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Sunday, January 20, 2019

Guest Commentary

Honors Policy Debate team argue merits of fracking


Editor’s Note: Readers interested in hearing more about this issue are invited to the UH Energy Symposium on Oct. 8 that will feature a moderated debate between Paul Krishna of XTO Energy and Scott Anderson of the Environmental Defense Fund. The symposium will be held at the Hilton University of Houston in the Walford-Astoria Ballroom. 

David Delgado//The Daily Cougar

David Delgado//The Daily Cougar

Fracking is neither sustainable nor will it bridge the way towards renewable energy

Any environmental risk is reason enough to calm enthusiasm for natural gas, especially the process of hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking. Fracking requires pumping toxic fluid into the ground at a pressure high enough to fracture shale rocks and release the natural gas inside. This process can cause water pollution, earthquakes, the destruction of aquifers and the elimination of natural landscapes.

What’s more, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, the fluid used contains known carcinogens and toxins including lead, uranium, mercury, ethylene glycol, radium, methanol, hydrochloric acid and formaldehyde, all of which go into ground water and nearby aquifers, where between 20 and 85 percent of the contaminants remain. If ingested, this contamination causes a slew of medical problems ranging from sensory, respiratory or neurological damage to reproductive, mutagenic or cancerous complications. Further, improperly disposed waste fluid and emissions from burning this so-called clean fuel lead to harmful pollution including ozone depletion and acid rain.  Hydraulic fracturing is not any safer than the status quo; in fact, it is worse.

Aside from its dramatic environmental and safety hazards, hydraulic fracturing will not bridge to better fuel alternatives. If anything, the boom in natural gas will harm the potential development of renewable energy. This cheap fuel will crowd the energy market in which other renewables are unable to compete, and will deter innovation, ultimately preventing research and development of alternatives. This failure to enact a real change in energy production will undoubtedly result in dire environmental consequences.

The transition from natural gas to renewable fuel alternatives is too slow. Any bridge between fossil fuels and renewable energy must be short to address the real and immanent dangers of fossil-fuel-induced climate change. Natural gas offers only modest reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and cannot yield substantial change in energy consumption patterns soon enough. Substantial change would necessitate rapid action, a wholesale industry shift of heroic proportions and massive amounts of time and investment, scenarios and resources that are not practicable with a focus on natural gas.

Ultimately, fracking is not sustainable. Any potential benefits are not worth the risk.

Jennifer Reiss is a biology sophomore and may be reached at [email protected]

Hydraulic fracking will promote sustainability by bridging fossil fuels and alternative energy

One of the dilemmas of the debates about energy in the United States is the reality that no solution is perfect. There are upsides and downsides to any decision, and both traditional — fossil fuels — and alternative — renewable fuels — involve tradeoffs between cost and impact. With this in mind, I will argue that natural gas represents the least bad choice and could serve as a bridge fuel between our past and future in energy production.

Although opponents of fossil fuels and hydraulic fracking would have you believe the clean energy revolution is already upon us, there are significant barriers to the widespread adoption of “clean energy solutions.” One major problem is intermittency, or more simply put, the fact that the sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow. This fact matters for debates about energy production because our demand for energy is constant.

We need a fuel that can generate enough energy to keep the lights on all the time, even when renewable energy isn’t available. Currently, much of our energy is generated by coal and nuclear power, both of which pose far more serious hazards to human health than natural gas. Therefore, the debate about clean energy is not just a yes or no question, but how? Natural gas is cleaner, safer and more abundant than the alternatives of coal and nuclear power and could help accelerate the transition to better, if not perfect energy production.

Implicit in my argument is the assumption that cheap energy is superior, but this point deserves further explanation. While we could theoretically transition immediately to renewable energy, one must first determine the cost in doing so. Energy is a factor in the price of every commodity and service in our economy. With the anemic state of our recovery, it is worth remembering that we have already made substantial investments in natural gas extraction. Some opponents might suggest we simply turn it off. If so, they should be honest about the economic consequences of such a drastic decision.

Eric Lanning is a political science senior and may be reached at [email protected]


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