Fracking, Devil or Angel
Hydraulic fracturing or fracking for short, is “a technique used to release petroleum, natural gas or other substances for extraction” (“Hydraulic fracturing”). In this paper, we only examine natural gas fracking, whose product is a mixture consisting largely of methane. To put fracking into simple words, it is a process where sand, water and other chemicals are pumped into the ground so that they will replace natural gas trapped inside of the rock. The gas will then be guided into a tube to the ground where it is eventually collected and transported by trucks.
In his post “5 Reasons Fracking Should Scare the Absolute Hell Out of You”, Jon Bowermaster calls for the scrutinizing and halt of fracking to ensure the safety of citizens living near the natural gas well. Allen Gilmer, on the other hand, strongly disagrees with Bowermaster. In the post “10 Reasons Fracking Improves American Lives”, Gilmer argues that fracking has brought overwhelming benefit to America. Each author believes his claim is not only scientifically accurate but also morally correct. Each argues on the grounds of the health of citizens, the environment of the state, the safety of people, and the economy of America, but come to drastically different conclusions. Further more, each author makes emotional appeals to readers in their arguments and asserts that his way is patriotic and the opponent is ruining America.
The first and the most important argument of both authors is the health of citizens who live near fracking wells. Bowermaster states that Congress has exempted the industry from certain environmental protection laws. This appeals to Americans’ distrust against authority and a special kind of patriotism that citizens are the most important part of the homeland and should be protected against authority. Bowermaster further argues that fracking is damaging to people’s health because various symptoms such as asthma, nausea and organ failure increase significantly in neighborhoods of fracking wells. This argument, if true, is not refutable as no other benefit could ever outweigh human life. However, this argument is extremely vague. The argument does not specify any specific report or location where the increase of asthma, nausea and organ failure happened. Gilmer, taking notice of this weakness, argues the reports are fraudulent and states, “For example, reports that breast cancer rates rose in a region with heavy gas drilling are false”(Begos) in his link to a news article by the Associated Press. This citation and linking avoid vagueness and lend credit to the argument. It completely undermines the claim by Bowermaster that disease is spreading in the neighborhood of fracking.
Bowermaster furthermore intentionally blurs the line between correlation and causation. Even if those reports are true, they could only mean a relation between increases of diseases and the location where the drilling happens. This relation might be caused by a confounding variable. The author puts the clause “where fracking chemicals have already been exploded underground and leaked into the air” immediately after the noun “neighbor”. This can mislead readers to believe fracking is the only cause for the increase of disease. In fact, no study has shown fracking is making people sick as of January 2013(Lynn 1-2).
Next, both authors focus their attention on environmental issues. Bowermaster claims that ground water is contaminated and the wastewater used in fracking is left behind to contaminate ground once more. Bowermaster uses strong language in the argument such as “the explosion of a toxic blend of water-chemicals-and-sand” and “a messy toxic sludge” to emotionally appeal to readers on the disgusting effect of fracking on the environment. However, he falsely assumes all chemicals are toxic. The word “blend of water-chemicals-and-sand” betrays his ignorance about chemistry. Both water and sand are some combinations of chemicals while here he associates chemicals with negative connotation only. He also fails to mention any protective mechanism deployed in fracking just in order to prevent the contamination of water. He further ignores a perfectly reasonable counter-argument. He claims, “Wastewater is left behind” and pumped back into ground in a nearby state or country. This implies the mixture used for fracking will undergo no process and be got ridden of casually. This is obviously not true. All industries are required to deal with their waste one way or the other. The wastewater in some case could even be recycled and detoxified to reach the standard of drinking water (Lavandera). The argument is invalid because he provides no evidence that even after detoxification, the wastewater will still poison the environment. In fact, “USGS (U.S. Geological Survey) data showed the water was not contaminated by fracking” (Gardner). Gilmer, however, employs statistical data to argue that fracking does no harm to the environment, but rather benefits it greatly. “We’ve reduced CO2 emissions 1.7% with no economic kneecapping” seems particularly convincing as the data comes from United States Environmental Protection Agency. This information seems credible to most Americans as it comes from the government agency. It is in a sense the opposite of what Bowermaster does, condemning congress, the authority because congress allies itself with large companies and ignores the needs of citizens.
About the data itself, natural gas produces less CO2 when completely burned. The claim is true but misleading as it hits the blind spots of common readers who believe CO2 is the only green house gas. Methane, the main substance in natural gas is roughly 20 times more effective than CO2 to trap heat in the atmosphere. Therefore, the release of a small amount of methane into the atmosphere, caused by leak during transportation or incomplete burning, might be comparable to the CO2 it reduces.
Gilmer and Bowermaster further disagree at the potential risk fracking imposes on citizens. Gilmer refutes the rumor that fracking might cause earthquakes by stating the chances are extremely small and are no more risky than historical drilling activity. This tactic has tremendous strength. No matter how negligible small the chances of causing earthquake, some readers will still object that there is a chance and we should avoid it. But by comparing the chance to other drilling activities we take for granted, such as oil drilling, it leave readers no choice but to accept the safety of fracking or reject drilling all together. This binary argument forces readers who rely on oil drilling (for example, for the gasoline of the car) to question why they accept traditional drilling but not fracking, even though the former is not safer.
Bowermaster addresses a similar argument. He states that natural gas wells will fail 20% of the time due to cement casing and produce disastrous effects. He mentions the Deepwater Horizon explosion and the subsequent oil spill in an attempt to draw analogies and demonstrate the level of destruction. Under a close inspection however, the argument is invalid. The incident mentioned above is related to oil drilling rather than fracking. This leaves the impression that oil drilling might be more dangerous or as dangerous as fracking. Because oil drilling has been adopted for a long time and the ban of oil drilling is as absurd as it is impractical, it implies fracking should be widely adopted and treated the same as oil drilling. The 20% failure rate seems dubious. The failure rate is supposed to be admitted by nature gas industry, but nowhere in the post does the author specify who or which organization admits such an appalling rate. I personally searched for this data for hours without any results.
Besides concerns on health, environment and safety issues, both authors address the economic effect of fracking. Gilmer states in his analysis that fracking brings significant economical and political benefit. He claims that fracking reduces the price of natural gas thus boosting manufacturing industry. It is logical that cheap energy could significantly cut down the cost of manufacture and attract investment capital. Because of the recent peak of unemployment rate in the United States, it is very likely that the reader is or knows someone who is unemployed. Therefore, the advantage of new jobs fracking could potentially bring is certainly a great emotional appeal to the reader. He further asserts that the fracking industry contributes a significant amount to “rural and agricultural communities across America” as well as the federal government. It also reduces the dependency of foreign oils and cut down the cost of importing them. The author intentionally induces the patriotism of the reader. He first argues for the independence of American energy and then states that Americans could stop sending money to unfriendly governments in the Middle East. The argument is ill founded from a scientific standpoint but is persuasive to a patriotic American citizen.
Bowermaster asserts that an industrial wasteland will follow the fracking, as the drilling wells need a large amount of land, chemicals and transportations. He uses the phrase “taxed and destroyed” to describe roads and bridges built for fracking. Taxation is always a controversial topic. He brings up tax here to create an impression that the tax money will be spent on infrastructure for fracking but does no improvement, as the infrastructure will be eventually destroyed. At this economical hard time, many readers are probably having troubling paying bills. He creates an impression that paying taxes by the hard earned money is okay but wasting on fracking is not acceptable.
Overall, both arguments address the health concern, environmental impacts, safety issues and economical consequences. The arguments by Bowermaster are vague and not backed up by sufficient scientific data while arguments by Gilmer are more concrete. They both make emotional appeals especially patriotic appeals to make their arguments more persuasive.
Begos, Kevin. “Experts: Some fracking critics use bad science”. AP, Jul 22, 2012. 24 Feb 2013.
Bowermaster, Jon. “5 Reasons Fracking Should Scare the Absolute Hell Out of You”. TakePart, July 27, 2012. Web. 24 Feb 2013.
Gardner, Timothy.” US delays finalizing report linking fracking to water pollution”. Reuters, Jan 11, 2013. Web. 24 Feb 2013.
Gilmer, Allen. “10 Reasons Fracking Improves American Lives”. Drillinginfo, October 5th, 2012. Web. 24 Feb 2013.
“Hydraulic fracturing”. Wikipedia. n.d. Web. 24 Feb 2013.
Lavandera, Ed. “Desperate to drink, West Texas turns to wastewater”. CNN U.S., August 10, 2011. Web. 24 Feb 2013
Lynn, Steve. “Is fracking making people sick?”. NCBR, January 25, 2013. Web. 24 Feb 2013.