This week, I’ve run into several politically active Californians who want to add my signature to a petition that would put fracking on the ballot in November. I presume what they mean by this is that they want a public referendum which, if passed by a majority of voters, could ban fracking in the state.
Like anyone with any sense, I have concerns about fracking. All things being equal, it’s obvious that we’d be better off without it. But all things are not equal. No fracking means an immediate end to plentiful and inexpensive natural gas, and though this would create an immediate bonanza for investments in renewable energy, it would put enormous strain on the rest of the energy infrastructure. At a minimum, it would make it harder to retire coal plants, which is the #1 priority for us folks with lungs. It would also bring nuclear closer to economic feasibility, which, of course, will concern the anti-nuke people.
The subject is controversial – and it has complexities that are very tough for any of us to get our wits entirely wrapped around. I’m not sure that the typical voter, who is susceptible to misinformation/hysteria, is up to the task on this one.
When I explained to a lovely young lady why I refused to sign her petition at the farmers’ market yesterday (great demographics for a petition on environmental matters), she asked me how I think this matter should be decided. I began by admitting that I haven’t thought this all the way through, but I would propose that a panel of the world’s top geologists, energy industry experts, hydrologists, economists, toxicologists, public health professionals, environmentalists and climatologists get together and hash this out.