March 4, 2014: To Frack or Not to Frack

March 4, 2014 @ 7:30 p.m, First Parish, 50 Cochituate Road, Wayland. Speaker: Henry D. (Jake) Jacoby – Professor, Educator, Author and Researcher.

Join the Walden Forum for a discussion, “To Frack or Not to Frack: the Shale Gas Revolution and Its Discontents“, with Jake Jacoby, Professor of Management, Emeritus in the MIT Sloan School of Management and a co-founder of the MIT Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change.

Jacoby notes: “Advances in drilling technology and hydraulic fracturing of shale resources have created a revolution in U.S. gas output (oil too). The boom has brought benefits of lower gas prices to households and industries along with income to fortunately placed landowners, displaced dirtier coal in power generation, and cut oil imports. In his State of the Union message President Obama celebrated the resulting move toward energy independence, and touted natural gas as a ‘bridge fuel’ that can power our economy with less carbon pollution.”

Yet controversy rages. Some argue this development is not good for the planet. France finds the use of fracking not in its national interest and has banned it altogether. The same is true of Quebec, and New York is still debating the question. (If Massachusetts had shale resources, would you want to ban its exploitation?) Where states allow fracking, some towns propose forbidding it. (Would you support such a restriction in your town bylaws?)

Over 80 percent of the energy that supports the U.S. economy comes from fossil fuels – oil, gas and coal – each of which has its well-known environmental and social costs. What leads to the focus on this particular extraction method? Is there something fundamental about the technology itself, or is it simply that our regulatory institutions have failed to keep up with the scale and dizzying speed of industry expansion? To what degree is opposition a NIMBY response, in contrast to a view that shale development is really bad for the country, or a desire to avoid any technology that helps bring more fossil fuels out of the ground?

Here we will attempt to sort out the risks and rewards, facts and fears, and to discuss how, going forward, we can effectively manage a technology that has, in a very few years, become a major component of the U.S. energy system, and is likely to remain so for decades to come.