Waiting for the Science to Settle
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  • Andrew Allison

    “True scientific research takes time — it takes years of experimentation, testing, and retesting before arriving at a firm scientific conclusion.” Add reproducibility to the list.
    What we have here (as in the case of AGW) are simply hypothesis, which need to be proven before they become “settled”.
    Where, despite decades of the best efforts of so-called “climate scientists” is the proof of their hypothesis? In fact, of course, the evidence is increasingly pointing the other way. A decade ago, it was “settled” that AGW would cause increased hurricane activity. In fact, the decade was the quietest for over a century. Etc., etc.
    I have no axe to grind in the fracking debate other than that it’s time we started calling hypotheses a hypotheses, and not science.

  • Andrew Allison

    “Hypotheses” and “hypotheses hypotheses”

  • stephen b

    While his article, The Chump Effect (http://www.weeklystandard.com/articles/chump-effect_610143.html), refers to “social science”, the same holds true for science “journalism” in general. Math is just so hard…

  • Roger Hecht

    Your appeal to “common sense” feels to me to be a dodge, because in the case of fracking, the drilling continues unabated while the science is still “being settled.” You raise a lot of legitimate what if’s. The problem is, the biggest what if–what if fracking is as environmentally disastrous as environmentalists argue–could explode in our faces if fracking continues without further study. If you want to make a real case for common sense, then you should argue for a moratorium on fracking until the science is settled. Enough fracking has been done in enough geological regions to conduct plenty of long-term studies. Of course, since the drilling process were started before any baselines could be scientifically established, proper studies will take even more time. As it already stands, the fouled water in Dimmock and Wyoming, the earthquakes in Arkansas and Ohio, and blowouts all over the country strongly support the environmentalists’ case.
    If fracking is as safe as industry claims there is no loss in a moratorium until further studies can be conducted because the gas is going nowhere and can be fracked at a later time. If fracking is as dangerous as environmentalists claim, then let’s stop it now to prevent potential disaster. If there is a safe process that can clean fracking flowback (pretty much impossible right now), avoid ground water contamimation via faulty drill casings, prevent blowouts, and not shift the costs of production onto the communities where fracking takes place, then let’s write those regulations and legally hold industry to those best practices it claims it follows. But to withhold judgment until the “science is settled” and common sense can prevail while fracking continues is, frankly suicidal for the communities in which it occurs.

  • Gary Hemminger

    Oh if only our leaders were so reasonable. this blog post should be mandatory reading for our political and scientific leadership.

  • Kris

    [email protected], the scientific consensus (for what its worth) is that fracking has a greenhouse impact that is no more than half of coal’s. Since we are informed that we are very close to a tipping point in global warming, wouldn’t a delay in substituting fracking for coal be the height of irresponsibility? Surely you wouldn’t want to be responsible for the END OF LIFE AS WE KNOW IT?!


  • Russ

    To Prof. Mead and or regularly-flogged interns. This is slightly off-topic, but I can’t find direct contact information. Are you guys aware that there’s an active Hegelian synthesis going on between Lawrence Lessig and CATO Institute? If you want to see the future of the Blue Model, you guys need to pay attention to this. “Liberalism” and “Conservatism” can’t come to synthesis — their issues are orthogonal to each other* rather than opposites. But Progressivism and Libertarianism, as opposites, CAN do this, and political alliance between the “equiality” and “liberty” camps can be VERY powerful.

    *based on a former associate’s political work, which is brilliant and successfully predicts individuals’ political predilections with absolutely eerie accuracy. I won’t pass out contact data publicly but would be more than willing to do so privately if you’re interested.

  • Roger

    The Cornell study on methane and greenhouse gas footprint suggests that your claim about consensus is wrong:

    “On a 20-year time horizon, the Greenhouse Gas footprint for shale gas is up to 43% higher than conventional natural gas, 50% greater than oil and 20% higher than coal for the same amount of energy produced by each of those other sources.”

    A lot of methane gets lost in the hydrofracking process. You can read the study here: http://www.springerlink.com/content/e384226wr4160653

    More evidence for waiting rather than plunging ahead.

  • The problem with relying on common sense is it’s a lot like science, it takes awhile to coalesce. With as quickly as our world is changing, common sense is having a hard time keeping up, so instead we get bubbles of hype.

    No sooner do we get one hype bubble of ‘common knowledge’ inflated, then it pops, and we rush off to another one.

  • Kris

    [email protected]:

    First, and as an aside, you should quote the study itself, not a press release of unknown provenance.

    More significantly, which Cornell study? You are actually referring to the Howarth paper, which was notable mainly for going against the consensus. This paper was followed by further work by scientists at the Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory (who presented their work at Cornell), and by some of Howarth’s colleagues at Cornell, all of whom refuted Howarth and re-affirmed the consensus view.

    More evidence for moving ahead. (Well, perhaps not for Jenny McCarthy.)

    (Note: As should be obvious to anyone reading the original post, I was using the word “consensus” in the sense of “strong majority,” not “unanimity.”)

  • Jim.


    Please forgive the rest of us if we believe that anything coming from the “Liberty and Equality” fraternity would be any less disastrous for America than it was for France.

  • maulerman

    Roger @ 4

    In your critique of Professor Mead you note:
    “As it already stands, the fouled water in Dimmock and Wyoming, the earthquakes in Arkansas and Ohio, and blowouts all over the country strongly support the environmentalists’ case.”

    It is important to be clear on the supposed threat of hydraulic fracturing. Hydraulic fracturing of wells has been an industry practice for over 50 years. The game changer here was the combination of horizontal drilling with staged fracture stimulation of deep shale formations. This has made it economic to produce oil and gas from tight (i.e. dense) geologic formations.

    To state that hydraulic fracturing caused water pollution, the evidence would need to show that contamination of the fresh water resource was due to the fracture stimulation of the well. In other words, the hydraulic fracturing of the well in the deep formation allowed the oil and/or natural gas to migrate into the freshwater formations which are typically thousands of feet above the oil and gas formation.

    With all due respect to you and to Professor Mead there is no evidence that the hydraulic fracturing process directly caused pollution of freshwater resources in any reported incident.

    Each of the incidents you cite as support to place a moratorium on fracture stimulation of wells is flawed as they go to the general dangers of oil and gas drilling, not the specific issue of hydraulic fracturing. The Wyoming study issued by the EPA is a draft report which was not peer reviewed. Further it appears that in Wyoming that the problem is likely the close proximity of the fresh water formation to the producing hydrocarbon formation in the area and wells which were not properly cased and cemented through the fresh water zone which allowed the migration of the gas from the wellbore into the freshwater.

    As to Dimock, once again it does not appear that hydraulic fracturing was the cause of any water pollution. Rather it was improper/failed cement and casing in the wellbores.

    As to earthquakes, once again the issue is not that earthquakes were caused by hydraulic fracturing, but by injection of oil and gas wastewater into improperly completed disposal wells.

    Finally, blowouts are related to well control, not fracture stimulation of the well.

    No one suggests that all oil and gas drilling should be stopped because of the dangers associated with drilling operations, including the danger of polluting fresh water resources. To suggest that the dangers inherent in oil and gas exploration justify a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing is a straw man argument that misstates the issues in order to support a specific agenda.

  • Corlyss

    “Common sense is going to have to play a role”

    Not as long as Democrats have anything control over policy. They’ve been staving off reality and pragmatism for 50 year now.

  • Great clip Zaanti. It’s itmropant to realize that natural gas is no more safe and clean than all of the other fossil fuels. It’s definitely not a diamond in the rough.

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