Pathfinders: Fracking – A Bridge Too Far?

April 2024 Forums Comments Pathfinders: Fracking – A Bridge Too Far?

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  • #92164

    We have received the following criticism of this article:

    Quote:
    Unfortunately press/media coverage, let alone informed political debate, has not made 'fracking' the hot new single issue of the year' the 'Pathfnders' column predicts. Unless of course one reads the 'Sun' with headlines like  'Lets Get Fracking' and 'Frack to the Future'. One may ask why not? but that would lead into discussion of the nature of the dominant media in a capitalist society. In fact trying to get the problems facing those who live in the areas selected for the process of extracting shale gas or the potential environmental impact, has proved extremely difficult, as residents know to their cost. Having been born in one of those areas, near Blackpool and as a regular reader of the Socialist Standard, I was therefore pleased to see that fracking was featured in your January edition and looked forward to sharing some of the socialist analysis with my family and friends who continue to live in the area. Imagine then my disappointment at the summary dismissal of their concerns in the 'Pathfinders' column, which poured scorn on their anxieties, portraying them as exaggerated horror stories, 'cows dropping dead after drinking poisoned water, flames coming out of kitchen taps, earthquakes spilling cups of tea in northern England.' These stories are apparently 'green friendly rhetoric' from an 'opposition lobby' of 'protestors' and 'complainers' frustrated by States having discovered a 'get out clause' from their energy problems! The approach of 'Pathfinders' here does not differ much from that of the Sun, who in declaring 'Hale to the Shale' urge readers to ignore the 'green zealots'. Those behind fracking, the real 'lobby' of energy companies and corporations, who surprisingly (sic) had just heard the news that the moratorium on fracking was to be ended and that Osbourne had announced tax breaks for companies taking advantage of exploration for shale, must have rubbed their hands with glee (if they read it) at this sharp satire directed against their opponents, especially as the column then went on to laud the benefits of fracking '….if one is looking for a practical and immediate solution to an existing energy problem, fracking looks like it…. not clean but 50% less carbon belching than coal…not easy to get but getting easier.' The 'much publicised fire faucets and poisoned water' _ dismissed as 'preventable accidents and cowboy carelessness'. Who is writing this column? I'm sure they would find a future in the PR industry. Goodness knows what they would make of drone strikes or recent oil spills, 'more effiicient than conventional warfare' or 'exaggerated teething problems' presumably! The article suggests that any problems caused by fracking, very real to local residents who find whole areas of their neighborhood sealed off, churned up and lit up,(see some of the blogs on the internet about daylong controlled explosions) result  from lack of regulation. Surely a reformist position? It is certainly the position of the major political parties. The local Tory MP recognises the 'class issues' that your writer dismisses and that given the financial interests of major party donors, backing fracking, there is no possibility of stopping the developments by parliamentary means and that regulation is the best that can be achieved. Lord Browne, former Chief Executive of BP, knighted by Tony Blair and currently appointed as non executive Director to the Cabinet Office, to advise on making government decisions more business friendly, is a director of Cuadrilla, the firm undertaking drilling exploration near Blackpool. Remember the Texan and Alaskan oil spills or that in the Bay of Mexico, which many attribute to cuts in health and safety made while Browne was in charge? In terms of class one might also refer to the interests of Lord Rothschild or Rupert Murdoch in the industry (see 'Private Eye' December) (surely no connnection with the Sun stories? Ed.). All developments under capitalism are class issues! However to use phrases similar to your writer, if people believe that regulation is a guarantee of safety '…in the middle of a depression they are up a tree.' Representatives of the main capitalist parties in this country have unanimously backed fracking. On BBC programmes such as 'Question Time' and 'Any Questions' they have sold it to their audiences as the source of future employment and cheaper energy costs. They cite the example of the USA economy, which apparently views fracking as the solution to rising energy costs and fuel security as the way out of depression. Your writer seems to share this optimistic assessment '..a text book example of how capitalism periodically gets itself out of a fix by finding new commodities or techniques to replace old or unprofitable ones.' No doubt fracking will have an impact on profitabilty, but its impact will indeed be 'short term' as the resource seems widely distributed and available to many States to exploit. As is usual in capitalism then, any advantages to one player is soon undermined by competition from others and this competitive drive does pose risks for the future of the planet which should not be under estimated, as your writer appears to do.The energy problems which your writer refers to, arise from the nature of a system that is geared towards production for profit, capital accumulation and growth in competition with other capitals, not human need and well being. The risks such a system poses to the future of humanity cannot be ignored and should form a key part of any socialist propaganda. A major key to current development of socialist consciousness is not to ridicule environmental concerns but to show how these can only be properly addressed in a socialist society and this is evident in other articles in the edition. While 'Pathfinders'  acknowledges this in a way, the main target of the article appears not to be capitalism and how it distorts our energy needs, but those who attempt to contest capitalist interests, who are attacked on grounds of 'realism' and 'common sense'. What emerges is capitalist apologetics. Little different from much coverage in mainstream media. which, posing as 'scientific', 'objective' and 'impartial', conceals a subservience to the current economic system.The article is abstract and unengaged with the real issues which people face and the rhetorical socialist flourish with which it ends, calling for people to 'get real and support workers to abolish capitalism' (who they?) merely emphasises this.The article on such an important issue is not worthy of your journal. It is not characteristic, as the other articles in the edition on issues such as nuclear power demonstrate, but it should not go unchallenged and the approach should not be repeated as it can only undermine the socialist case.John Holliday, Liverpool
    #81866
    PJShannon
    Keymaster

    Following is a discussion on the page titled: Pathfinders: Fracking – A Bridge Too Far?.
    Below is the discussion so far. Feel free to add your own comments!

    #92165

    Here is the reply of the editorial committee:

    Quote:
    It’s hard to see what the substance of your complaint is. You offer no
    evidence to show why any statement in the article was wrong. The reasoning
    seems to be that if Tories or businesses support an argument it must be
    wrong while if local residents oppose an argument they must be right. The
    case against fracking appears to be that it is part of capitalism and
    therefore it is obviously bad for the environment. There are some concerns
    and we stated what they are. We of course agree that regulation is no
    guarantee of safety but it is surely better than no regulation. It may be
    true that the ‘competitive drive (for shale gas) does pose risks for the
    future of the planet which should not be underestimated’ but if making
    this argument it is necessary to explain what these risks are.
     We don't understand your assertion that fracking is a class issue. If this is so, which section of the working class are we supposed to back, workers in the fracking industry, workers benefitting from cheap gas supplies, or workers who are local residents? If we are siding with the residents, should we ignore in favour of continued recession a report from accountancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (BBC News Business, 14 February) which estimates that shale gas reserves could push down oil prices by 40 percent and boost the world economy by $2.7tn, developments surely in the interests of many workers? Are we required in the interests of the working class also to side with those local residents who oppose nuclear power stations, GM crops, roads, housing developments, electricity pylons and wind farms? Something is a class issue if there is a common class interest in it, and we don’t see one in this case.If everything is a class issue, as is claimed, we would be led into the impossible position of supporting every fragment of the working class against every other fragment, caught in an endless vortex of competing interests with their various dubious claims and counterclaims. We have to be more objective than this, whether local residents like it or not, whether it means on occasion taking the same line as the Sun or not. It is not our policy to ridicule environmental campaigners per se; however the Green claim, that fracking is unnecessary and that the post-oil energy shortfall can be met by renewables, seems to us ridiculous and we said so.Paddy Shannon, for Editorial Committee
    #92166
    JH
    Participant

    You say you are unsure of subject of 'complaint'.Firstly the article derides the anxieties and concerns of residents in areas subject to fracking, portraying them as dupes of oppositional lobbies and green campaigners. Their experiences are real, an earthquake, however minor, as a result of fracking, is not something to be dismissed, nor are the horror stories arising in other parts of the world, which have been well documented. (The 2010 documentary film 'Gasland' directed by Josh Fox , or  'Burning Water' – Esler and Richards 2010 documentary, show clearly the effects on residents in areas subject to fracking).I find the dismissal of concerns of residents, who are not rich and powerful, in favour of the spin of energy companies and their political lackies a worrying development in a socialist journal.You say I 'offer no evidence to show why any statement in the article is wrong'.Clearly it is not as simple as that. The environmental impact of fracking is a disputed area.What you provide is a one sided, positive evaluation of the project, selecting your evidence to support that case. Most worrying is that you appear oblivious to the possibility that commercial interests may be providing and distorting the evidence on which you rely.The negative impacts are not covered at all other than your mention of  'a minor energy slump and shareholder panic' in the U S as a result of depressed local gas prices.Water should not catch fire. The earth should not shake under your feet.Fracking requires enormous amounts of water. Between 5 and 11 million litres of water for each well drilled. The water used for fracking is is mixed with chemicals, including toxins and carcinogens. Much of it comes back up and then has to be disposed of. More worrying still is that. which remains underground and which may seep into the water table. (See article in January issue of Radical Philosophy for more comprehensive discussion of problems or any amount of articles on internet) Do you only rely on 'official sources'? 

    #92168
    Anonymous
    Inactive

    Very well said, JH.  I too have great cause for concern over the content of this article and will be raising the matter in my branch.

    #92167
    JH
    Participant

    As regards 'the class issue' I am a little confused by your reply.You say that an issue can only be considered a class issue if there is a 'common class interest in it'.This suggests that only attempts to maintain or abolish capitalism can be considered 'class issues'. Your strictures would mean that even issuuse such as war could not be considered a class issue because it could be argued that some workers benefit from it, eg. soldiers, workers in the arms industry, etc.In a similar way health service or education cuts could not be considered as class issues because according to your arguements some workers may benefit from them as attempts to reduce costs, bring 'us' out of recession, etc.Yes capitalism is a complicated system of conflicting interests, including within classes and particularly within the capitalist class but it is necessary to identify those interests and indeed take sides.What I was highlighting in the fracking issue, was the interests of capitalists in pursuit of profit as the main driving force for this development. It is true that some workers may benefit from this, as within capitalism the development of capital is the condition for their well being, but it is that.  They remain workers tied to the interests of capital, a  'class for capital'.I was highlighting the conflicts between the drive for capital accumulation and the needs of the population. The conflict between the forces of production and the social relations of capitalism. The basis of class struggle.The energy problems to which you refer are the energy problems of capitalism. Of course there will be problems about how our needs are met under socialism but they will be significantly different.What you are doing in your attempts to be 'objective' is stepping outside of the class struggle (an impossibility) and implicitly objectifying capitalism and its needs.The struggle over environmental issues is indeed part of the class struggle and one which demonstrates that human needs are in conflict with the competitive pursuit of capitalist accumulation.

    #92169
    ALB
    Keymaster

    This is part of a wider debate amongst Socialist Party members about modern technology.Some members argue against, for instance, GM crops and nuclear energy on principle. Others that these could be a great help in socialism towards producing the plenty of useful things we need to provide everyone on earth with a decent standard of living (even if, naturally, under capitalism their uses are distorted by the search for profits).

    JH wrote:
    Water should not catch fire.

    True, but it does and, apparently, has been before fracking was heard of.

    #92170
    jondwhite
    Participant

    I agree with JH and don't think this Editorial Committee reply should have been made. I will try and raise this in my branch too.

    #92171
    alanjjohnstone
    Keymaster

    "Some members argue against, for instance, GM crops and nuclear energy on principle."I'm not sure i fully understand this comment. Some of us oppose certain technological "advances" for very practical reasons, ie that they have a detrimental and deleterious effect on the well-being and welfare of workers therefore i do consider it a class issue. This is not a NIMBY issue or sectional. We oppose war on a class position for it serves the interests of our master class and the price paid is in the suffering of our fellow workers, we do not fret about the possible unemployment of soldiers and armament workers as JH rightly points out. We take a position in defence of our class. Environmental destruction and the war against Nature is as bloody as any military war with workers livelihoods and communities threatened. To say that the possibility of renewals (and conservation) can replace fossil fuels was a ridiculous proposition was itself a ridiculous claim to make.As this blog post on the Luddites points out, their position was not simplistic anti-machine (as ours is not anti-technology) but about the manner it was put to in an attack upon the conditions of the workers for the sake of profit.http://socialismoryourmoneyback.blogspot.com/2013/01/blood-for-blood-says-general-lud.htmlThe editorial reply should have acknowledged that we do not possess a party-line on every issue and the article expressed just one view of some members.Until workers can decide without the evidence from science being distorted we must abide by the physicians "first do no harm" and exercise the precautionary principle. That is not sitting on the fence and being neutral but siding with the anti-fracking, anti-GM and anti-nuclear power in as much as we say Stop It! But as we do when we support trade unionists, our answer is the same … you will never win under capitalism and we have to explain why that is. 

    #92182
    ALB
    Keymaster
    alanjjohnstone wrote:
    Until workers can decide without the evidence from science being distorted we must abide by the physicians "first do no harm" and exercise the precautionary principle. That is not sitting on the fence and being neutral but siding with the anti-fracking, anti-GM and anti-nuclear power in as much as we say Stop It!

    The "precautionary principle" is one of the sillier slogans to have emerged (rivalling "think global, act local" and "the personal is political"). One definition of it is:

    Quote:
    the precept that an action should not be taken if the consequences are uncertain and potentially dangerous.

    If applied to everyday life, this would lead to complete inaction, not even having a bath or a shower in case you slipped and banged your head on the tiles causing death or brain damage. Nobody would drive a car or get on a plane. Nobody would cycle to work (in fact that is so dangerous that they probably shouldn't).It is the slogan of conservatives who want to justify the status quo. It's the argument that, on another thread, Alaric has been using against socialism.It also can also have a perverse effect. Say fracking was banned on the "precautionary principle". There would still be a demand for energy. Where would it come from? The only immediate, practicable source is nuclear energy. But the precautionary principlers want to ban this too. So we are back to coal, which of course they say should never have been allowed in the first place. They'd have probably opposed the use of fire when its use was first proposed.And the principle can be used to defend vested interests. GM food for humans is banned in Europe but not elsewhere. The ban, justified on the precautionary principle, allows competition from GM crops in the US and Brazil to be kept out, so protecting European farming interests.We're best not to get involved in the inter-capitalist interests that are often behind these arguments about which policy governments should pursue. We should certainly not be "siding with the anti-fracking, anti-GM and anti-nuclear power in as much as we say Stop it!" (not that we do or ever have). We should either be neutral on these issues or criticise these lobbies for wanting to throw the baby out with the bathwater (or rather, in most cases,  for not even wanting to throw out the bathwater). We should also of course criticise and expose the opposing lobbies that plead for capitalist entreprises to be allowed the freedom to do what they want in the pursuit of profit. But whatever we do we must never give the impression that we are anti-scientific advance and anti-new technology.

    #92183
    alanjjohnstone
    Keymaster

    You are repeating your argument, Adam, that you made on the GM thread. That there is no alternative but to adopt fracking because of shortages in energy sources. I think it can be challenged. Just how much waste of energy exists through it being expended by the military and in capitalist competition and unnecessary production. That would be an immediate reduction in use once we sorted out the problems of poverty. In the mall's of Mumbai shop-window dummies get 24 hour access to electricity, something that most residents don't achieve. When I visited, each day the power went off for 2 hours and the apartment was on the 8th floor!!

    ALB wrote:
    "There would still be a demand for energy. Where would it come from?"

    Tidal power, wave power, solar power (already, there is technically accessible solar power to cover global energy needs 3.8 times) , hydroelectric power (15 percent of that potential is currently technically accessible), geotherm power, biogas (40 percent of current usage can be accessed through today's technology), as well as wind-power (half of the current consumption can be covered with today's accessible wind power technologies). Of course, all sites require environmetal impact studies.The amount of renewable energy that is accessible through the use of current technologies adds up to 5.9 times current needs (2007), according to Greenpeace and the European Renewable Energy Council. http://proxy.aka.gr/index.php?q=uggc%3A%2F%2Fjjj.anabgrpu-abj.pbz%2Fpbyhzaf%2F.%2F%3Fnegvpyr%3D315I am sure I can search out other figures demonstrating that alternative renewals can be phased in relatively speedily to replace fossil fuels and nuclear.The attraction of nuclear power is, of course, is its strategic value in making countries that use it energy independent something that will not be a concern for world socialism. I think it was Bill who pointed out that a practical proposal for a Mediterranean solar power grid based in North Africa was thwarted just for this reason.As for coal, Dave Douglass being an ex-miner keeps rattling on about how clean it can be in Weekly Worker, perhaps he has a point. It is still a side-issue imho like nuclear power is.But it is not only production of energy but its conservation and recycling that will increase. It is also about a certain amount of community control in energy production. Certainly we can have centralisation of power plants but we can also look forward to dispersed sources. Nobody wants all their eggs in one basket.

    Quote:
    "We should also of course criticise and expose the opposing lobbies that plead for capitalist entreprises to be allowed the freedom to do what they want in the pursuit of profit."

    That statement does imply that we do take sides, in regards to Mexican or Indian small-holder farming for example where the multi-nationals are endeavouring to exploit their economic power in government and in the market to the poor's disadvantage. It is not a return to the corn law debate and free-market v protectionism. It is the vulnerable defending themselves and their communities  against international land grab and industrial farming.I am reminded of the SPC article the Slave of the Farm.  "Are the Socialists then opposed to the coming of a machine? Are they new Luddites? Machine breakers? Reactionaries? Indeed, No! We welcome all human inventions to displace labor. Our quarrel is a matter of ownership. Shall the machine master us, or shall we be its master? Shall the owners of this machinery, a small class of parasites, continue to hold these things so vital to our existence? "He who owns the means whereby I live, owns me." And, of course, as we shall see later, the farm slave's "ownership" over means of production is a colossal, if somewhat grim joke. To hear the tattered homesteader talk of "my farm" and "my machine" is a thing over which the gods must need laugh…We see, then, that the farmer is surrounded by enemies which he, himself, recognizes. He is acutely aware that because the masters own the railways, mills, elevators, factories, shipping, etc., they hold a gun to his head and cry: "stand and deliver!" But what he has not seen is that, because they own all these things, they own all the produce of the soil, nay, own the very farm and its machinery…The giant machines must be made servants of mankind and no longer remain life-robbing agents for a few slothful and callous idlers."That is our challenge. Not to remain neutral but to take sides in the arguments. To expose Monsanto and the fracking companies as an integral part of capitalism.

    Quote:
    "precautionary principle" would lead to complete inaction, not even having a bath or a shower in case you slipped and banged your head on the tiles causing death or brain damage. Nobody would drive a car or get on a plane. Nobody would cycle to work (in fact that is so dangerous that they probably shouldn't)."

    You are just being silly now, Adam. It is just another way of saying look before you leap, test the waters, exercise caution, don't take unnecessary risks or gambles. It means supplying non-slip tiles and having temperature controls installed so you don't get scalded before giving everybody a shower-room. It means advocating cycle-lanes.

    Quote:
    "It is the slogan of conservatives who want to justify the status quo."

    I interpret it to mean, don't meddle until you know what you are doing. Certain technologies should be put on hold.We are not being anti-technology or anti-science. What we are saying is capitalism is irresponsible and cannot be trusted to make potential life and death decisions in the interests of people.It is not the scientist in control of the pharmaceutical industries but the marketing department and they don't share the same ethos on safety.It is not through ignorance that the Koch brothers are financing climate change denial. They have hosts of experts informing them of the true state of affairs. They choose to deny the consequences of their industry and are prepared to sacrifice future generations for the sake of their present profits.    

    #92180

    Dear ComradesI have asked for this to be posted to the forum because I’m not a member and unfortunately have very little time available to join or follow online debates. As I have a short break from work I have been able to reply. I apologise for the length but I hope readers won’t find it too tedious.As befits a debate on an energy question, this one seems to have generated more heat than light, and this in the week when Ofgem has announced a likely fall of 10 percent in energy capacity by April, with home energy bills set to rocket due to gas imports that other countries are also competing for at premium prices. Ofgem blames the recession for cutbacks in investment in renewables –

    Quote:
    Before the financial crisis the government had backed a visionary approach to energy on wind, water and nuclear… then came the financial tsunami.

    Whether they were really quite so ‘visionary’ is of course debatable. Consumer Focus offer a stark prognosis:

    Quote:
    With six million households in fuel poverty, rising to over nine million by 2016, and an increasing proportion of our incomes being spent on essential items like energy, this latest news… is chilling’ (BBC News Business, 19 February).

    I mention this to put the debate in context. Some people have been saying that fracking is a class issue. I would say that six million households in fuel poverty certainly is. Are there six million households threatened by fracking?What has depressed me in the diatribes against my article is the lack of scientific substance in them. Specifically, no technical criticism of fracking has been put forward. No statement from my original Pathfinders article has been held up as wrong. In fact I have been more critical of fracking than my opponents. What seems to have caused the upset is that I was somewhat dismissive of opponents’ and Green Party objections. I suppose this is true, but it is because there tends to be no scientific substance in them.In his first post John Holliday approvingly cited a source on fracking, not from a scientific journal but from Radical Philosophy – http://www.radicalphilosophy.com/commentary/what-the-frack. I have waited until I could get a chance to read this article before offering any further observations. I make the following comments about the article because I think they are relevant to the present discussion.Radical Philosophy (RP) begins by presenting the positive arguments in favour of fracking as ‘official narratives’. This does two things. It alerts us that there is an ‘unofficial narrative’ which the magazine will be putting. It also warns us that anyone caught expressing any positive arguments for fracking can be regarded as part of the ‘official narrative’, in other words a lackey of the state and the corporations. Thus RP nails its colours to the mast, and its opposition to a cross, before it has even got going.Perhaps it is not necessary to say this, but you wouldn’t find a scientific magazine using an opening gambit like this for the simple reason that it wouldn’t be very scientific if it did.The RP article goes on to present the problems with fracking. Surprisingly it says very little about methane seepage, which is certainly an area for concern and one which Pathfinders did not overlook, or earthquakes, which also occur in coal-mining districts, or about the reported illnesses suffered by people near frack sites, about which evidence is conflicting. Instead it concentrates mainly on the toxic chemicals used in the fracking water, although it doesn’t say what they are. This is not very surprising since at present companies keep this information to themselves, but ingredients are likely to include mineral oil for lubrication, ethylene glycol to prevent scale in the pipes, and glutaraldehyde (used by dentists) or another disinfectant to stop bacterial growth. What comes back up is potentially worse, since the water can pick up toxic salts and organic compounds such as benzene, xylene and phenols as it passes through the rock, and these could be harmful if they get into aquifers. The question is whether they can get into aquifers.The RP article talks a lot about shale water and aquifers, and often in the same sentence, so that a reader would be forgiven for thinking that there must be a strong link between them. But this is a highly contentious question, and RP does not explain the depths involved. Shale deposits are normally 2 to 3 kilometres deep while water tables are around 50 metres deep. It is highly unlikely that shale water could seep upwards far enough to contaminate potable aquifers. Where aquifer contamination has occurred, the most likely culprit is improperly sealed bore piping at the ground-level wellhead, in other words toxic water seeping out of the well and into the aquifer, not up from the subterranean shale strata. This was the finding of a team from the University of Texas at Austin, led by Charles Groat, who ‘hopes the report will help regulators worldwide separate ‘fact from fiction’. He says

    Quote:
    We found no direct evidence that hydraulic fracturing itself had contaminated groundwater. We found that most of the violations were at or near the surface.

    A New Scientist study review last year found the same thing (‘Fracking not to blame for shale gas pollution’, 17 February 2012). An earlier article from 25 January reported that the clearest evidence for groundwater pollution in fact came from a so-called ‘tight-gas frack’ near Pavillion, Wyoming, where a shallow shale deposit was fracked at a depth of just 372 metres, within the aquifer used by local people, and surely in breach of environmental regulations.The Radical Philosophy article makes clear that a considerable number of wells in the US have been sunk in violation of DEP safety regulations. This is certainly a problem, but Pathfinders also made this point when it referred to ‘cowboy carelessness’ and made no bones about the fact that ‘the smart money was straight down the well-heads before anybody thought to ask any awkward questions about regulation’. It continued: ‘If regulated properly, which is a big ‘if’ in some countries…’ Radical Philosophy goes on to argue that lack of regulation is in the interest of corporations and by extension governments:

    Quote:
    Too few inspectors with too few resources devoted to the inspection of well sites accords with the desire of the politicians’ buddies in the oil and gas industry…

    Personally I wouldn’t go this far. While probably true in the short term, it can’t be true as a general principle in the long term or there would be no regulation in any industry whatsoever. RP’s statement could be taken to imply that capitalism’s key problem is lack of regulation. Socialists conversely would say that capitalism is a problem whether regulated or not.So Pathfinders and RP appear to be saying the same thing, that regulation is the issue. But Pathfinders addresses an important question which RP leaves unasked. Can the technology of fracking be made safe with proper regulation? It is at this point that the RP article plays a sleight of hand. It equates the technology of fracking with the social, political and economic problems that surround it, as if they are one and the same thing:

    Quote:
    Though it is the name of an industrial process, fracking should also be taken as an index of the political crises with which we now have to contend.

    This is a wholly dishonest ploy, like equating a chain saw with deforestation, or a car with a car-bomb, and relies for its effect on the reader having already assimilated the writer’s bias. Fracking is a mining technology, not an index of political crises. If it can be made safe, and if we need it, we may use it in socialism.This is the key scientific question, now in danger of being lost in the white noise. The subject has become so politicised – and polarised – and so rapidly that a balanced view seems unlikely to emerge. To governments, anything which makes them independent of imports must be good. To the corporations, anything that makes a profit must be done, so must be doable. To the Greens, anything that distracts us from renewable energy investment must be bad. To local residents, frightened by scare stories in the press and distrustful of ‘official narratives’, anybody who is not with them is against them.Pathfinders attempts to represent a socialist view of science, and a scientific view of socialism, in accordance with the Party’s view that we should try to form our ideas based on the best available evidence, not on our own preferences, or appeals to authority or peer groups. This can’t be done by following the herd which is following the loudest shouters, whether they are right or left, establishment or ‘alternative’, official or unofficial. It is my honest opinion that the evidence against fracking is still scanty and contradictory, and that fracking does not, at least not yet, justify the wholesale opposition it has provoked.Paddy Shannon, Lancaster

    #92181
    alanjjohnstone
    Keymaster

    Diatribe …hardly, Paddy. Concerns, certainly.When it come to scientific rebuttals I personally am reluctant to engage, not being a geologist, and as I explained in my GM posts i stick to the social problems where I feel I am on stronger ground. I'm guessing you aren't qualified from your own actual research and experiments yourself either so I might as well respond by relaying others opinions in the same way as yourself . "..we should try to form our ideas based on the best available evidence, not on our own preferences, or appeals to authority " I am afraid you and i have no other alternative but to appeal to other authority and our opinion is based on as you say the evidence presented by them similar to a jury when they take conflicting expert testimony in a court-case. (I won't address your fuel poverty argument, Paddy, except to say that the recent horsemeat scandal is being blamed more on workers wanting cheap prices for food because they can't afford quality so the obliging capitalist has to cut corners to oblige by increasingly adulterating the food with fillers.)This from Scientific AmericaThere is two types of fracking apparently – vertical and horizontal (or directional). Vertical has been used since the 40s, Horizontal is a relatively new technology. Unlike vertical it requires enormous volumes of water and chemicals. Huge ponds or tanks are also needed to store the chemically laden “flowback water” that comes back up the hole after wells have been fractured.The safety argument is that the shale layers can be a mile or more deep, separated from shallow aquifers by thousands of feet of rock—precisely why they have been so difficult to tap until now. Fracking may be powerful, but it’s not that powerful—not enough to blow open new fissures through that much rock, connecting horizontal well bores (called “laterals”) to groundwater near the surface. Anthony Ingraffea, an engineering professor at Cornell University and an expert on the controversial technique to drill natural gas however explains these analyses considered only single “fracks”—one water blast, in one lateral, one time. To maximize access to the gas, however, companies may drill a dozen or more vertical wells, closely spaced, at a single site. They may frack the lateral for each well in multiple segments and perhaps multiple times. “You’ve got three spatial dimensions and time” to consider, Ingraffea says. He doubts a single lateral frack can connect the shale layers to the surface. Still, he adds, “if you look at the problem as I just described it, I think the probabilities go up. How much? I don’t know.” (my emphasis and the reason some advocate caution)If fracking is taken to refer to the entire process of unconventional gas drilling from start to finish, it is already guilty of some serious infractions. The massive industrial endeavor demands a staggering two to four million gallons of water for a single lateral, as well as 15,000 to 60,000 gallons of chemicals; multiply those quantities by the number of wells drilled at one site. Transporting the liquids involves fleets of tanker trucks and large storage containers.Then the flowback water has to be managed; up to 75 percent of what is blasted down comes back up. It is laden not only with a cocktail of chemicals—used to help the fracking fluid flow, to protect the pipe and kill bacteria, and many other purposes—but often with radioactive materials and salts from the underground layers. This toxic water must be stored on-site and later transported to treatment plants or reused. Most companies use open-air pits dug into the ground. Many states require the bottoms of the pits to be lined with synthetic materials to prevent leakage. Some also require the pits to be a sufficient distance from surface water. The problem is that even when proper precautions are taken, pit linings can tear, and in heavy rains the pits can overflow. (As in nuclear energy an issue is the disposal of radioactive waste, not the actual fission). All these processes can cause accidents. “This is not a risk-free industry,” explains Terry Engelder, a hydraulic fracturing expert at Pennsylvania State University who has generally been a proponent of the process but has occasionally criticized companies involved.“There’s a real vulnerability in having chemicals at these kinds of volumes out there, but it’s more an industrial kind of threat, rather than a threat from fracking itself,” argues Val Washington, a former deputy commissioner of New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation.But  Ingraffea sees it differently: “I just wish the industry would stop playing the game of ‘fracking doesn’t cause the contamination.’ You’ve got to drill to frack. It’s a matter of semantics and definition that they’re hiding behind.”Again the article explains how fracking can be declared safe by expertsFaulty cementing is the leading suspect in possible sources of contamination, and by industry’s definition it is not part of fracking. On the way down, any well has to pass through the near-surface layers that contain groundwater, and it could also pass through unknown pockets of gas. Drillers fill the gap between the gas pipe and the wall of the hole with concrete so that buoyant gas cannot rise up along the outside of the pipe and possibly seep into groundwater. A casing failure might also allow the chemical flowback water, propelled by the pressure released when the shale is cracked, to leak out. Cementing is the obvious “weak link,” according to Anthony Gorody, a hydrogeologist and consultant to gas companies who has been a defender of fracking. Other scientists emphatically agree. “If you do a poor job of installing the well casing, you potentially open a pathway for the stuff to flow out,” explains ecologist and water resource expert Robert B. Jackson of Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment. Although many regulations govern well cementing and although industry has strived to improve its practices, the problem may not be fully fixable. “A significant percentage of cement jobs will fail,” Ingraffea says. “It will always be that way. It just goes with the territory.”Water resource expert Robert B. Jackson of Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA. analyzed samples from more than 60 private drinking-water wells overlying the Marcellus Shale in northeastern Pennsylvania and the Utica Shale in upstate New York. Methane existed in 51 of the wells, but wells closer to drilling sites contained considerably more of it. Chemical analyses determined that much of the methane was of the deep, thermogenic kind rather than the biogenic kind of microbes nearer the surface.None of the samples contained fracking fluids, however, or salty brines consistent with deep shale layers. Jackson therefore thinks the likeliest cause of the contamination was faulty cementing and casing of wells. He notes another possibility: fracking may create at least some cracks that extend upward in rock beyond the horizontal shale layer itself. If so, those cracks could link up with other preexisting fissures or openings, allowing gas to travel far upward. Northeastern Pennsylvania and upstate New York are “riddled with old abandoned wells,” Jackson observes. “And decades ago people didn’t case wells, and they didn’t plug wells when they were finished. Imagine this Swiss cheese of boreholes going down thousands of feet—we don’t know where they are.”Yet if methane is getting into drinking water because of unconventional gas drilling, why aren’t the fracking chemicals? Here Jackson and Engelder can only hypothesize. When methane is first released from the rock, enough initial pressure exists to drive water and chemicals back up the hole. That flow subsides rather quickly, however. Thereafter, although gas has enough buoyancy to move vertically, the water does not.Still, if hydraulic fractures could connect with preexisting fissures or old wells, the chemicals could pose a groundwater risk. Fracking “out of zone” can happen. Kevin Fisher, an engineer who works for Pinnacle Technologies, a Halliburton Service firm, examined thousands of fractures in horizontal wells in the Barnett and Marcellus Shale formations, using microseismic monitoring equipment to measure their extent. Fisher found that the most extreme fractures in the Marcellus Shale were nearly 2,000 feet in vertical length. That still leaves a buffer, “a very good physical separation between hydraulic fracture tops and water aquifers,” according to Fisher.Other engineers read the same kind of evidence differently. In British Columbia, Canada, regulators catalogued 19 separate incidents of “fracture communication”—new wells that ended up connecting with other wells in ways that were not expected. In one case, the communication occurred between wells that were more than 2,000 feet apart. As the British Columbia Oil and Gas Commission warned operators, “Fracture propagation via large scale hydraulic fracturing operations has proven difficult to predict.” The agency added that fracture lengths might extend farther than anticipated because of weaknesses in the overlying rock layers.Although it is very possible that gas companies have been guilty of carelessness in how they drill wells and dispose of waste, fracking technology itself may be exonerated.“We found no direct evidence that fracking itself has contaminated groundwater,” said Charles Groat of the University of Texas (UT), Austin, who led the study. The report, released at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science doesn't give this form of natural gas extraction a clean bill of health. Rather, it suggests that problems aren't directly caused by fracking, a process in which water, sand, and chemicals are pumped into wells to break up deep layers of shale and release natural gas. Instead, the report concludes, contamination tends to happen closer to the surface when gas and drilling fluid escapes from poorly lined wells or storage ponds. The review acknowledges that gaps remain in our understanding of fracking, including whether the disposal of wastewater by pumping it into the ground causes small earthquakes. In addition, the cumulative and long-term impacts of this form of natural gas drilling remain unclear, especially in areas where some gas naturally escapes from below ground. “We feel hobbled by a lack of baseline information,[ http://news.sciencemag.org/sciencenow/2012/02/mixed-verdict-on-fracking.html ]None of this constitutes evidence that fracturing a horizontal shale layer has directly polluted an aquifer – no smoking gun – but EPA administrator Lisa Jackson added that “there are investigations ongoing.” – Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.  Geoffrey Thyne, a petroleum geologist at the University of Wyoming’s Enhanced Oil Recovery Institute, has another suggestion for sorting out the fracking puzzle: make companies put an easily identifiable chemical tracer into their proprietary fracking fluid mixture. If it turns up where it’s not supposed to, that would be a smoking gun. Thyne says introducing a tracer would be “relatively easy,” although he adds that “in general, industry does not view this suggestion favorably.” The EPA says it is “considering” the use of tracers. The agency also says that much of the information it has received about the chemicals used in fracking has been claimed as “confidential business information” by the companies involved, and therefore the EPA has not made it available to the public. (as far as i know since the article was written,  tracers are still not being used)Implicating or absolving fracking, no matter how it is defined, will require more data. That’s where the EPA study comes in. The agency is examining a variety of ways in which drilling could contaminate water supplies—from unlined and leaky storage pits, to faulty well cementing, to the possible communication of deep fractures with the surface. The EPA will examine five alleged cases of groundwater contamination to determine the cause, including two in Pennsylvania. The agency will also monitor future drilling activities from start to finish at two additional sites. It will also use computer modeling to simulate what is going on deep underground, where no one can watch. Ingraffea’s advice is to develop a powerful model that can iterate a scenario of multiple wells, multiple fracks, and gas and liquid movements within a cubic mile of rock—over several weeks of drilling. “You’re going to need really big supercomputers,” he says, to determine the possibility of contamination. “You show me that, and I’ll tell you where I stand between ‘snowball’s chance in hell’ and ‘it’s happening every day.’ ” At a minimum, Ingraffea says, such models would reveal “circumstances in which gas migration is more possible, more plausible, than other situations.” That kind of model may be difficult to find. The current standard used in academia to simulate underground reservoirs—and the one that the EPA plans to use—is called Tough 2, but Ingraffea says it is not “commercial-grade.” Big corporations use their own models, and in his view “the best and the brightest in terms of people, software, instrumentation and data are all in the hands of the operators and the service companies.” Ingraffea worries that Tough 2 “would have a tough time handling all the faults and joints and fracture propagation” in detail fine enough to determine whether a discrete new pathway for unwanted flow would emerge.http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=the-truth-about-frackingMy opinion is if that article (2 years old) is a reflection of the current scientific standing then i believe it is supporting those of us who say lets exercise the precautionary principle and wait for all the evidence to come in. Put fracking on to the back-burner (to pun). Is it a matter of improved regulation? There is room for more research into new methods of monitoring.  Surface contamination problems can probably be better controlled.   When there are 2 opposing sides negotiating the data or the interpretation of the data, it becomes impossible to draw a conclusion. To return to the jury metaphor, who is more trustworthy: the environmentalists or the energy providers? Which witness has a credibility issue based on past experience? Who is going to be more objective, Greens or those who financially benefit that includes not only energy producers but also landowners who lease surface or mineral rights, the water companies and local and national governments. The best evidence conclusion for socialists, imho, is that there are still unknowns and questions to be answered.No one questions your sincerity, Paddy,  when you say  "It is my honest opinion that the evidence against fracking is still scanty and contradictory, and that fracking does not, at least not yet, justify the wholesale opposition it has provoked." In one sense i agree, when it comes to a scale of priority in protests, fracking isn't number one concern for me. But i think you too readily dismiss the doubts about it that do exist by alleging that it is scanty. We look at fracking as an industry not as an isolated technique of drilling. Would you endorse oil-wells in the Arctic because drilling iself won't cause any environmental damage and ignore the risks of pipeline and oil tankers accidents?You do a disservice to other comrades when you infer that Pathfinders article on fracking is party-policy.As socialists we have to raise the question for the whole rationale of why we require and need the extraordinary amounts of energy that is being used and expected to be used in the future. We have to question foremost the priorities of capitalism in satisfying that demand and the solutions they offer. I don't think the fracking Pathfinder article succeeded in doing that by presenting fracking as an option for a future socialist society. It may well be but so are many other choices.We enter a socialist society not with a blank page but with what exists now in capitalism. We have coal mines, we have nuclear power stations and we frack oil/gas. Those will be phased out, imho, as the renewables come on-stream replacing them and the waste of the capitalist economy diminishes. I do not see them  multiplying. How quickly they will disappear, i just don't know. But who really can tell…the decision won't be yours or mine but democratically decided by socialists with a very different mind-set. Its all hypothetical in the end and idle speculation. Pollution by profit-greedy capitalism on the other hand is a real phenonomen we face today.

    #92177
    alanjjohnstone
    Keymaster

    Further to the above.Capitalism means that the investment flows to the more profitable proposition. By looking at market expectations reflected in prices of publicly traded securities, the time horizon until the appearance of new technologies related to replacement of nonrenewable resources will be 131 years.http://pubs.acs.org/doi/full/10.1021/es100730q#showRefThe up-front energy investment in renewable energy infrastructures has not been visible. In the world of economics of a world in deep recession the substantial financial investment needed to carry out an energy replacement crash program will be very hard to scrape together. The existing energy company interests ALL have powerful lobbies to ensure they receive investment, both private and government. The  "West Coast Clean Economy" report states "…distortions of the energy marketplace that have artificially lowered the true costs of fossil fuels serve as disincentives to the deployment of renewable and clean energy technologies." http://www.globeadvisors.ca/market-research/west-coast-clean-economy-study.aspx Based on data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, it would take more than 70 years to replace the world's current electrical generating capacity with renewables including hydroelectric, wind, solar, tidal, wave, geothermal, biomass and waste at the rate of installation seen from 2005 through 2009.Even so, within the constraints of capitalism, in 2009 about 16% of global final energy consumption came from renewables. Germany using solar, wind and other alternatives generate 25 percent of its electricity today. Wind power 21% of stationary electricity production in Denmark and 18% in Portugal.However if we look at study co-authored by Stanford researcher Mark Z. Jacobson, we find we could accomplish converting the world to clean, renewable energy sources and forgoing fossil fuels relatively quickly."Based on our findings, there are no technological or economic barriers to converting the entire world to clean, renewable energy sources," said Jacobson, a professor of civil and environmental engineering. "It is a question of whether we have the societal and political will."And the time-scale to accomplish this?  By 2030, all new energy generation would come from wind, water and solar, and by 2050, all pre-existing energy production would be converted as well."We wanted to quantify what is necessary in order to replace all the current energy infrastructure – for all purposes – with a really clean and sustainable energy infrastructure within 20 to 40 years," said Jacobson.  "It would require an effort comparable to the Apollo moon project or constructing the interstate highway system. But it is possible, without even having to go to new technologies," Jacobson said.  "We really need to just decide collectively that this is the direction we want to head as a society." http://news.stanford.edu/news/2011/january/jacobson-world-energy-012611.htmlA 2010 study estimated that Australia could transition to 100% renewables over a ten-year period.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Energy_developmentFor a socialist society the main solution will be energy conservation and reduction (even accepting for an increase for 3rd World users)The American Defence Department used 93% of all US government fuel consumption in 2007. In 2006, the DoD used almost 30,000 gigawatt hours enough electricity to power more than 2.6 million average American homes. In electricity consumption, if it were a country, the DoD would rank 58th in the world, using slightly less than Denmark. If it were a country, the DoD would rank 34th in the world in average daily oil use, coming in just ahead of Sweden. Nigeria, with a population of more than 140 million, consumes as much energy as the U.S. military.  It uses enough energy in 12 months to run the entire US urban mass transit system for almost 14 years.I need not provide the figures for other wasteful elements of capitalism, just let your imagination run wild to the things socialism would switch off. 

    #92178
    ALB
    Keymaster
    alanjjohnstone wrote:
    You do a disservice to other comrades when you infer that Pathfinders article on fracking is party-policy.

    I don't think Paddy was laying down Party policy. He was merely arguing that we were not necessarily opposed to fracking, as some Greens, Nimbys and others are. In fact, if he had said that we opposed fracking and supported the "Stop It" campaigns that would have been trying to lay down Party policy, but it would have been the wrong policy because it is not the Party's policy get involved in such campaigns. I think he put the position most members would support when he writes in his reply:

    Quote:
    Fracking is a mining technology, not an index of political crises. If it can be made safe, and if we need it, we may use it in socialism.

    Incidentally, since we started having regular columns in the Socialist Standard the writers have had a certain leeway to express their views. Readers might have noticed the differing emphases sometimes taken up by Pathfinders and the Material World column. In this month (and next month) if you read between the lines you can see that Stefan is essentially taking up an anti-car position. Many members will no doubt find this exaggerated (I know I do) but he's not laying down Party policy nor is he that explicit.But to return to the Party's policy or, better, the Party position, I think you too express it well when you write:

    alanjjohnstone wrote:
    We enter a socialist society not with a blank page but with what exists now in capitalism. We have coal mines, we have nuclear power stations and we frack oil/gas. Those will be phased out, imho, as the renewables come on-stream replacing them and the waste of the capitalist economy diminishes.

    In other words, it is not inconceivable that fracking may (have to) exist in socialism. Or, as Paddy put, "if we need it, we may use it in socialism".

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