George P. Mitchell, fracking, and scientific innovation. – Slate Magazine

15 Apr

The shale gas R&D projects assumed a kind of vacuum. The only criteria were technical feasibility and economic profitability, and the innovators failed to consider questions about how the technologies would play out in the real world. What is the long-term fate of the chemicals that remain underground? What do we do with the toxic mixture of fracking fluids and naturally occurring radioactive materials that flows back up the wellbore during drilling and production? How will roads handle the increase in traffic volume that results from the roughly 1,000 truck trips (hauling fracking fluids and waste water) it takes to get each well producing? What are the air quality and climate implications? Can we safely frack in places where people live? What happens when the wells run dry? Is it wise to further commit ourselves to a finite fossil resource that requires such extreme measures to extract?

Why weren’t these questions asked with the same rigor as the technical questions? It is because we have an innovation system that only asks “how to,” not “what if?” As a result, we have enormous powers to change the world and the way we live, but essentially zero capacity to guide those powers wisely or responsibly. We promote transformative research with one hand and clean up its messes with the other. And throughout we lack any clear sense about what needs transforming and why.

via George P. Mitchell, fracking, and scientific innovation. – Slate Magazine.

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