Posts on the use of hydraulic fracturing in oil and gas extraction:
This is not a blog post about hydraulic fracturing, per se, but a brief comment on the use of language: the headline reveals a way of framing the meaning of shale oil that cuts off any debate about the advisability of extracting the oil before it can get started.
It comes down to a matter of metaphor.
I joked at the time that the second intuition goes both ways: we need engineers who can think like ethicists and ethicists who can think like engineers.
One theme that emerged early in our first workshop on hydraulic fracturing was that nearly every available image of hydraulic fracturing is inaccurate in ways that may exaggerate or, at least, misrepresent the risks involved in the process – and this is true even of images on websites of those who should know better, and on websites of organizations generally favorable to the use of hydraulic fracturing in oil and gas extraction.
My turn to speak at the workshop came around at the start of the second day. I had mulled over my remarks late into the night, and delivered what seemed at the time a broadside against the technocratic mindset.
I mean this precisely. It was not a broadside against the natural sciences, nor against engineering, nor even against hydraulic fracturing. My remarks were addressed to the assumption that the legitimate authority to make decisions about risk is based on quantitative analysis of empirical data carried out by experts in one or another technical field.
When the conversation opened up on the second day of our November workshop, after my presentation on acceptable risk, the project team and the invited participants spent much of the remainder of the morning developing and jotting down ideas for fostering better, more informed and more constructive public deliberation about hydraulic fracturing.