Gas Fracking: No Time for Nuance

My friend Andrew Revkin, whom I greatly respect, has lately been pointing out certain problems with critiques of gas fracking, and pointing out how it could be greatly improved.

They want more gas until something better can come along. This is the "bridge" argument. Those proponents viewing fracking from the sidelines see that gas is cleaner than coal -- well, what isn't? -- and thus a "bridge" between coal and the next big thing. (The ones in it for the money couldn't care less about "bridges" -- they'd burn theirs if someone paid them enough.) The "bridge" proponents see gas as the best thing to use while we're building our new energy future by scaling up clean renewables like sunlight and wind and geothermal which come perpetually for free once you build the structures to harness them.

Revkin and others whom he cites want improvements in the fracking process and offer nuanced arguments for how that could be accomplished. But my observation is that people in the energy business aren't into nuance; they're into fast, heavy moneymaking. And they are exquisitely good at it.

Anyway, what I want to ask here is, could any nuance alter the conclusion that fracking is bad and should be stopped, since the following two things are true:

Water supplies can get contaminated, and when fracking moves into an area, property values can sink to zero.

Is there anything else in which we deem it okay to ruin peoples' homes and communities so some people can make more money? Didn't we decide a long time ago that we need to protect things? What kind of country exempts one practice -- fracking for gas -- from its Clean Water Act, since the process contaminates water? The America I want and have loved doesn't sell its core values -- and yet we've done just that for fracking.

Aren't some downsides big enough to be deal-breakers? Isn't this all it boils to? There are two sides to the story but they are the usual: some want it for the short-term money, and some don't because they're long-term harmed.

And if economics incentivizes export of the gas, followed by price hikes, doesn't this become another "too cheap to meter" pipedream? Aren't we all set up to be totally duped, accepting fracking with the dangle of cheap prices only to be force-fed high prices as soon as enough people switch onto it that world gas prices can be hiked?

America could become "the Saudi Arabia of gas," but I'd rather it just be America the beautiful. (Why doesn't Saudi Arabia aspire to become the America of the Middle East?) Call me conservative in that sense. I'd rather we hold a white light at the end of a tunnel rather than a blue flame amidst poisoned water and divided communities.

What might seem idealistic daydreaming by those opposed is also visionary resistance to a major foreseeable disaster that's well underway. Idealism always calls to mind Thoreau's line of practical advice, "If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them."

I think a lot is at stake, and when facts are arrayed about the benefits of gas, one needs to be realistic about the how of this playing-out (the politics, economics, and mainly the usual human psychology), followed by and a yes/no decision about whether fracking is OK or wrong.

I don't think it's OK.

I wish I did, because gas would be better than oil or coal. As if it was that simple; oil and coal will still be very much used. And though it may be simplistic to conclude the following, this simple conclusion is as valid and fact-based as any conclusion that argues that we need global fracking: we should elevate self-renewing sources in an Apollo-mission way, with Manhattan Project urgency -- because it's the right thing to do and the need is urgent. Isn't either one of those two reasons always reason enough? Isn't that the best reason?

Forget bridges, let's get to the other side with all due haste and urgency, massively build up our renewable infrastructure, and stop nuancing more of the same drill-baby-drill catastrophe