Saturday, May 25, 2013

Another view on another view of Fracking

While visiting the Sacramento area, I took a break and read the Sacramento Bee. in it was a rather interesting Op-Ed piece by a Mr. Dave Quast, of Energy in Depth, which I felt I had to address. In it he basically attacks the Center for Biological Diversity and draws strange conclusions about Fracking, a controversial gas extraction process with national (and international) issues. You can see the editorial here, and check out Mr. Quast's LinkedIn page here.

Here is my now, open letter to the editor of the Sacramento Bee;

In your May 25th issue on the opinion page, there appeared an interesting editorial from Dave Quast, the California director of Energy in Depth, an organization founded from financial commitments from organizations such as Shell, BP, Chevron and other petroleum leaders. The reason I found it interesting is that it appeared like a 4 year old time capsule was opened in the conversation of fracking.

In the Op-Ed he hyper focuses on the Center for Biological Diversity, one of thousands of organizations nationwide who wants the nation to move beyond oil and fracking. Quast seems especially fixated on a 2009 interview with the organization’s then executive director. Quast takes issue with the fact that the CBD is interested in hiring “philosophers, linguists and poets” to help spread the environmental message. He seems to draw the conclusion that this means that environmentalists are not interested in the science. This is a false conclusion.

The environmental movement, including the fields of conservation, climatology and anything having to do with saving the natural world around us from the destruction we create as a species is all about science and data. Unfortunately, that is the problem. As Kieran Suckling of the CBD mentions in the same interview Quast is referencing, “I think the professionalization of the environmental movement has injured it greatly. These kids get degrees in environmental conservation and wildlife management and come looking for jobs in the environmental movement.”

It is unfortunately true that the same people that can analyze the data and write the studies surrounding conservation and the environmental impacts are not always the best people at spreading the message and showing the impact of what those ramifications are. As one who works in the field of conservation outreach, there is a huge difference between being able to truly understand the data or the scientific jargon and being able to explain it well to others. Most people in their day-to-day lives don’t have time or background to look at a data set and realize that we need to change our practices. Sometimes it takes an alternative and non-science background perspective to be able to shape and format the conversation in a way that people can easily understand and identify with it.  

It is astoundingly ironic that Quast himself doesn’t mention this since (if you take a look at his LinkedIn Profile) he actually comes from a “liberal arts” background of journalism and not science.

What I found most interesting about Quast’s editorial was the fact that the only actual report he mentions is out-dated material stemming from 2009.  The truth of the matter is that there are many studies that have come out since then from both sides of the coin, funded by many different groups. Since 2009 there has been a torrent of studies on the effects of Fracking. Berkeley Law’s Center for Law, Energy & the Environment (CLEE) published one as recently as this last April. Where are those references in Quast’s editorial? It seems that he, like most in the Petroleum and Gas industries, are stuck in the past.

The long and the short of it is that we, as a nation and as a species, need to rethink our relationship with energy. Our society is addicted to oil. The burning of hydrocarbons has powered our nation from westward expansion to the modern era. Like most addicts, when the supply runs low, we look for ways to get that one last hit before moving to the next source.

What is going to happen when there is nothing more to frack? Are we going to invent a way to convert our dead into petrified liquids to burn off our hydrocarbons? It is time to truly adapt and evolve beyond burning hydrocarbons for energy. It is time to abandon Shell, Chevron, BP and Energy in Depth as relics of a pollutant-heavy era.

As Bill McKibben, the founder of mentioned, "We need a dramatic shift off carbon-based fuel: coal, oil and also gas."

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