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Stop Criticizing Fracking and Pipelines

by Brian Dunning

December 31, 2016

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Donate Many of my friends and colleagues often criticize me for refusing to embrace the popular anti-fracking rhetoric -- or, as some like to fallaciously describe it -- my "pro-fracking stance". There's a reason I refuse to condemn fracking, and it's the same reason I wouldn't jump on the ultra-fashionable anti-pipeline bandwagon; and I believe it is an important reason. Getting off of fossil fuels should be one of our highest priorities as a species. To persuade those who disagree, we need a bulletproof argument. Invented boogeymen like fracking and pipelines, when presented as reasons to get off fossil fuels, weaken that argument. When our loudest messages are so weak that they collapse under the slightest scientific scrutiny -- as do the pop criticisms of fracking and pipelines -- we are gravely harming the process of moving away from fossil fuels.

You can say that a given pipeline will harm water supplies, but it's trivial to show that a century of tens of thousands of such pipelines have not had any such consequence. Your argument is a poor one. You can say the alternative (tanker trucks) is safer, but the statistics easily show you are dead wrong.

You can list any number of the trendy claims about fracking: that it also harms water supplies (its safety record is, in fact, remarkable; and the additives in the water are not dangerous to begin with), that it causes earthquakes (it doesn't, though some evidence suggests that deepwater injection wells, which are unrelated to fracking, have been correlated with a number of harmless earthquakes), or that it makes your tap water catch on fire (it has nothing to do with this). All such arguments collapse under their own silliness when you shine even the faintest light of science on them. (My full episode on fracking is here.)

There are immutable proofs that we need to get off of fossil fuels as quickly as possible. I discussed just two of them here. Building an argument around such evidence as this is rock solid. It cannot fall apart based on its facts, because it is proven scientifically.

Moreover, focusing on these small "symptoms" of fossil fuel reliance is a distraction from the real problem, and the real target: the need to move completely away from fossil fuels.

Science advocates who agree with the need to get off fossil fuels should stop using weak, fallacious, and provably false arguments to make the point. Many who listen will not give you a second chance, and your opportunity to persuade will have been lost. Stop criticizing fracking and pipelines, and keep your eye on the ball.

by Brian Dunning

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