THE BLOG
07/26/2013 08:43 pm ET | Updated Sep 25, 2013

When Concerned Scientists Cause Concern

I have spent the last seven years witnessing the perils and attempting to understand the science behind fracking, the unconventional new kind of fracking that in terms of scale far supersedes the oil and gas extraction methods employed over the past half century. As a Special Assistant to former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell I became all too familiar with the seriously negative implications fracking has had on individuals and communities across the width and breadth of the Commonwealth, where under our watch the state engaged in fracking frenzy.

I have spoken and written about the uncertainties of this technology (see Known Unknowns, Huffington Post, March 22, 2013) on water quantity and quality; air contamination; public health; seismic activity; and climate change. In my current position as California State Director of Gasland Grassroots, charged with promoting the HBO documentary Gasland, Part II and educating the public on the tidal wave approaching communities throughout California I am dedicated to securing the most accurate and up-to-date evidence-based, peer-reviewed, and statistically significant science so as to inform a rational public debate before the state steps into a potential quagmire that will serve as a devastating legacy to future generations.

On July 25, the Union of Concerned Scientists conducted a Forum on Fracking at the University of California-Los Angeles. This venerable organization has existed since 1969 and serves as a basis for thoughtful and accurate scientific analysis of some of the most pressing issues facing our world. It is a respected and important organization.

Thus you can imagine my shock and chagrin when the first panelist to present on a day and a half of discussions of the Science Working Group, none other than the Chair himself, announced to those assembled and on a webcast that his report reflected a consensus that fracking was safe! There was an audible gasp in the audience and I was stunned. How could this be? Just moments earlier the Executive Director of the organization had informed us that 93 percent of its members expressed the sentiment that more information was needed on this important issue.

To the organization's credit, its representatives there took great pains to disassociate themselves and the organization from the remarks of the presenter. This was the right thing to do and it is much appreciated by all those who were in attendance, including me. However, what is equally as disconcerting as the fact that the remark was made was the fact that the person making it was a former Assistant Director for Energy R&D at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Upon further investigation it appears as though this individual was an original member of the Bush Administration and was kept on by Obama until earlier this year. This in itself raises eyebrows, but more importantly if this is the type of advice, judgment, and scientific expertise the president is relying upon on an issue as important as the emerging energy policy that will govern the country and the planet for the next century we are all in big trouble. It leaves little room to wonder why the all of the above strategy of pursuing any and all development, including the kind of drill baby drill sloganeering that would make Sarah Palin smile and Dick Cheney proud, is so prominently bandied about.

Mr. President, as a supporter of yours who deeply wants you to succeed and who cares very deeply about the world we leave our children I implore you to seriously reconsider this approach. The only thing fracking is safe for is to pad the profits of the most wealthy industry in the history of mankind, and industry that over the past decade has reaped in excess of $1 trillion in net profits. There are too many unanswered questions about fracking and it is the height of irresponsibility to jump head long into such precarious waters without a rigorous analysis of the potential pros and cons and factoring in the external costs that will inure to future generations.

I am not a scientist but I believe in science. The statement that fracking is safe is at this point a political statement, reflective of a policy agenda that promotes full-scale exploitation of fossil fuels and propounds that it is wise to continue to propel the current global economic paradigm with finite energy sources. At a time when we are suffering under a dysfunctional political system due largely to the inordinate influence of money and campaign contributions, thereby rendering an approval rating for Congress approaching single digits, we also are running the risk of corrupting science with policy and political agendas dictated by; well you guessed it, money.

The anti-intellectual and anti-science platforms of dominant conservatives who also purport to use obstruction as a tool to denigrate existing institutions all have an intended consequence of reducing confidence in anything other than boisterous pabulum.

I would issue a call to President Obama and California Governor Brown to resist the temptations of phantom prosperity and invest in a rigorous, empirical study of an issue that will most certainly represent your legacy to future generations. The issue is too important to be left to amateurs and industry shills. This is truly in keeping with your respective governing philosophies: follow that instinct. Governor Cuomo has held back unfettered fracking in New York and studiously insisted that science not emotion will dictate his decision. No less should be expected from others. Our addiction to fossil fuels is the problem; President Carter noted such when he issued his 1977 national address calling our energy dependence the "moral equivalent of war". Well, currently we are losing that war. Sound the battle cry Mr. President and Governor Brown.

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