Hydraulic Fracturing: An Inconvenient Truth Carolyn Yanoti and Florian Muller 16068325, 16078618 December 5, 2013 Workshop Paper Assignment Final Version Professor Julia Quartz As America looks to find the best source of energy at hand domestically, the use of hydraulic fracturing proves to be the best response. Hydraulic fracturing is more commonly known as fracking, is the process where natural gas is extracted from shale rock areas deep within the earth. In the US, an estimated total of 1. 44 quadrillion cubic feet of shale gas is accessible with this technology.
In 2012, 32 states hosted natural gas drillers, with an extensive tendency. In the same year, 24 states considered 127 bills which were dealing with hydraulic fracturing, including regulatory laws in seven states and a ban of hydraulic fracturing in Vermont. More regulatory laws are likely to be enacted, as the opposition to fracking increases (NIA, 2013). This technology has created controversies in the United States over the cost benefits of risks as well as the uncertainties that may result in an unforeseen future.
Using a social constructivist approach we will be able to uncover how these controversies are constructed and what actors make up each side of the debate. Understanding how American society perceives risks and uncertainties, as well as how actors from the fracking industry frame their debate, is shown through the use of boundary work. This leads us to our question; is boundary work a sufficient tool to analyze the controversy of hydraulic fracturing?
In order to find an answer to this we must understand how both sides of the debate construct their views of risk and uncertainty which will be assisted through Becks theory of risk society. Through this theory, the relevance between hydraulic fracturing and global development exists hase of development of modern society in which the social, political ecological and individual risks created by the momentum of innovation increasingly elude the control and protective institutions of industrial society’ (Beck, 1999, pp. 2). The modernizing of society into a risk society is the connection this controversy experiences in relation to globalization and development. Hydraulic fracturing is a debate that can best be explicated through understanding the social contructivist approach, risk society, and boundary work in order to uncover its path in globalization and development. A social constructivist approach is relevant in understanding how knowledge and debates are formulated by differing social groups.
Using this theoretical framework provides us with a background on how a technology, in this case hydraulic fracturing, is constructed through separate discourses. According to Bilker, “In the social construction of technology approach (SCOT), relevant social groups are the starting point. Technical artifacts are described through the eyes of the members of these groups. The interactions within and among relevant social groups can give different meanings to the same. (Bilker, 2001, pp. 26).
In order to understand how controversial hydraulic fracturing is, the importance of how this technology is socially constructed among the relevant social groups is crucial. Thus looking at the controversy through a social constructivist study of the technology does not strictly mean we are applying Just an ontological position (Bilker, 1993, pp. 115). In order to understand how actors create a controversy over a technology it is best understood from Ulrich Becks theory of risk society. Beck explains how society moves from an industrial society to a risk society through two phases.
Phase one: where self-harm is systematically produced but is not a public issue or in any way the center of political conflict, and phase two: hazards from the industrial society now dominate the political and public debates (Beck, 1999, pp. 72). These phases are distinguished due to an increase in knowledge distribution, and the understanding that calculable risks in an industrial society became incalculable and unpredictable now in a risk society. Understanding the different levels of risk interpretation by different actors builds support on why they may or may not support a technology.
In the case of hydraulic fracturing, proponents argue fracking outcomes result in simplistic risks, which means they are manageable and can be easily calculated. In responding to potential opponents, the industry argues that risks can be managed through existing and rapidly improving technologies. A press release from the Marcellus Shale Coalition (2010) proposes what their argumentation looks like: “The members of the Marcellus Shale Coalition develop and drill wells in an environmentally responsible manner, including the use of hydraulic fracturing to complete a well for production.
Hydraulic fracturing has been an established and proven practice for 60 years in Pennsylvania and around the country, and has been regulated successfully by state agencies. There have been no identified groundwater contamination incidents due to hydraulic fracturing. ” In the additional measures to secure the extraction process, the strong pipe and the layers of cement, make hydraulic fracturing a very safe way to access the gas. Further security is guaranteed by the new, modern character of the technology. As a direct response to the risk of contains methane gas naturally and that it is not a poison.
If methane gas would leak into the atmosphere, it is of no significant danger, because the half-life is a lot shorter than the one of carbon dioxide for example (Howarth, Ingraffea & Engelder, 2011, p. 274-275). Opponents argue that risk outcomes from fracking are ambiguous and create unpredictable uncertainties. Beck explains, “the face of the unforeseeable and unaccountable consequences of large-scale technologies, it is necessary to re- define the rules and principles” (Beck 1993, pp. 78-79). The opponents’ arguments focus on environmental risks and health issues.
They claim that shale fracking is not clean. The toxic additives used to extract the gas from the shale are likely to leak into the groundwater, which is a threat to the ecosystem. Acids, Benzene and friction reducers harm living beings, if they are exposed to those chemicals. Especially children are vulnerable. (Lauver, 2012, p. 383-385). A second major concern is linked to water contamination an air pollution caused by the exploited gas, methane. Methane might leak from the fissures and the well into the water and the environment. This gas is known as a very potent greenhouse gas, too. . to 7. 9% of the fracking methane gas escapes into the atmosphere. This is twice as much as amount of conventional gas leaking into the atmosphere. Additionally, the diesel pumps which are used to pump the water into the well pollute the air as well. (Finkel & Hays, 2013, p. 890; Holzman, 2011). An additional argument related to environmental impacts from fracking is an increase of low-magnitude earthquakes in fracking areas, where no such earthquakes have occurred until the start of fracking. This is especially the case in northern Texas.
In November alone, 16 earthquakes have been registered. The strongest earthquake, which was registered in the area near Mineral Wells on November 13, 2013, had a magnitude of 3. 6. As this is a new experience for the people leaving it that area and thus, research on the relation between hydraulic fracturing and the occurrence of the earthquakes (RT, 2013a; Ellsworth, Robertson & Hook, 2013). The Massachusetts Statehouse is seeking a ten year ban of fracking to protect the drinking water, as uncertainties about the origins of earthquakes in Texas grow (RT, 2013b).
This theory of risk society explains how risk and uncertainties differ between actors in more detail. It is how these actors frame their debate which creates a controversial element in the fracking debate. This type of framing is done through the use of boundary work. According to Gieryn boundary work “is a strategic and purposeful act in which boundaries are drawn between realms, for example between science and non-science and between science and politics. ” (van Asselt, 2008, pp. 288). Actors use boundary work as a way to construct an ongoing role or goal portrayed in a particular way, and then presented to others.
In the controversy of hydraulic fracturing we can see the use of boundary work used y proponents, arguing that Shale gas is a bridging or transitional technology, the technique results in simple calculable risks, it supports the economy, and much of the public has been misinformed. Having less greenhouse gas emissions than other fossil fuels, shale gas decreases global warming. They see gas as the lesser evil compared to other fossil fuels especially coal. The large resources make shale gas an important factor for US energy needs and its economic renewal.
On a global scale, hydraulic fracturing is presented as one breakthrough for the growing world sources (Chyba, 2013; Halliburton, 2008). Not only does the fracking industry propose economic and energy benefits but the evidence proposed by the opposing actors is classed as too subjective, or non-science. According to Terry Engelder, an employee at the Depertment of Geosciences at Pennsylvania State University, “Risk perception is ultimately subjective: facts are all too easily combined with emotional responses. With hydraulic fracturing, as in many cases fear levels exceed the evidence. ” (Howarth, Ingraffea & Engelder, 2011).
We can see how boundary work in this case is divided strongly between perceptions of science and non-science. In the case of opponent arguments, boundary work is seen in a form of the lay knowledge divide. According to Wynne, the lay people are the grassroots expertise, “informal knowledge which lay people may well have about the validity of expert assumptions about real-world conditions is also an important category of lay knowledge that is usually systematically under-recognized. (Wynne, 1996, pp. 59). Proponents exclude lay knowledge and uncertainties that are uncovered by the lay public by dividing science from non-science knowledge.
These stories from Pennsylvania are very alarming,” said Dr. Sheila Bushkin, MD, MPH of the Institute for Health and the Environment at University at Albany. “The perspective of the gas industry fails to show adequate concern for the long-term health and quality of life of people. When you listen to the personal experiences of actual residents of Pennsylvania and other states where fracking has gone forward, you will hear stories of dead cows, pets, sick children, poisoned water and other serious health and environmental problems.