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This is by no means meant to be relativist. Earlier this week we discussed some of the problems with the Fractivist movement – among them was the possibility of fracking fluids contaminating wells. I understand that this is a real (and controllable) problem.

Do any of you recall the US government mandates to put oxygenates into motor fuel? When oxygenates are added, such as MTBE and ethanol, the fuel burns more completely and fewer emissions are produced. But there is just one tiny problem with MTBE … it is a carcinogen. And beyond that, it leaches into groundwater supplies. In fact, I remember being a teenager and reading about wells in some states being closed and ruined because of MTBE contamination.

Point #1, which I made earlier: Only in wonderland can you eliminate trade-offs. The fractivists do not recognize that each decision about fuel production and use entails a sacrifice. Just as choosing cleaner air and fuel efficiency came at the expense of some contamination in the case of MTBE, so too will the use of natural gas to offset CO2 emissions entail some. Over time in a normally functioning economy, those tradeoffs become less severe.

Point #2, how come I don’t recall any signs like this in people’s yards?

Oh yeah, I know why, because our godlike leaders couldn’t possibly ever be questioned. Ever. I will recant if someone can find me a yard sign.  By the way, some folks (i.e. people like me) are regularly ridiculed for arguing that regulation can cause an unproductive “lock-in” effect.  That once in place, regulations are hard to eliminate, and that is one reason to oppose regulations despite their prima facia quality at the outset. For example, it took until 2006 (I think) until the MTBE mandates were dropped, despite over a decade of “scientific consensus” about their problems. And this was a puny industry.

5 Responses to “Contaminated Thinking”

  1. chuck martel says:

    Part, a major part, of the issue of “contamination” of well water or anything else, has been the increasing ability of testing apparatus to detect smaller and smaller percentages of the presence of various substances. Atomic absorption testing can routinely detect levels as low as 1 part per billion. Government agencies then determine levels of contaminants that are a threat to health. Advisories regarding methyl mercury in fish, for example, suggest limiting consumption of some species because of the hazards of this contamination, which are measured in fractions of parts per million. It could be compared to foregoing a trip to China because there might be a dozen serial killers operating there. Or, if you wished to murder your obnoxious and overbearing mother-in-law, would you feed her blue-fin tuna until she died? How long do you suppose it would take?

  2. […] Contaminated Thinking Fun Facts to Know and Tell: Nuclear Energy Edition Getting ready for a wave of coal-plant shutdowns […]

  3. The facts and myths about MTBE and fracking are the result of media campaigns about regulatory actions – and anticipated actions – to serve industry on the one hand and environmentalists on the other. The tug-of-war between factions is a symptom of over-governing. In an ideal state, someone would do something. It would have a consequence. Anyone affected by the consequence will take economic action (beneficial consequence: I will sell something that works with this) or legal action (I sue because am harmed by this). And that would be that. Instead, we suffer these winner-take-all bureaucratic battles.

  4. Harry says:

    Chuck, you make a great point, as does MM (distinguishing him from a different Michael.)

    With all of the scrubbers installed over the last forty years at coal-fired power plants, and all of the filters, etc., installed, not necessarily because some propellerhead at the EPA said it, the air is pretty clean now, compared to what I remember it, along I-95 going by Newark Airport. This is even discounting the smell of H2S from rotting organic material in the Meadowlands.

    As Chuck points out, our ability to detect small amounts of bad elements and compounds has enabled the police to find crimes that they define in parts per million. Lawyers, who do not have a clue about medicine or science, define not only what the acceptable levels of, say, mercury are, but also the point at which they are measured. That point often happens to be next to the smokestack of a coal-burning utility.

    This coming year, many power plants will shut down, because the king has decreed it, on the advice of his sorcerers. Coal has to go. Carbon has to go, or stay in the ground.

    I have written that CO2 is about .035% of the atmosphere. I may have qualified it by saying +/- twenty percent, but I do not know whether that is measured in Cambridge, Massachussets, or Cambridge, England, or at what time of year, and whether the data from the Falkland Islands or Diego Garcia is different at the same time in the afternoon; and I have yet to see a good argument that a) a reduction of 20% or whatever in man-made or US-man made CO2 will make any difference, or b) that there is anything we can do to change the vast force of nature.

  5. Harry says:

    Did not mean to imply the other Mike made a bad point. Great point

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