Tulane CFACT Attends Fracking Debate

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In an annual energy debate on Tulane’s campus, two experts faced off to discuss the benefits and potential risks of the controversial “fracking” practice.

Fracking, more formally known as hydraulic fracturing, is a process by which pipes are built deep into the ground (up to one or two miles below the surface) and then move horizontally across the sub-surface landscape in order to access hard-to-reach natural gas. The process has caused controversy due to the claims of several environmentalists expressing its’ potential hazards, versus those who find great economic benefit for society in the practice.

Professor Eric Smith, associate director of the TU Energy Institute, and Tyson Slochum of Public Citizens Energy Program, met a packed crowd to debate these very issues.

Emily Johnson, CFACT chair at Tulane, attended to see what each would say and how Slochum would defend a stance that is slowly losing steam.

The event began with introductions, in which Smith focused on the correlation between higher GDP and oil production, as well as the shift towards more on-shore drilling. Slochum took the stage to say “fracking isn’t sustainable.” He made claims that fracking only benefits those involved with the field. While Slochum is certainly correct in that those who own land on top of this valuable resource will benefit greatly (much like the gold rush of the 1800’s,) fracking also provides economic benefits to society, by promoting lower energy prices through an increase in supply.

photo 1-5The first question by the moderator centered on the water contamination myth. Those opposed to fracking argue that usable water, like that which comes out of a faucet, becomes contaminated and unsafe due to this process. Slochum defended this point, arguing it is dangerous and should bring a greater discussion about its safety.

Smith fired back though, with several important facts that provide context to this point of contention. Fracking occurs one to two miles below the surface of the earth, whereas most drinkable water is found only about 1,000 feet below the surface. This doesn’t even include the fact that the liquid mixture that is sent down the pipe in order to extract the natural gas comprises of 99% water. The other one percent is a minor combination of standard chemicals.

The two then discussed potential issues with where a fracking site is located, with Smith arguing for the ability to frack in most any property and Slochum supporting the collective opinion of city councils or communities in making such a decision.

The closing of the debate ended on the viability of tracking, where Slochum restated the potential water contamination issues, increased pollution, and concern over costs. Smith responded strongly with the quote of the night, noting “This is a capitalist society. It runs on people taking risks, getting their money back, and maybe some more.”

We agree.