The Role of Science and Technology in Mitigating Risk
9/25/2012Howard Baker Forum 3 of 8When it comes to a discussion of shale gas, I come from a state where gas is demonizedby opponents; industry assures us that all is well, and shoddy operator performance givesus the tragedy of Dimock
Meanwhile, the scars of my home town come back to me with every news article or blogthat I read.
In the din of Pennsylvania’s
latest resource boom, we must hear GeorgeSantayana
’s admonition: “
Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
Science and technology -
and a few other things I’ll talk about –
can help us to avoid thatfate.
I’m sure you’ve
already noticed that there
nothing in my background that hints aboutscientific expertise.
directed technology efforts
from MIS to IT to LiDAR imagingto seismic studies - in past jobs; and I
worked with accomplished chemists, engineers,biologists, and geologists. But I will offer as technocratic qualifications for my topictoday what Bob Dylan so famously said:
"You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows."
There’s a lot about science, technology, and risk in the shale gas
universe that, if you justhold your finger up into the social and political winds, becomes just as obvious.A central tenet of a balanced shale gas development policy is that technology and scienceprovide us with tools to mitigate risk. But an initial question
answered: Doesgas drilling make people sick?We do know that it fuels fierce debates, public angst and moratoria on drilling here, in theEU, and other nations with shale gas deposits. Just a week after South Africa lifted its banon shale gas drilling, its Water Research Commission
warned of “serious risk” of water
pollution from cancer-causing chemicals and radioactive contaminants associated withfracking.State and national advisory committees here are looking at the question, but public healthexperts have been missing from the table. This year the U.S. House of Representativesfailed to support a request to fund $4.25 million in research on how drilling may affectwater quality. At the state level, the Pennsylvania General Assembly stripped out $2million of funding for statewide tracking of illnesses potentially related to gas drilling.So we have a vacuum. And what rushes in to fill it? Fear. Emotion. Protests.Heartbreaking anecdotes of illnesses in the gas fields. Rushes to judgment. Moratoria.Without a healthy dose of science, the question of whether gas drilling makes people sick w
go away; people may suffer avoidable harms; and the industry will face continued