer contamination. due to migration of methane, and fracking fluids

  • Consumptive use of water: According to rather conservative estimates,
    the shale gas industry in just NY will CONSUME 300B gallons of water,
    all of it made into a toxic chemical soup. ~150B comes back to the surface
    toxic, and ~150B STAYS IN THE GROUND!

Science understands the world based on experimental data.
No data? Then science has no idea what is true, and cannot predict the outcome.

How much data do we have about how the planet and ecosystem might
change if we take (over a few years) 300B gallons of water OUT of the
ecosystem? For 5 years? 10 years?

Might this cause some catastrophic change to our climate?
Might there be a tiny chance this could cause our beautiful land
to become uninhabitable by humans and other life?

Reasonable science says: YES.

Since we have already seen a) groundwater contamination
and b) well (aquifer) contamination, then
the Precautionary Principle says

It's a really bad idea. Let's take the money Wall St. is using to finance this
and use it to make factories for solar cells and windmills.

William Huston
Binghamton NY Phone: 607-321-7846

Binghamton-area discussion; spirituality topics:
Binghamton Public Access TV is Open-To-Everyone!

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