The USFG should ban hydraulic fracturing
I've been wanting to have this debate for quite a while, and I figure it's a pretty worthy subject considering it's a large part of our current environmental policy.
I'll give some brief definitions.
Ban: "to forbid people from using (something) : to say that something cannot be used or done."
Hydraulic fracturing (fracking): "Hydraulic fracturing is the fracturing of rock by a pressurized liquid. Some hydraulic fractures form naturally"certain veins or dikes are examples. Induced hydraulic fracturing or hydrofracturing is a technique in which typically water is mixed with sand and chemicals, and the mixture is injected at high pressure into a wellbore to create small fractures (typically less than 1mm), along which fluids such as gas, petroleum, uranium-bearing solution, and brine water may migrate to the well. Hydraulic pressure is removed from the well, then small grains of proppant (sand or aluminium oxide) hold these fractures open once the rock achieves equilibrium. The technique is very common in wells for shale gas, tight gas, tight oil, and coal seam gas and hard rock wells. This well stimulation is usually conducted once in the life of the well and greatly enhances fluid removal and well productivity, but there has been an increasing trend towards multiple hydraulic fracturing as production declines."
For the sake of absolute clarity, I will say that this policy would allow any current fracking operations to finish before coming into full effect. No new sites can be drilled after the policy comes into effect. The ban will be reviewed on a yearly basis to evaluate whether it is still warranted.
If anything remains unclear, I request that my opponent either seek to clarify it themselves in R1, or ask for clarification.
The burden of proof is mainly on me. I must prove that there is sufficient harm to warrant such a ban. I realize that the harm must therefore be substantial, and I intend to prove that those harms exist. If I don't fulfill that burden, the debate should automatically go to Con.
I've set the conditions as follows:
- "Select Winner" voting with a minimum Elo of 2500 to vote
- 10,000 characters
- 4 rounds
- 72 hours per side per round
Note that only those with 5 or more debates under their belts can accept. If you have fewer debates than that and are interested, just post in the comments and I may challenge you directly.
The structure of this debate will be as follows:
R1: Acceptance only
R2: Opening arguments
R3: Rebuttals, new argumentation
R5: Rebuttals and conclusion
And with that, I await my opponent's acceptance. Whoever you are, I wish you luck, and appreciate your choice to engage me on this topic!
I accept the terms, and I will hold the position that fracking should not be banned. I don't really like that my opponent will be arguing for an annual renewal; it seems that it is just a way to weasel out of the cons of a ban, but I won't ask that it be removed because I think I can beat it anyway.
I look forward to a great debate and wish my opponent good luck. I look forward to his arguments.
Before I get started, I'd just like to defend my choice for annual review. Realize that a ban would be reviewed in any case, multiple times over the course of any given year, especially considering the money involved. I'm merely providing an avenue for this discussion to occur annually as well. Moreover, I think it's unreasonable to state that a ban of this sort should be viewed as absolute. I can't account for all the technological advances of the future, as these may dramatically alter what fracking is. Should the definition of fracking be altered substantially, I should not be required to defend a continued ban on all things under it.
Alright, let's get started.
1. Environmental Harms
a) Groundwater contamination
In 2008, a hydrologist found benzene in a water well in Wyoming above where fracking was occurring. There is a tremendous amount of film available showing that flammable gas is leaking through dinking water pipes, which poses a dramatic risk to homes and their inhabitants. Lives are placed at risk, as well as livelihoods.
What does all this stem from? Well, the first problem is that the fluids used in fracking are considered to be proprietary formulas. Most companies don't disclose nearly enough information on the chemicals used in fracking. The second is that we don't know where all of our groundwater is, since extensive techniques must commonly be used to be certain. The third problem is how it's done. The process of injection is mostly safe when the wellbores are constructed strongly, but the injection itself is meant to send large amounts of chemicals outward into porous soil, from which it cannot possibly all be recovered. Hell, porous rock is normally required at the point of injection. In other words, it's a part of the process, something only a ban such as this could address.
This might sound absurd, but it's a real concern. Earthquakes have rocked many states in which fracking has been done extensively, most notably in Oklahoma, where a freak earthquake that baffled seismologists leveled a number of homes. Why did this happen? "Scientists now believe that the pressure and lubrication of that wastewater can cause faults to slip and unleash an earthquake... too much wastewater in a disposal well forces liquid downward and outward... it can meander for months, creeping into unknown faults and prying the rock apart just enough to release pent-up energy." As an extraction method, fracking amounts to 878 billion gallons of wastewater annually. Even if we forget about the massive loss of water and the various dumping practices associated with it (and we certainly shouldn't), more than a third of this is injected back into disposal wells, all of which can contribute to similar earthquakes.
Let's start with the air. I'm not saying that oil or coal are good, but natural gas is, at best, no better, and at worst, dramatically worse. Recent studies have shown that methane, a more potent greenhouse gas, is leaking out of the soil and into the air from many of these wells. This leakage is thought, again, to result from the porosity of soil, which allows gas to travel through it in the event that the rock around that gas is disrupted. That's exactly what fracking is supposed to do. It's only a short term solution, as the amount of natural gas available to be fracked is still limited. It also releases CO2 when burned, producing a smaller but still substantial amount of the greenhouse gas.
The biggest effect, however, is one that is not direct. The price of natural gas is so low that many companies are simply abandoning renewable energy alternatives. It's gone so far that natural gas - a resource-limited, carbon dioxide-emitting fuel source - is being rebranded as green energy by the European Union! The use of natural gas is actively pushing back our progress in biofuels and green energy, which means we're just going to keep burning for longer, leading to more CO2 and methane emissions.
Most companies engaging in fracking is currently exempt from the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Safe Drinking Water Act. They deny many scientists access to the wells to actively prevent us from understanding the impacts of fracking. They even go so far as to use lawsuits to prevent what information does come out from being disclosed.[12, 13] The number of unknowns is simply staggering.
2. Economic Harms
a) Long term
Fracking has been shown to be a low sum game. Whether you're fracking for oil or gas, fracking only allows access to very small amounts of oil or gas trapped in the rock. Withdrawal of either fossil fuel will normally peak after just a few years, and then begin a rapid decline. Each new source, therefore, requires more fracking over a larger area, and often the movement of operations. This is true even of the Bakken shale in North Dakota that my opponent touts as a fantastic source. That means the costs of fracking increase, since they can't just make a well and sit there.
It creates periods of huge economic booms followed by similarly huge economic busts. All we need to do here is look at Pennsylvania's Bradford County, a place where fracking companies saw quite a bit of theoretical benefit. They paid residents to frack under and near their homes, had new motels built and staffed in order to accommodate the massive influx of workers, and many of the businesses in town either expanded or, at the very least, acquired far more resources in order to field more customers. Then they left. Whether this was due to the difficulties involved in acquiring natural gas, the plunging cost of natural gas worldwide, or the need to plumb new sites hardly matters - the town was hit hard. Residents who depended upon the money from fracking companies won't receive it, motel owners will have to close down, and other businesses will suffer the effects of lost resources. The best you can say is that they have increased tourism, but even that should flag with time.
b) Short term
Not only does fracking do long term damage that can't be fixed, disfiguring the landscape, as it has done in North Dakota, but the damage is happening now in Texas towns. As stated earlier, the water required for this is tremendous, and it's taken from the area. That leaves the ground dry, and many of the operations that require water parched. Agriculture suffers, as do cattle ranchers and the people at large, who now have to pay more to get their water. Just like the boomtowns that resulted from oil extraction, these are leaving towns behind that are shells of their former selves. States that are enabled by their natural gas resources are still low in their Human Development Index ratings, which means the people there aren't seeing the benefits, even in the short term. They remain among the poorest in the country. And that's during the boom. The bust, however, is inevitable, as I stated above.
And that's not to mention that there's even more dramatic environmental harms as a result of this abandonment of wells. Methane leaks are a huge issue from abandoned wells in Pennsylvania, creating dangers of explosion. That methane is contaminating drinking water across the country, along with millions of gallons of wastewater.[20, 21] Recycling that wastewater would be good regulation, but far from perfect, as many of these methods leave behind salt, sludge, radioactive material, and carcinogens, not to mention that disposal is still a question following reuse. The health risks have been elucidated both for humans and animals near drilling sites, and they're pervasive, affecting nearly every tissue. The lack of disclosure and access that I mentioned earlier, however, prevent full testing, so these may simply be the tip of the iceberg.
I leave it to Con to start his case.
Before I do anything else I would like to thank whiteflame for his understanding and accommodating of my busy schedule when there was no obligation for him to be. A true gentlemen's move!
And just to clarify, I am generally against fracking, just thought it’d be fun to try the other side.
My case won’t necessarily be that fracking is great, but that it isn’t bad enough to warrant a ban, and that we don’t have enough information to do so presently. A ban would hurt the US economically in a couple of ways and environmentally in a couple of ways, and I will make the case that there is no consensus about whether fracking is really good or bad.
And I would say really quick that I hope the voters can do their best to put aside any preconceptions about fracking when reading this debate over, I know I sure had to so I hope you will too!
The first part of my case will be going through the environmental issues surrounding fracking.
P1- Environmental issues
I guess I’ll start with carbon emissions. Currently, the US has lower carbon emissions than any time in the last 20 years. (3) This is largely a result of an increase in shale gas useage and a decrease in coal. Shale is cleaner than coal, so it is better for the environment. Banning shale when there are no cleaner alternatives available to be implemented on a national scale yet would do more harm than good. The reduction in US carbon emissions is a great reason not to ban fracking. According to the British government, shale produced 46% less carbon for the same amount of heat (19).
Another concern with fracking is the enormous amounts of water it takes. Estimates vary on how much water goes into 1 well, but it is somewhere between (according to Gasland) 2-8 million gallons of water. That is a lot of water, however most of that water gets recycled. In Pennsylvania, for example, 97% of water used in fracking was reused again. So although it takes a lot of water initially, lots of that water gets reused. Also, overall the water useage from fracking isn’t that large. About .3% of water useage in 2010 was for fracking, and considering large amounts of that get recycled it isn’t that much, certainly not enough to warrant a ban.
Dangers from fracking can really be seperated into two categories, above and below ground.
The aboveground concerns are mainly methane leakage and chemical contamination of water and air from spills and accidents.
Methane leakage is actually relatively low, in a recent study by University of Texas methane leakage levels from 190 areas wells were found to be about 1.5% (8), which was much lower than the EPA estimated percentage in the ballpark of 3. Opposition activists and scientists stated in 2010 that fracking would have no benefit if leakage levels were over 2%, so even by their standards fracking is beneficial. Of course any leakage is bad, but the leakage is low enough that fracking is beneficial.
Another concern of environmentally is that chemicals used in the process can poison nearby areas. Basically this can happen if there are accidents at the well site, and these accidents are due to poor well construction (having uncemented well sites for example). It’s similar to an oil spill; it’s bad but it can be avoided. Energy companies estimate that regulations would likely increase shale energy costs by 25-35 cents mcf (1000 cubic feet of gas) which is hardly an increase in price at all. (13) The point is, risks of accident aren’t directly related to fracking so they shouldn’t affect a decision to ban, but these risks can be mitigated with practically no cost to companies with regulations.
Belowground concerns deal mainly with methane and chemicals contaminating water, but there is no consensus on this issue either. Anti-frackers claim that it sets your water on fire from your faucet (see my opponents link) and that fracking contaminates nearby wells. However, there is no hard evidence. The EPA found in the past that fracking does not contaminate freshwater wells (15) Other instances where there were concerns about fracking contaminating have been dismissed after further research as well, such as a case in Colorado involving sink water catching fire (12). There is a large concern about the dangers of contamination from fracking chemicals and methane leaking, and obviously this is an area that should be further researched. But based on the current research, a ban isn’t justified. There isn’t enough evidence currently to say that fracking always contaminates surface wells, and there is very little evidence that wells are poisoned by fracking. In some cases where companies have been accused of damaging wells (16), the drilling was performed at shallower than normal levels (usually gas deposits are at about 10,000 feet below, underground water sits at about 1,000 feet). In any case, well damage has not been connected to fracking strongly enough to warrant a ban, but stricter regulation should be in place. If more research were to come along showing that all fracking, not just negligent fracking, damaged wells, a ban would be justified, but there is no evidence that that is the case.
Overall, environmentally, fracking isn’t the best. It certainly isn’t the worst thing that we do. It is cleaner than burning coal, which is what it replaces. It has lowered carbon emissions for the US and made energy cheaper. When it is done responsibly there is little risk, and most of the risks have to do with well construction and depth. The main problem is that there isn’t enough information to justify banning fracking yet, especially because there is no consensus about critical issues like well contamination. The most important thing to note is that many of the problems could be fixed with regulations instead of ban, as regulations on fracking are pretty weak at the moment (as my opponent said, fracking is exempt from parts of 7 major statutes). If my opponents burden was that “fracking is bad” he’d have an easy win, but his burden is that there should be a ban. Based on all available current information, a ban would not be justified.
So now lets discuss the economic benefits of fracking, and why a ban would not be so hot for the US.
P2- Economy (brifely, because character limits)
To start off, there are a lot of really obvious benefits to fracking economically. Besides being cleaner than coal, shale gas is cheaper, and this will result in $2,000 annual savings according the the IHS. Fracking itself supports roughly 400,000 jobs by itself (6) and a total of 2.1 million total jobs when all of the jobs associated with fracking are counted (19). If fracking is banned, these are immediate benefits that would be lost. Also, the expected growth from fracking, an industry that could support up to as many as 10 million jobs total in the future, would be lost. Even the US Chamber of Commerce has spoken on the issue, saying speculation about the dangers of fracking and stopping fracking could endanger the economy (6). US energy exports are also up as a result of fracking, which is beneficial for our economy (19). And although exporting carbon to other countries somewhat defeats the purpose of cleaning our own energy sources(7)., fracking still has a substantial net reduction for carbon emissions overall. A ban would really obviously be bad for the US economy, and since the environmental concerns aren’t really substanted as of yet, a ban really has no legs to stand on. Regulation would be wise and would allow the economic prosperity to continue, a ban would not.
Another benefit of fracking is that it is easy to convert from coal to shale (6), and since the US needs a good bridge between the old and the new sources of energy, fracking can and does provide a cheap, clean way to provide energy while the US makes that transition. Obviously incentives will have to be created to switch from natural gas to cleaner energies, but that has always been the case. Until green power is cheap and efficient enough for companies to implement nationally with no economic risk then there is no reason shale gas should not be used for power.
No more characters! Banning fracking would do bad, useless economic damage when the envorinmental justification for such a ban is so lacking and is nowhere near the standard it would need to be.
Thanks to my opponent for a powerful opening argument. Just a brief note, though – in R2, some voters might notice a line or two of rebuttal to a phantom opponent. Much of my argument was derived from a previous debate on this topic, and, much to my chagrin, I did not edit it sufficiently to remove all such references. Any such reference doesn't apply to this debate.
Alright, onto some rebuttal. To start, Con says multiple times that we could use regulations to solve many of the problems involved in fracking, and yet he never states a single regulation he would suggest. He says that regulations should be implemented to protect against accidents, but not what those regulations are. He says that this vague regulation would be affordable and “allow economic prosperity to continue,” but these are unverifiable assertions based on an unknown case. If Con would like to support a suggested regulation in the links he's provided, he needs to detail those regulations. I would argue that many of these problems won't be solved by any regulation, but I won't assume his case and its deficits. If Con wishes, he may clarify what regulations he supports in the next round. Until then, these points have no meaning.
This argument ignores the reality that we’re increasing the amount of coal we’re sending to other countries. They still consume it, and therefore the reduction in CO2 generated is about 50% lower than Con suggests. Con also assumes that the sole cause of reduced CO2 emissions is the shift to natural gas. However, electricity production in the U.S. went down by 2.5% between 2007 and 2012, and wind power has increased from 0.8% to 3.3% of electricity production. These play substantial roles in CO2 reduction.
But this isn't just about gas, it's also about oil. Fracking also improves access to this resource, which still produces high levels of CO2. Worse yet, it's highly combustible, “full of volatile gases that make it tricky to transport and process into fuel,” requiring special facilities to refine them and therefore longer transport distances. Among the biggest problems is that it causes explosions that derail trains and kill people, as happened in Quebec. This has reduced the price of oil due to the increased access, increasing the usage of this fossil fuel as well. Other harms like earthquakes also present significant risks, both of increased methane emissions, as well as safety and economic concerns.
And speaking of methane, the study from the US Energy Information Agency that Con cites only takes into account CO2 emissions. This is problematic, as methane is a far more dangerous greenhouse gas, with 20 times greater impact on climate change based on its ability to trap heat.
How about the long term? If all houses in the U.S. powered solely by natural gas, every one would average 6 tons of CO2 per year. That's not including any and all leakage, which may in fact be higher than the 1.5% cited by UT-EDF. There are a number of problems with this study, including non-random selection, limited time courses, and monitoring only a small number of fracking events. There is also still some question of impropriety on their part, as the research was funded partially by the industry and researchers had conflicts of interest.
There are no such problems with this study form Harvard, NOAA and Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, which concluded that it was at least 3%. Many other studies conclude much higher rates in Colorado's Uintah Basin and the L.A. Basin.[30, 31] Con even cites a source saying that fracking would have no benefit if leakage levels are above 2%, and these studies exceed that threshold.
I don't see any specific citations of Con's data here, but I'd say I've already addressed this in the previous round under my point on earthquakes, where I showed the effects of its disposal. Con never states that a part of his regulations is forcing companies to recycle their wastewater. This is a problem, since most recycling and treatment options are significantly more expensive than disposal.
I also showed, under my short term economic harms, how the recycling process leaves behind a lot of harmful stuff. The level of radiation is so high that landfills are refusing to take it. It still produces some liquid waste, which is actually far more toxic, and must be disposed of. With uncertain proprietary fracking chemicals, it's much more difficult to check if the water is actually clean. Moreover, this doesn't really change the fact that that water is being taken away from the local economy, damaging businesses that depend on it. Con cites a source saying that the water usage only accounts for a small portion of overall water usage, but this ignores the fact that all of that usage is taken from local sources, many of which cannot afford to lose it.
The major assumption here is that methane leakage is solely the result of accidents. However, as I've already shown, it's a process inherent to the porosity of soil, and therefore cannot be prevented by any improved safety measures. I've already shown that leakage levels are likely far higher than 1.5%, reaching the threshold of 2% that Con cites.
The harms aren't restricted to methane leaks either. Local humans and animals near drilling sites have pervasive health harms that result from their proximity.
I would argue that any instances of contamination are sufficient reason to ban fracking, as this can cause massive health harms, especially considering that we don't know the chemicals involved in that contamination, but I'll show that it's happened and it's significant.
Four states – Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, and Texas – have all confirmed contamination. The EPA hasn't exactly been a great source of information when it comes to contamination of water sources, missing combustible levels of methane in the water in Texas. The capacity of certain contaminants to leech into the soil following fracking has been established by other studies as well, and so there's little reason to believe that this wouldn't be a problem in the field. Con provides some evidence himself (his 16), showing that wells have been damaged due to bad fracking practices. Even if he clarifies his regulations next round, they're never going to be 100% effective at preventing this, meaning that the risks will continue to exist.
This point has a few key problems.
First, it's only looking at the overarching picture and ignoring the local level. As I argued in the previous round, local communities are massively harmed by fracking practices. The boom and bust cycles that are involved in their entry and exit leaves people out in the cold, even creating actual ghost towns, all for a small benefit in pricing improvements to the rest of the country. Resource grabs and health harms also run up massive costs for the local economy, forcing a huge burden on small towns. The people of the state rarely see any real benefits. Even improvements to the jobs market are tapering off.
Second, all of the economic benefits supercharge my harms scenarios. The lower cost fossil fuel that's so easy to transition to ensures our continued dependence on a non-renewable resource, disincentivizing any investment into green energies and ensuring our long term dependence.“New investments in renewable energy sources declined 5% in North America last year to $56 billion, the lowest since 2010... By comparison, North American oil and gas companies spent $168.2 billion in exploration and production last year, more than double 2009.” This also tacks back Con's argument on CO2 emissions, since every fuel source will eventually be used.
Third, electricity costs for some renewable energies are actually more cost effective than natural gas. The costs of using wind energy are lower than the costs of using gas for this purpose, and solar power plants, which delivery power at lower cost than natural gas power plants. The cost comparison can be seen here:
Looking further out, “because they have zero fuel cost, wind and other renewables tend to exert downward pressure on wholesale electricity costs”. So there's little uncertainty here. Either solar or wind power should be preferred.
With that, I leave it to Con to continue this debate.
I'm cutting it awfully close to the deadline, 3 minutes left to post!
My opponent asks me to suggest some sorts of regulations which would make fracking safer,and although I do not necessarily thing I am required to do this by the resolution I will indulge him.
You could start by removing exemptions from the 7 major statutes that we both mentioned. I have also already mentioned that by mandating nationally and enforcing the cementing of wells, dangers from methane leakage and chemical spills could be reduced. Also, there could be regulations about the depth of fracking; mandating that fracking must be performed below a certain depth to avoid contamination of belowground water. Regulations about drilling beneath water in the ground at all, perhaps a ban on fracking that is directly below groundwater, could also be implemented. The point is that there are lots and lots of options to reduce the majority of any incidents.
My opponent states that there will still be a risk even if there is regulation. That is really a non-argument in my opinion unless he specifies the risks he means. Obviously there is always a risk of something going wrong. Humans screw things up, but that isn’t an effective refutation of regulations vs bans. Even if fracking was banned, someone could screw up some oil drilling or some wind power installation and blow something up or drop a turbine on someone. And without a basis in fact, without some proof that fracking is harmful when properly regulated, there is no basis to say that regulations will fail.
My opponent states that any instances of contamination are enough to warrant a fracking ban, but then goes on to say that the instances of contamination are a result of bad practices. I too cited a case of fracking gone wrong, where there was fracking at far too shallow a depth, shallower than fracking usually is. I guess I will slightly reorganize what my division of the environmental issues into inherent risks and not inherent risks. I’ll label the risks as such as I go.
Carbon emissions (inherent)
I actually did not ignore, as my opponent states, that exported coal reduces the carbon benefit. I in fact stated that although some of the carbon from coal is exported there is still a net reduction in carbon. So ha! I found that hole in my argument and acknowledged it before you! But there is still a net benefit, a substantial net benefit, over carbon.
Methane leakage (not inherent)
The difference in what our sources say on methane leakage is indicative of a larger issue in my opponents case; the lack of scientific consensus on a lot of the issues surrounding fracking. My sources showed that, after long periods of monitoring, wells did not exceed the 2% methane leakage. His sources show that they do. Until a consensus can be established, until the pro-ban side can prove that fracking leaks enough methane to be rendered harmful across the board, a ban would be wrong and unfounded.
And in addition to a lack of consensus about the magnitude of this issue, this is one that is reducible. Lots of these issues are “quick fix” type issues, like tightening pipes, others are more difficult like replacing valves in pumping stations. Some repairs are expensive, but the point stands that methane leakage is fixable, if it even needs to be fixed. The EPA is increasing regulation in this area, and that if anything shows that these things can be fixed without a ban. (22/23).
Belowground (not inherent when done correctly)
With some of the above regulations, particularly the depth limits on fracking should prevent these problems. As I look into these cases, most of the damage involving contamination seems to involve waste water being released into water, methane leaking into wastewater, or drilling occurring at too shallow of a level and contaminating waste water. The first 2 are negligent and are above ground problems, not below. And though these are wrong they can be easily corrected by keeping companies monitored for waste water disposal and methane leakage near water. The third is also negligent as well but only because when fracking is performed at a shallow depth, as I cited in my opening, it is far more likely to contaminate water wells.
But as I said in my opening, when fracking is done at the proper depth and there are no surface issues, there is little to suggest that there is contamination of above ground water. There needs to be more evidence before a ban is justified, and considering that all of the reasons listed above can be regulated to prevent, that is even more so the case.
Wastewater (inherent, but kind of not if done right)
My source number 14 was the one for wastewater, sorry for not citing some stuff, I’ll note what info was not sourced here if it comes. I wrote my argument kind of late and forgot some stuff. But my opponent says that recycling is expensive, which doesn’t matter because that is a company expense. It certainly shouldn’t factor into a ban.
Economic (inherent good and bad)
I will keep this section brief, since I don’t think it is a big issue for 2 reasons.
The first is that I don’t think my opponent has a broad enough case to factor into a ban, certainly not a constitutional ban. If fracking companies move into the area of small towns, no one is forcing those areas to open businesses that will close in the long term. And, if those towns so object to fracking, towns can ban the fracking in their areas themselves, another form of non-federal ban that prevents any risks in areas that don’t want it. If a town doesn’t want the benefits and possible risks of fracking, they can block the fracking from coming in. And on top of a federal ban for this reason alone (meaning that without a good enough case on the environment, the economy shouldn’t be considered) probably not standing a court challenge, I don’t think it should factor into the resolution at all. It seems off topic to me (25).
However, banning fracking would be harmful, I will reiterate. At a statewide level, a ban in Colorado alone would cost the state roughly a billion dollars in taxes over 25 years,roughly 93,000, and 2.6% of the state’s GPD (24). And, interestingly, this study includes the same provision in the resolution, that current fracking operations continue. That is just one state that would suffer lots of consequences economically from a ban.
And one additional economic point- my opponent points out that green energy is growing in terms of electricity production and that green energy is cheap. That is fantastic; I am not arguing that fracking should be preserved forever. If green energy continues to grow and is cheap then it will eclipse fracking and that is fantastic. But that shouldn’t be a reason for a ban and it is a good reason not to ban. Shale gas is a bridge from really crappy coal to really good green stuff. It is cheap and easy in the meantime while green energy works on becoming the norm. But wind power is only 3% of the electricity produced in the US, and solar power is a tiny, fraction of that at .28%. That isn’t going to change overnight, and unless my opponent has a viable alternative that could easily and quickly fulfill the roughly 10%, and growing, of US electricity from natural gas that is fracked (27) that is better environmentally than natural gas, or cheaper, then a ban isn’t too viable.
So to summarize- there are many regulatory options to deal with fracking. There are regulatory options for dealing with wastewater; regulatory options for dealing with methane leakage (and there is no consensus that methane leakage is a real problem); regulatory options for mitigating possible water damage from water contamination when fracking is done responsibly (even though there is a lack of consensus about that too); and regulatory options for mitigating economic damage to small communities if they don’t want it (even though fracking certainly has economic benefits).
And on top of all of the things that can be solved with regulation, there is a lack of consensus about the presence and magnitude of environmental really puts a whole in a case for a ban. That’s about as much as I feel I need to say, until these issues are resolved I hope that I will have earned some votes.
Alright, one last thanks to Con for a riveting debate.
Let's start out by looking at Con's specific regulations.
I'm glad that Con specified some of these though, admittedly, he spends little time elucidating what adhering to the 7 major statutes means. I will assume, however, that this will increase inspection practices, and that they will be required to disclose what chemicals are in their fracking fluids. These are still insufficient.
Cementing the wells won't work either, since cement can still crack over time, not to mention that the list of problems include “poor thread connections, corrosion, thermal stress cracking, and other causes” that aren't addressed by this. Nor will the basic issues be addressed, such as leakage through soil (due to its basic porous properties), the process of contaminating that soil, and of creating fractures that can cause earthquakes, all of which are dropped and inherent to fracking.
Distance from water sources can only do so much as well. It doesn't really address the issue that hundreds of millions of gallons of water are contaminated by the practice when it's done safely.
Con wants examples of regulations failing. Here's a few. In Pennsylvania alone, there have been 3,331 violations of regulations in place since 2009. Con doesn't suggest that they cannot dispose of their water through disposal wells, a regulated practice that can also easily contaminate groundwater. Even if Con is right that this will make each individual fracking practice better, regulations will just force an increase in the number of drilling sites and rate of fracking, as it has in Colorado, increasing the harms. Contamination by accident is sufficient, since it also won't be solved by regulation.[47, 48] Only a ban effectively prevents these.
Onto the key issues of the debate.
1. Air pollution
Con drops my point that oil is also dredged up through fracking, and that it comes with volatile gas infusions that make it highly explosive. This challenges his CO2 benefit, but more importantly, it presents a large safety concern. It also mitigates any economic benefit he seeks to get, due to the costs required to use it. Even if there's some reduction in CO2 emissions, it's far lower than Con initially cited. It's also low impact, considering that methane is a far more potent greenhouse gas.
I already showed how Con's sources on methane leakage were faulty. The sole links he provides either don't address methane leaks (his 3 and 19), or are too short term, biased, and selective (his 8). Con has not defended any of his links. My links stand uncontested, and don't suffer from any of these problems. Con seems to believe that all he has to do is present a source that disagrees with mine in order to show uncertainty, but this is absurd. Con needs sufficient doubt to throw all of my evidence into uncertainty, and he has not presented anything that would do so. The best he's done is show that emissions may be 0.5% less than a dangerous threshold he himself admits exists. That means the best case scenario is one where the benefit is minimal and uncertain, whereas the worst includes 60 tons of methane per hour rising into the atmosphere from each well.
Con dropped my argument that health risks come from just being close to drilling sites, which aren't solved by any of Con's regulations.
2. Water pollution
a. Through fracking
Con drops my point that contamination has already occurred in 4 states with present regulations, and provides no warrants that his regulations will solve. He drops my argument that the EPA, which would be the agency in charge of this regulation, is a terrible regulator, and misses obvious contaminants. He also drops that certain contaminants will always leech into the soil, remaining after recycling the water.
b. Through disposal
Con doesn't seek to ban disposal wells, which, as I mentioned earlier, can easily contaminate groundwater. Even if recycling is made mandatory, the practice doesn't solve for the harms. He ignores the fact that wastewater is still generated from recycling, and that that wastewater is highly concentrated with toxins. He drops that the recycling process leaves behind highly concentrated radioactive solids that also require disposal. Con drops my point that abandoned wells lead to massive methane leaks, which none of his regulations solves for. Each of these show failures with his case that don't exist in mine.
Con drops this entire contention. By itself, this is sufficient reason to vote Pro. Look to my , which shows how the process works and is integral to fracking. The safety and economic harms of earthquakes are immense, and the fact that this has gone unaddressed is just baffling. Economically,, it forces huge insurance boosts on local peoples. On a human level, it destroys homes and kills people. Environmentally, those quakes can easily release pockets of methane, allowing all of it to escape into the atmosphere. In other words, it's a huge, diverse harm with a wide area of effect.
4. Economic harms
a. Local economies
These harms are most certainly topical. This is analysis of one of the many impacts the process of fracking. Whether my opponent views it as important or not is irrelevant to its topicality. All I have to prove is that it's reason enough for a legislative ban.
First off, the ability for towns to ban fracking only exists in New York. Con is not requiring this nationwide.
Second, if towns could choose whether a fracking company comes in or not, it just means they accepted the risk. That doesn't mean the harm is any less a harm.
Third, at best, this just means they are capable of escaping the harms if they have enough foresight. Fracking companies represent quite a big influx of money into numerous towns, making it difficult to refuse them. There's incentive there to ignore the long term harms.
Fourth, Con can't have it both ways. If all towns ban fracking, then effectively the process is banned, making it equivalent to my case. If some towns ban fracking, other towns will still be harmed as I described. Con drops the links to the spread of ghost towns and shut downs of local businesses. Con also drops the point about stealing water from local businesses, further contributing to their closure. So Con never contests the harms at all, only trying to mitigate them by saying that towns have agency. At most, that's a lower likelihood of a terrible impact that only he has.
b. Short vs. long term
Con makes the unwarranted claim “shale gas is a bridge from really crappy coal to really good green stuff.” He drops all of my warrants and evidence, which show that having a fossil fuel that is a cheap and easy source of energy keeps us dependent on fossil fuels for longer. There's no reason to believe that, with this around, we are going to treat green energy as worthy of more resources. I've shown, with copious amounts of evidence,[10, 11, 25, 40] how natural gas has changed our perception of green energy. Whether things can “change overnight” is irrelevant. I'm not saying that they will, though his lack of response to my cost points is glaring, since it suggests that it is an entirely affordable process. But that transition has only slowed down in the presence of a cheap and easy source of fuel. Our increased need for more energy is a reason to pursue renewable energy with more fervor, not double down on a limited source.
Con states that bans will badly affect the economy. First, those increases to taxes and harms to GDP are able to be absorbed, even if they do happen. A state can still continue to function, unlike the small towns. Second, it's based on a set of assumptions that make it the worst-case scenario rather than the actual likely outcome. Third, this assumes that no energy industry would come to replace it. The green energy sector would skyrocket in the absence of this alternative, and as it's already accelerating, this would be a big deal. Considering job growth nationwide was up 38,600 in one quarter in 2013, this surge in growth could easily outdistance any drop from fracking.
I've shown that the environmental, health, and economic harms of fracking are too large to allow this practice to continue. Each is enough by itself to warrant a ban on fracking. I've shown that Con's alternative strategy of regulating the industry is insufficient, and that the harms of a ban are minimal at worst. The best he can do is present minimal doubt with faulty evidence, and then claim that it detracts from a solid, uncontested set of evidence. Don't believe this audacious, unwarranted claim. Vote Pro.
My opponent took the liberty to try and refute a bunch of arguments I didn't explicitly make with his last round, which I find odd. But I will run through the points again anyway before wrapping up. I'd like to thank him for a fun debate; I picked a side of an issue I do not agree with and learned a decent amount, even though I agree largely with my opponent. I do not think, based on the evidence, that a fracking ban is in any way justified.
My opponent prompts me for regulatory measures, but my case wasn't based entirely around regulatory measure. He pokes some really weak holes in some of the proposed measures. For example, cement cracks over time. That is quite weak, cement can be easily fixed. If cementing of wells was mandated, the cement would be maintained, much in the same way that roads are maintained. Something that cracks can be repaired.
And obviously I don't have the character space to go and address every single source of methane leakage from fracking. I don't know why my opponent expects me to. But links I posted (22/23) detail most of the sources of methane leakage and the ways they can be fixed. Methane leakage is not a problem inherent and can be mostly regulated against and fixed, despite what my opponent says.
And my opponents attempt to dismiss my main source on methane leakage is really sad. The UT helped form the basis for the EPA estimate on methane leakage. The EPA is the one who estimates methane leakage to be 1.5%, that isn't something I made up. Are there studies that indicate otherwise? Sure, but there is far from a consensus. The current EPA estimate is 1.5, that number is backed up by scientific studies, contrary to what my opponent says. The data is high quality. My opponent fails to establish that there is a significant body of evidence showing that this study and others are wrong, and that methane leakage is definitively higher. My point isn't that they aren't, my point is that there is no proof that they are and that this issue can be fixed. He should lose this point.
I cannot deny that fracking uses a lot of water, nor that this water becomes dirty. Nor that there is potential for accidents with the contaminated water. But I have shown that fracking water can be recycled in very high percentages, mitigating the water usage damage. Contaminated solids can be disposed of or stored at no expense or risk to the public.
My opponent states that I have not presented anything to contradict his contamination claims. However, contamination is not inherently linked to responsible fracking, as I have stated and as he has failed really address. Most of contamination incidents happen from above ground accidents from spills, methane leakage, or poor well construction. There is little (none that I have seen) evidence that fracking done responsibly at the proper depth contaminates water. When fracking is done right it isn't dangerous, and regulation can ensure that fracking is done right. Negligence can be fixed.
The four local economy ban points
1. The ability of towns to ban fracking can easily exist in other states with a court challenge.
2. True, and the benefits.
3. Yes, fracking is beneficial economically to communities, so they have little reason to refuse it.
4. I can have it both ways, the resolution is that the USGF ban fracking. Small communities don't have to accept the risks and benefits if they don't want, but there shouldn't be a federal ban when towns can do it themselves. And this would allow fracking operations away from people to continue, because they don't endanger anyone.
I still don't think the economic points are valid (besides the ones relating to green energy) because considering local economies could have the power to not frack, a ban is unwarranted.
Although we disagree that shale is a bridge, my opponent makes a good case for me. Green energy is skyrocketing, it should naturally take over fracking. But as I stated before, green energy is about 3% of all energy created, it currently can't fulfill our needs in the same way fracking. Eventually it will be able to, but it cannot yet.
My opponent says that losses will be 'absorbed' if fracking is banned, that doesn't really refute the fact that revenue, jobs, and GDP would all be hurt, some energy prices would likely increase and the US would lose exports. There are numerous obvious economic harms to a fracking ban.
Haven't done that much research on this I will admit. But having restrictions on proximity of drilling sites to communities would reduce health risks from being close to drilling sites, as would towns having the power to ban fracking locally.
My opponent made a strong case, but he set his own burden very high. I think his arguments rely too much on non-environmental factors. The case on methane leakage is weak and can be regulated to fix. The case on water contamination is weak and can be fixed with regulation. Wastewater can be recycled to reduce the amount of water that is used (which isn't much, in the grand scheme of things) and the harmful waste can be safely disposed of.
There are real C02 emission reduction benefits as an alternative to coal that would be lost with a ban. There are real and clear economic benefits from shale gas in terms of revenue and jobs that would be lost with a ban. With a ban, a cheaper, cleaner, and more convenient source of energy would be lost with no cleaner alternative to fulfill American energy needs now.
Because my opponent failed to really refute regulatory alternatives or fulfill his high burden on demonstrating environmental harms, I think he should lose the debate. But you'll decide that for yourselves!
Thanks for the debate, it was my first serious one against a high ELO opponent, and although I feel I could have done much better (especially if I had a better more topic) it was fun nonetheless. I hope to have more serious, in depth, education debates like this in the future.
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|Who won the debate:||-|