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‘More smoke than fire’: Fracking’s economic benefits are overblown

Published time: December 07, 2013 05:43
AFP Photo/Gareth Fuller

Local communities that are involved in fracking of natural gas should get the greatest say whether or not such methods of gas extraction are safe, Adam Briggle, a professor at the University of North Texas and an environmental activist, told RT.

RT: There are a lot of studies that say fracking is dangerous. Why do you think some countries think it is worth the risk?

Adam Briggle: I think that is because there are benefits to go along with the costs. I think there are economic benefits at stake. I just think that these countries might have a skewed perspective of what the risks and harms really are. They may not know what it will look like until it’s in practice and as we’ve seen down in Texas, at that point it’s really too late.

RT: In Romania, residents of a small village have been trying to stop Chevron from using the technique for over two months. Do you think they have a chance?

AB: I think they have a shot at it. It’s a real struggle and it takes a lot of direct democratic participatory action, and I do not know the political context there very well, but I think it could happen.

RT: What needs to be done for the authorities to listen to the concerns of scientists and activists?

AB: Well, I think what needs to happen is there needs to be more empowerment for those who are most vulnerable to the harms involved here. Companies talk about conducting this in a safe way, but there’s no objective answer to what is safe. This is a system that is vulnerable to what is called normal accidents. Something is going to happen wrong with it at any time. Now whether it is frequently occurring or whether harms involved are too great of magnitude, I think reasonable people can disagree on that question. So the real question is not whether it’s safe, it’s who gets to determine whether it is safe enough. And on that question, the people that are most vulnerable to the harms involved have to have the greatest say. So there sort of need to be a restructuring of political dialogue around this.

Actress Daryl Hannah stands with activists during a rally in Lafayette Square near the White House August 22, 2013 in Washington, DC. (AFP Photo)

RT: Some believe that fracking provides jobs to those who need them in tough economic times. What is your response to that? Is there a balance that can be achieved?

AB: I do not know if the balance can be achieved, but I can speak to you about my experience in Denton, Texas. It was assumed here, we were home to 300 gas wells, and as we were talking about our policy for it, everybody assumed that this is a great economic boom. But I did some digging around and I found that actually most of the mineral holders don’t reside in Denton. And it is actually a very small impact on our local economy in terms of the GDP and in terms of the job production. So I think the question of the economic impacts is going down a lot. If you dig into it close, at least what I found is that there may be more smoke than fire there, if you will.

RT: Some countries have banned fracking. What are the chances they might yield to the pressure of big companies and cheap fuel and make it legal?

AB: It is hard to say. I’m mostly experienced with the local fracking bans in the US. And this indeed is the biggest question: who has the legal jurisdiction over the issue? And the biggest money right now is on industry: who will be able to overturn these things? And it may turn out that way on a national ban level as well, but I think there are rumblings occurring, where people are seeing that there are genuine concerns involved here with the merging scientific evidence. And that there could be enough political movement and backlash to this that people could be empowered to make these bans stay in place.