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The inevitable has become reality: New York State has banned fracking. Makes this sort of thing rather laughable, now doesn’t it? What can I really say? The epidemiology is not there to support “fracking” as being particularly dangerous. The environmental research is not there to support the idea that it is particularly harmful. Remember, good economics and environmental policy asks, “as compared to what?” Now I see several points here once you realize this question is important:

  1. How does fracking rank, in terms of absolute risks, in terms of things that threaten water in New York? I have asked this question for years and no one gives a clear answer, not least the fractivists themselves.
  2. EVEN IF methane leaks from wells and neutralizes any CO2 benefits we get from using gas, are not the reductions in particulate emissions we get from burning gas worth A LOT LOT LOT more than the potential benefits or costs to global warming from burning gas? Indeed, not too long ago some famous economist made the argument, a persuasive one, that the NET impact of coal on the US is negative. In other words, it’s not that coal produces negative externalities, it’s that the negative external costs are larger than the social gains created by the fuel itself. I am sure Alex Epstein would disagree.
  3. I think the fractivists find themselves in all kinds of twisty pretzels if in fact they support the ban on anything grounded in reason and rational argument. They support the ban, plain and simple, because, well, because the 99%. They support the ban because social justice. They support the ban for … symbolic reasons. We know this has to be true. Why? If global warming is the greatest threat to mankind and we believe in the Precautionary Principle, then we should be going nuts to do anything to reduce our reliance on coal. And empirically gas has been able to replace coal over the last 7 years.
  4. What is most interesting about fractivist arguments is that “gas doesn’t generate much in the way of economic benefits.” What if I decide to agree with that argument? I think it opens up a whole host of really exciting possibilities. Consider this: the minimum wage doesn’t produce too much in the way of economic benefits, so it should be banned! Or how about this, there is no evidence that “green jobs” and alternative energies have done anything to the economy and plenty of reason to believe they have hurt it – so let’s ban those. Or how about this: since people believe that natural gas can’t really displace too much existing energy, it should be banned. Then, I am all for the argument, and it is true, that NO RENEWABLES have been demonstrated to take any fossil fuel energy offline. Since renewables can’t reduce fossil fuel use, they should be banned. Or how about the small economic benefits to gas? Well, you know, almost any industry provides very small benefits on its own. Let’s ban the local bakery businesses: after all, they contribute to global warming and produce only a very small measurable economic benefit. Or how about we ban organic farming? The farms don’t really employ many people, they increase land under cultivation, and given the high costs of the food produced not only do they not do very much for the economy, they are techniques that are out of reach for the neediest people. Or how about this? We shouldn’t permit recreational fishing in New York. That activity has a small impact on the economy and of course threatens the health of lakes and related ecosystems.
  5. The US shale boom was deemed to be too small to have any meaningful impact on global markets.
  6. I’m happy with the ban, I really am. Now I don’t need to stare at the No Fracking signs and watch the protests all the time. My question is, what will the fractivists turn their attention to next? I will give enthusiastically support the consistent ones that show me the real risks fracking imposes to water, air, soil, climate and human health and then go one by one protesting and banning ANYTHING that is worse than fracking.

New York State: open for business!  And in other news, more central planning – but when it’s sponsored by a university it’s all good – the smart people know what they’re doing.

2 Responses to “I’m Not a NYSDEC Fan Today”

  1. Harry says:

    I can’t figure it out either, WC. Surely all New Yorkers who do not Winter in warm places should welcome lower energy prices, especially if your furnace burns natural gas and your stove burns it too.

    Perhaps the political class has painted itself into a corner, where if one concedes doubt about environmentalist dogma, it means opening one’s self to a full systematic examination of the validity of arguments held since childhood, reinforced by college teachers teaching that dogma for hundreds of reasons. Take one card out of the house of cards, and all of a sudden one has to go back to square one, which might lead to the collapse of a career. Hence, the need to declare that the debate is settled.

    One way I convince myself that reading TUW is not a waste of my time is that Wintercow spends much effort to challenge his own propositions and encourages his readers to do the same. We get often convoluted replies to critics of those ideas, some of whom he no doubt encounters in the academic cocoon, and others he conjures up from pure reason. I would like to be a fly on the wall in Harkness Hall, eating from his box of chocolates, never knowing what you will get.

    So, why do Governor Cuomo and his people think they are doing the majority of voters a big favor by banning fracking? Is that what Nero might have done?

  2. sherlock says:

    Long post here.

    From the Newsday article: (http://www.newsday.com/opinion/andrew-cuomo-makes-the-right-call-on-fracking-lane-filler-1.9724052)

    “Seriously, it’s difficult to picture my grandkids in the year 2064 saying, “Man, I sure am glad they decided to shoot millions of gallons of water and nasty chemicals the drilling companies refused to identify into the earth 50 years ago to extract natural gas.””

    Does the author know that fracking was introduced in the late 40’s and “massive” fracking started in the late 60’s? These are things I know and I haven’t dug too far into the fracking issue. The author doesn’t need his grandkids, he can have a 50-year opinion on it himself. It doesn’t seem to be too informed of an opinion, however.

    New York Times Article: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/18/opinion/gov-cuomo-makes-sense-on-fracking.html

    “Acting health commissioner, Dr. Howard Zucker, told a meeting of the governor’s cabinet that “the science isn’t there” to say definitively whether hydraulic fracturing is safe or not. But judging from the overall weight of evidence, Dr. Zucker advised against going forward. “Would I live in a community with (hydraulic fracturing) based on the facts that I have now?” he said at one point. “Would I let my child play in a school field nearby?” After looking at the questions raised in numerous reports, he said, “my answer is no.” Mr. Cuomo found Mr. Zucker’s personal response particularly impressive.”

    The science isn’t settled, but lets ban it because I don’t want my kids near it. So he didn’t give a reason for the ban other than saying, “I don’t know”. I’m fine with him saying “I don’t know” but I don’t take that as a reason for an outright ban. This is what comes from the preeminent expert on fracking in NY State?

    Anyway, I’ll grant him his argument. So perusing wikipedia and here are the common additives to fracking fluid* (my additions are in parenthesis at the end of each):

    Acids—hydrochloric acid or acetic acid is used in the pre-fracturing stage for cleaning the perforations and initiating fissure in the near-wellbore rock.(Hydrochloric acid is used in disinfectants and cleaning toilet bowls because it dissolves the rust. Acetic acid is the major component of vinegar and gives it it’s smell.)

    Sodium chloride (salt)—delays breakdown of gel polymer chains.(I don’t think you need my input on this one).

    Polyacrylamide and other friction reducers decrease turbulence in fluid flow and pipe friction, thus allowing the pumps to pump at a higher rate without having greater pressure on the surface.(I didn’t know this one! But I did find out is used to manufacture soft contact lenses)

    Ethylene glycol—prevents formation of scale deposits in the pipe. (Used in your typical antifreeze. Slowly being replaced by polyethylene glycol and others because ethylene glycol is toxic. But remember, toxicity depends on dose.)

    Borate salts—used for maintaining fluid viscosity during the temperature increase. (This is Borax!)

    Sodium and potassium carbonates—used for maintaining effectiveness of crosslinkers.(I hope you don’t wash your clothes!)

    Glutaraldehyde—used as disinfectant of the water (bacteria elimination) (Used to disinfect medical equipment. Disinfecting medical equipment is a a higher class of disinfectants, deemed safer. Don’t use bleach to disinfectant your scalpel.)

    Guar gum and other water-soluble gelling agents—increases viscosity of the fracturing fluid to deliver proppant into the formation more efficiently.(Don’t brush your teeth either!)

    Citric acid—used for corrosion prevention. (Watch out for soda! They may actually be a good idea, but that’s up to you. Also used in a ton of household cleaners, shampoos, handsoaps.)

    Isopropanol—increases the viscosity of the fracture fluid.(Have you sanitized your hands? Yeah, you have directly put this on you.)

    There are tons of other uses besides just the ones there, but I think it would be a nice start to ban all those activities. I can’t have my kids in a house or a school or a car until we “know”! Also for reference, any disinfectant is directly approved by the EPA and any hand sanitizer has to comply with FDA monographs.

    *Yes, I know there are plenty of other chemicals used in fracking fluid, but I’ve never heard any fracking activist explain which ones they are actually talking about and why they are bad. They usually just scream about “CHEMICALS” in a general, terrified tone. The farthest I’ve seen them go on a knowledge level is saying “known carcinogens”. I will grant them that, however, I can call coffee (classified as 2b in the IARC monographs) a carcinogen. So again, what are we talking about?

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