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A presentation put off by MUN’s Harris Centre in Corner Brook last week shone an interesting light on the highly contentious debate over hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

It was not fracking itself that took the spotlight as much as the growing suspicion and hostility it generates. The talk — by two geological engineers — elicited an unfriendly response from many audience members.

First to speak was Lesley James, who holds a Chevron-sponsored faculty post in engineering at MUN. She was followed by Maurice Dusseault, a professor and consultant at the University of Waterloo.

Their role was essentially to explain fracking — the mechanics and, in a strict engineering sense, the risks involved. James primarily explained how and why fracking takes place, but emphasized she would not address the broader question of whether it should take place.

Dusseault, on the other hand, ventured a little further outside the scientific comfort zone and strayed into political implications, as well as the misinformation often touted by protesters. That opened him up to challenges from patrons in the question period that followed.

Taken together, Dusseault and James provided some much-needed perspective on the process. Moreover, Dusseault emphasized that while he believes what happens underground is relatively benign, what happens above ground can be serious cause for concern. Post-production risks include the transportation of volatile materials over land and the disposal of toxic water used in the process. He also highlighted the need to maintain and, eventually, shutter above-ground facilities responsibly.

Nonetheless, many in the audience had already flagged the two as industry hacks. In challenging Dusseault, one person misstated the results of a case study, then chided the confused professor for not knowing his facts.

Even afterwards, at least one media commentator accused Dusseault of trying to ignore the connection between all facets of fracking, as if disentangling the various risk factors somehow did listeners a disservice.

It’s easy to see why the oil industry gets a bad rap. From travesties like the Exxon Valdez spill, to the proven conspiracy to fund bogus climate research, the distrust runs long and deep.

But there was nothing to suggest last week’s presenters offered anything more than an honest, informed overview. Frankly, they deserved a little more respect.

There is still plenty of reason to be concerned about fracking. Even if the actual shattering of gas-rich shale proves reasonably harmless, the explosion of wells across the continent should be cause for alarm. It is, after all, yet another fossil fuel, and brings with it most of the same baggage.

The provincial government has put a hold on fracking. That’s a good thing; it wants to thoroughly review the facts before making a decision.

But the decision should be based on facts, not the other way around.

Right now, the fracking debate has become far too fractious.

Organizations: MUN, University of Waterloo.Their, Exxon Valdez

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Recent comments

  • david
    February 06, 2014 - 15:39

    Subway does very well in Newfoundland. There are 25 of them here. Azodicarbonamide used in Subway's bread "as a bleaching agent" is also used to make yoga mats and shoe rubber. So enjoy your lunch, you selective oblivious fools.

  • Joe Wiseman
    February 06, 2014 - 13:16

    Do the 700 leaking wells in Saskatchewan seem very benign to anyone except Dr. Dusseault? They leak underground.

  • Craig
    February 06, 2014 - 08:50

    There is one fracking thing for certain; those for it and those against it will never fracking see eye to eye. There is fracking mounds of information available and some of it is fracking lies and some of it is fracking truths and some if it is fracking bull droppings. None of the fracking fanatics, for and against, will park their fracking agendas long enough to find the truth. As usual, the ones who will have lost the fracking most after the dust settles will be the poor fracking taxpayer. This is nothing fracking nuts.

  • EDfromRED
    February 05, 2014 - 09:05

    How can anyone expect any engineers to find fault in the business that's their bread and butter? They'd be committing professional suicide. Oil and Gas companies are the biggest funders by far of Engineering Departments and schools. I would expect zero objectivity from their camp when it comes to criticism and regulations of their livelihoods.

  • Gekko
    February 04, 2014 - 17:25

    Environmental activists, very few of whom are actual scientists, are simply against the oil industry in general and "fracking" is an easy target because so few people actually understand what it is, and apparently the environmentalists are intent on keeping it that way by stifling sensible dialogue as we see here in this article. They will say and do anything to cause problems for the industry, it's the same thing with the Keystone pipeline. That oil is going to keep coming out of the ground anyway, there are absolutely no sensible reasons to delay "fracking" and the pipeline, it's time for these activists to grow up.

  • Looking for news
    February 04, 2014 - 15:38

    What does an oil tanker botch up have to do with this? And the proven conspiracy is also as irrelevant, and unqualified here. MUN chairs are directly sponsored by industry. What does shutter refer to here? Decommissioning? Yes, the final message from MUN is that this can be botched, it is a sensitive area, need to buy "shutters" upfront. Toxic water is the immediate danger, not cracking shale. We have one uninformed media entity reporting on another here, and a person who prematurely chided. This is big news. Are we also not privy to what Dusseault qualifies as protestor misinformation?

  • Joe
    February 04, 2014 - 07:38

    If Mr. Dusseault "ventured a little further outside the scientific comfort zone", then he did more than present facts. Does anyone remember the cigarette debate we got "facts" from certain "scientists" on that one too. The people should be the ones to draw any conclusions.

  • Dolf
    February 04, 2014 - 05:50

    I'd feel a whole lot better (perhaps) if I knew for sure Dessault and James were not being compensated for their promotion of fracking.

    • Rolf
      February 04, 2014 - 11:13

      And the assault continues.