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Friday, August 23, 2013

Continued from yesterday's radio guest

Fracking or Hydraulic Fracturing? What’s in a Name?

Fractured words

When pressed by Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) to come up with a specific instance of contamination, the Environmental Defense Fund’s Mark Brownstein conceded, ”the act of hydraulic fracturing itself which is going on many thousands of feet below the surface, OK, the chances of that causing water contamination is in fact remote.” However, he continued, “I think what you’re also hearing is that if wells are constructed improperly or if chemicals or waste water are mishandled at the surface, those can cause water contamination. Those are part of a hydraulic fracturing process.”
Whether the narrower, technical definition or the broader, popular one is more correct isn’t the point. Both are already part of the public dialogue. The point is to insist on clarity, as Sen. Landrieu did, so that we know which one we’re dealing with in any given conversation.

Blame Battlestar Galactica

If only the human mind loved clarity as much as profanity.
Thanks to all the “frack” in the original scifi TV series Battlestar Galactica, and even more “frakking”in its re-imagined early 2000s version, it is next to impossible (at least for some of us—and it CAN’T be just me!) to hear the word and not register the more infamous four-letter “f” word imparted by the show’s creators in efforts to skirt FCC rules governing profane language. Hence, we find things like Yoko Ono’s song “Don’t Frack My Mother,”  the grassroots campaign Don’t Frack with NY, and the documentary All Fracked Up.
The negative connotations of “frack” as a stand-in for the expletive tend to benefit supporters of fracking bans who tap into the public’s subconscious response to reinforce their message.
As if there weren’t enough confusion in the public dialogue already!

A rose by any other name …

In all seriousness, I do not actually know where my mother would come down on natural gas extraction and hydraulic fracturing if she had to make a decision about whether to lease her land or allow fracking operations in her neighborhood. She’s fond of her rose bushes, but she would appreciate the economic benefits, too. And maybe she could have both.
roseWhile  pro- and anti-fracking voices would work hard to court her opinion, I would want my mother to know what her local policy makers were talking about, first and foremost. I would want her to have the vocabulary to follow the public debate so she could hold her leaders accountable.
And I would want her to know what words to use so she could ask the right questions and get the information she needed to make the best decisions for herself and her community.

About the author: Deborah Bailin is a democracy analyst for UCS’s Center for Science and Democracy, where she researches political and societal barriers to formulating science-based policies. She comes to UCS as an ACLS Public Fellow and holds a PhD in English from the University of Maryland. Subscribe to Deborah's posts
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