In my special tomorrow, titled "Myths, Lies and Complete Stupidity" I argue that it is myth to say that fracking, used to get natural gas out of the ground, is unacceptably dangerous.
Fracking is indeed dangerous. But so is coal mining, oil drilling, nuclear waste, building windmills and solar collectors, and shipping windmills and solar collectors. All energy production poses dangers. Life involves trade-offs. The tradeoffs for natural gas are well worth it. Fracking allows Americans to save money on home heating bills. It's lowered the price of natural gas so much that manufacturing that left America is coming back. It may make America energy independent. For those concerned about global warming, burning gas instead of oil and coal helps reduce CO2 emissions.
So I was puzzled that some serious people, like Paul Gallay of Riverkeeper, want fracking stopped. When I interviewed him, he made what sounds like a compelling case.
Gallay cites a study that claims that fracking makes it more likely that you'll have gas (methane) in your tap water. But that study only examined 60 wells. A more recent study looked at 1,700 wells in the same area and found no relation between being close to natural gas drilling and having methane in your water.
Gallay sent us a study by Cornell ecology professor Robert Howarth that says fracking does not reduce greenhouse gas emissions because methane is an unusually powerful greenhouse gas. But an MIT study found that Howarth's estimates of the emissions from fracking are 7 to 30 times too large. A study by Cornell scientist Lawrence Cathles also criticizes Howarth's assumptions. (If you want more details, Howarth responded to the critics. Then Cathles responded to the response.)
Fracking opponents also cite accidents like this one: "Frack Fluid Spill in Dimock Contaminates Stream, Killing Fish." An MIT report counted up more cases.
But put that in perspective. There are at least 35,000 active hydraulic fracturing wells in the US. In other words, MIT found about one alleged problem for every 1,000 wells. Mistakes happen; one-per- thousand is about as error-free as energy production gets.
Technology will also make fracking even safer: Scientists recently invented a fracking fluid that is so safe, you can drink it.
One claim, famously made by the movie Gasland, is that your tap water might catch on fire if you live near a fracking site. Methane is flammable after all, and the film features a man in Colorado whose tap water bursts into flame. So state environmental officials looked in the man's case, and determined that the flammable water was not due to fracking - it was there naturally. That happens often. In my special on Sunday, I show clips of burning water in all sorts of places-places far from any fracking. It's a big country. Lots of weird stuff happens.
The bottom line is it that fracking brings good things: cheaper energy, jobs, and cleaner air. Even President Obama says that "the natural gas boom has led to cleaner power."
Still, the usual alarmists have already stopped fracking in New York State, Maryland, and Vermont. This won't help the environment. Or poor people.
Fracking does pose risks, but they can be safely managed.