Science, Democracy and Fracking: Not All Is As it Seems – a Correction

August 15, 2013 | 11:26 am
Andrew Rosenberg
Former contributor

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the importance of obtaining better information in order to make better choices concerning the impacts of hydraulic fracturing or “fracking.” In fact, the role of science in informing the public, the media, and policy-makers as we make societal choices in our democracy is of enormous importance—not because science is the sole determinant of what choice we should make, but because it must help ground our decisions in what we know about the world we live in.

Since I wrote that blog, the Center for Science and Democracy at UCS, in collaboration with UCLA, held a workshop and public forum on fracking. True to our intent, we brought together experts from many different fields and perspectives, drawing on community groups, advocacy organizations, industry, government and academia. And I am confident we all learned something over the two days of meetings. One of the things I learned is that my blog on obtaining better information used a picture of a landscape where vertical drilling is occurring in tight gas sands, which is not representative of most newer, horizontal, directionally drilled fields. In fact, as one of the participants in the Forum pointed out to me, this is a picture of the Jonah field in Wyoming and is “an egregious example of old technology.” Further, he noted that a conservation group in the area that sued the oil company Encana noted in their brief to the court that “Directional drilling of multiple wells from a single pad is the primary measure that would have prevented much of the degradation inherent to the Jonah Project.”

fracking in Wyoming

The Jonah field  in Wyoming (

So I stand corrected. Horizontal drilling may lessen impacts with regard to the surface landscape, at least in this case. But that doesn’t mean that oil and gas development, conventional or unconventional, doesn’t change rural landscapes. Nor does it mean that because the unconventional (fracking) development is mostly below the surface compared at the surface like the Jonah field, that there are no impacts. There still are many risks that need to be considered, as our reports and toolkit from the Forum in Los Angeles will help to describe. And without a doubt, we need better information to make public policy decisions about this development as it affects public health, well-being and our communities.

The information at least, should be in plain view, even if much of the drilling is not.