Yoko Ono Is Wrong on Fracking

Fracking is proving to have enormous economic benefits, and calling a halt to it because some artists with little understanding of policy analysis would be absurd.

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(From left) Actor and activist Mark Ruffalo, Cornell University engineering professor Anthony Ingraffea, and Sean Lennon, listen as Yoko Ono speaks during a press conference to launch a coalition of artists opposing hydraulic fracturing on Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2012 in New York.
(From left) Actor and activist Mark Ruffalo, Cornell University engineering professor Anthony Ingraffea, and Sean Lennon, listen as Yoko Ono speaks during a press conference to launch a coalition of artists opposing hydraulic fracturing on Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2012 in New York.

Michael Lynch is the president and director of global petroleum service at Strategic Energy & Economic Research.

It's starting to look as if hydraulic fracturing of shales is becoming the "cause of the day.'" The past half century has seen opposition to: institutionalized racism (1960s), the Vietnam War (1960s/1970s), nuclear power (1980s), apartheid, (1980s/1990s), and most recently, Wall Street.

But hydraulic fracturing is beginning to make a splash with protesters around the world. It is a great villain, because it's done by oil companies (everyone's favorite bad guys), who make profits (politically incorrect), i's advanced technology (Luddism forever), and brings change to some areas ("Not in my backyard!" activists engage).

[See a collection of political cartoons on energy policy.]

Now we have Sean Lennon and Yoko Ono weighing in with full page newspaper ads, listing various reasons to oppose fracking, all with the logic and gravitas of a high school student (with poor grades). Sadly, their naviete and blind fear is likely to dominate the conversation, rather than real analysis of the environmental or health effects.

Let's review. They say that "no amount of government regulation can ever make fracking safe." Granted, but then no amount of government regulation can make anything safe. Agriculture is far more dangerous than oil drilling, with 500 dead and over 100,000 injured every year. (Statistical Abstract of the U.S.). Are what about art? Should art be banned because it employs solvents or has installations that might damage someone's hearing or fall onto a viewer?

[Read the U.S. News Debate: Is Fracking a Good Idea?]

"Shale gas deposits are one of the largest carbon reserves on the planet—we can't survive if we put it in the atmosphere." This has two huge mistakes, first confusing the inventory of the resource with the rate at which it is produced, and second, assuming that not consuming shale gas would mean not producing greenhouse gases. In reality, shale gas would frequently substitute for coal, which is arguably a great environmental benefit. But also, that the shale gas resource is enormous tells us nothing about how quickly it will be produced; it has already seen a reduction of 10 percent in carbon emissions from the U.S. utility sector by displacing coal.

"Fracked gas is not climate friendly." Yes, there is one academic study that suggests that fracking leads to methane leakage, which can have an important effect on the atmosphere. Of course, senatorial candidate Todd Akin also noted one article claiming that women's bodies can prevent pregnancy during rape. This should be ample warning against relying on a single piece of research as Truth. An entire column can be devoted to the results of that (or any other) study, but only a novice would think one research study in a new field should be the basis for sound, overarching policy.

[Read the U.S. News Debate: Should the Government Invest in Green Energy?]

"[Sixty] percent of wells leak over time." Interesting, but what is the impact? Given that there are now half a million gas wells operating, the implication is that the leakage must be unimportant, or we would be seeing massive effects. Indeed, the National Research Council has estimated that the majority of hydrocarbons "leakage" is "natural" and the amount from extraction of petroleum is only about 3 percent that released from consumption. Apparently, going after drivers is less politically palatable than demonizing oil companies.

Fracking is proving to have enormous economic benefits, and calling a halt because some artists with little understanding of policy analysis would be absurd. Instead, the actual emissions should be studied, their sources and impacts, and ways to prevent or minimize them effectively. Artists (or actors) are entitled to their opinions, but they should at least be minimally knowledgable and capable of at least high school-level logic.

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