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Fracking lies, myths and statistics: BS Detector

SPRINGVILLE, PA - JANUARY 17: A Cabot Oil and Gas natural gas drill is viewed at a hydraulic fracturing site on January 17, 2012 in Springville, Pennsylvania. While New York State has yet to decide whether to allow fracking, economically struggling Binghamton has passed a drilling ban which prohibits any exploration or extraction of natural gas in the city for the next two years.

Yes, we know. Fact-checking kills a good policy fight. It gets in the way of echo-chambers, and is certainly a job-killer for the bumper sticker industry. Official Washington operates as a thriving eco-system for old, bad, partial and mis-information, and no one changes their mind anyway.

Still, today’s oil and gas debate provides ample opportunity for some equal-opportunity myth-busting. We’ll updating this page, so keep stopping by. For now, we ask our 'friends-of-the-Petro-state-podcast' to highlight some energy and environment myths and misperceptions:

  • Ethan Zindler, Bloomberg New Energy Finance: Ready, aim, fire...on coal

Zindler says the first myth is that the Environmental Protection Agency is "killing the coal industry." The reality is that natural gas prices have just absolutely plummeted and natural gas has become so competitive with coal for power generation.

 

  • Zindler, Bloomberg New Energy Finance: Clean energy = overpriced energy

Zindler says that all we really want to do is track the costs and the amount of money. He adds, "The thing that kind of makes me nuts is when I hear people misquoting the actual data and facts about how much clean energy costs right now. I’ll give folks the benefit of the doubt, which is that they’re always not as on top of the latest research, but I repeatedly hear numbers cited that are two or three years old for the cost of say, wind generation or solar generation."

"It’s like saying oh yeah, my iPhone, it can only do 3G because that is what the iPhone 3 could do eighteen months ago – it literally is that same kind of technology evolution," he adds. "So, if you’re not getting the latest information, if you’re not within three to six months of the data you’re citing then you’re doing a disservice to people and that definitely came up in the debate over extending the production tax credit its comes up in discussions about solar as well."

Check out BNEF's chart below (note onshore wind and PV solar):

  • John Hanger, former environmental chief of Penn.: Drilling/Fracking is totally, safe

"Okay, the part of the impression and sometimes explicit words from the gas industry that I think is just wrong is -- at least the impression that has left with many audiences -- that gas drilling has no impacts and all. 'The processes are 100 percent perfectly safe,'" Hanger says, "And that’s just not accurate – there are very good companies working hard on safety and they have a good safety record, but the impact, it will never be zero, no matter how well it’s regulated. For me, it’s important to recognize that and work hard to reduce the rate of accidents and spills and to reduce the impacts and maximize the benefits."

  • Zindler, Bloomberg New Energy Finance: Government help = funding failed ventures like Solyndra

"There’s no question there were some big mistakes made around Solyndra. I won’t even sort of try to defend that, but the aim of what that program has tried to do, in terms of supporting next generation technologies is actually fairly unique," Zindler says. "And one of the things that our firm does is look around the world, at all kinds of policies and while there are a lot of countries that talk about doing things like having a green bank or these other kinds of things, the loan guarantee program was actually the very first to really put some real money, some real muscle into trying to do this."

"The fact that they’ve had some losers, frankly should have been expected. And I think it was expected internally, it may not have been articulated externally by the administration, but the reality of it is that program has planted some very important seeds in a lot of ways and we will not know whether some of these were successful, who knows for the next several years maybe five or ten years."

  • Hanger, former environmental chief of Penn.: Natural gas is the dirtiest fuel

"I often hear that gas drilling is the single worst possible energy source, it’s poisoning our waters and that we can immediately replace it and implicitly coal and oil with renewables. The risk is so high that we should stop it immediately. And that’s just not true either, at least when you compare risks that we accept from all our other energy choices," Hanger says. "I live in the Three Mile Island evacuation area. Three Mile Island’s a nuclear plant. It had a meltdown. There are lots of old coal fire power plants operating this morning that have no pollution controls or very few pollution controls on them. They are putting out huge amounts of mercury soot, and other pollutants that according to the EPA and very good science cause 34,000 premature deaths a year.

"Corn ethanol and big hydro have massive water impacts much bigger than gas drilling. So I’m not belittling or minimizing the impacts from gas drilling. They exist. But to exaggerate them and not recognize that those impacts are actually less and the risks are less than other forms of energy that we are totally dependent on right now. I don’t think it is correct or in some cases it’s just not honest," Hanger adds.


Again, we'll keep doing this until Washington runs out of myths, as in never. So check back.

As a teaser, we in the next few days will get other analysts' take on shale gas and manufacturing renaissance (hint: maybe not), and whether new fracking regulations kill the natural gas industry.

About the author

Scott Tong is a correspondent for Marketplace’s sustainability desk, with a focus on energy, environment, resources, climate, supply chain and the global economy.

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