Why you should oppose things for the right reasons…

It almost seems like one of the givens these days is that folks who oppose something will latch on to virtually anything they can to bolster their case regardless of its truth or relevance.  This is true on the right and left.  One thing that has come up a few times in this blog is fracking.  There is a tremendous uproar over fracking that, realistically, has almost nothing to do with fracking per se (the caveats are, nationally, minor: there are issues with water use, there have been a very small number of small earthquakes triggered by fracking, and some specialty sand mines in the upper Midwest are really cranking up operations). The real uproar is over enhanced oil and gas operations, which are springing up around the nation at an amazing (or alarming) rate. You could oppose these because increased oil and gas production will make it far harder to combat global warming; you can fight it because it mars the landscape; you could argue that until wells are properly cased and drinking water aquifers made safe that drilling should be suspended; same argument about methane leaks from gas wellheads and pipelines; you could argue that the increased seismicity from injection disposal of wastewater needs to be addressed.  Some of these concerns could arguably be addressed by improved regulation, oversight, or better industry practices; some are intrinsic to drilling and represent fundamentally opposing views on the use and preservation of natural resources.

But no, many folks are drawn into this by the suggestion that poisonous chemicals are being pumped into the ground as part of fracking fluid. Now probably 10 or 20 years ago there could have been some truth to this, but realistically the industry was sort of casting about for stuff that would work back then.  Having identified the main elements that they needed, they could (and apparently did) address the toxicity of the fluids used. (Of course, while they were claiming that the fluids were safe, they didn’t provide the details on the contents, opening the door to all sorts of plausible skepticism). Recently a study here at the University of Colorado examined fluids used in several wells and found that there really wasn’t anything of great concern in the fracking fluids (however, fracking fluids vary greatly from place to place and operator to operator, so in the long run you’d want a lot more of the fluid studied–if you thought that was a huge concern).

Now if you were on the fence about problems with oil and gas development, the fact that one claim was highly exaggerated would presumably make you less likely to believe the other claims opposition groups make (see, for instance, this letter to the editor of the Boulder Daily Camera). So it behooves opposition groups to focus on real concerns rather than imagined ones that maybe make better soundbites. There are two really good reasons: one is to preserve credibility in the face of opposition (for instance, the Sierra Club years ago successfully fought the Bureau of Reclamation in Dinosaur National Monument because they were able to show factually that claims for the proposed dam were wrong), the other is to actually establish the basis for a successful solution to the issue.

By the ways, this applies to both sides.  The oil and gas industry has run ads claiming that oil and gas development is perfectly safe.  Leaving aside the ghastly on-the-job safety problems for workers in the industry (recently underscored by a death from a burst pipe), there is ample evidence that poorly cased wells have led to pollution of shallow aquifers in several locales.  By pretending there is no problem, the industry loses credibility.

We have all seen this game at the national level: posturing to rile up your supporters and then engaging in (self-?) deception to avoid compromise.  When Americans say they want an end to this bickering, they don’t mean that everybody should abandon their concerns, they are (GG thinks) looking for the realistic aspects of those concerns to be fairly stated and then solutions that help to best address those concerns be developed.  This is true for fracking and probably for many other controversial topics (health care, immigration, taxation, global warming).

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