Frack, Baby, Frack? What You Need to Know About Hydraulic Fracturing
Will the natural gas boom revitalize the U.S. economy and provide us energy for 100 years?
There is plenty that we still don't know about hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, a method that has been used to greatly increase natural gas production in the U.S. and around the world. Here's what we do know. Fracking involves pumping a mixture of water, sand and chemicals deep into underground shale formations. The rock layer is then shattered, creating fissures through which methane gas and toxic chemicals are released, potentially contaminating groundwater supplies.
To better understand the process of fracking (and its potential dangers), you can check out this website, which is not only informative, but beautifully designed to scroll through on your iPad.
To Frack or not to Frack
Depending on who you speak to, fracking is either America's solution for energy independence, or an environmental catastrophe of enormous scale in the making.
Let's start with the proponents.
The U.S. is entering a golden age of gas in which the country will not only meet its own energy demand, but could also become a major exporter. That's what the gas industry has been saying for some time, and its 100 years of gas meme was taken up by President Obama in his 2012 State of the Union Address:
We have a supply of natural gas that can last America nearly one hundred years, and my Administration will take every possible action to safely develop this energy. Experts believe this will support more than 600,000 jobs by the end of the decade.
This claim has been contested, as some of the country's gas reserves are classified as "proved," others are "probable" while still others are "speculative." And yet, the abundance of natural gas has caused prices to fall by 80 percent in the last four years in the U.S. Compared to coal and other fossil fuels, the burning of natural gas (methane) releases 40 percent less carbon dioxide as well as fewer other harmful chemicals into the atmosphere.
That all adds up to a pretty good argument for natural gas to play a leading role in the transition to a low-carbon economy. Natural gas is "abundant, cleaner burning and affordable." Sounds like a win-win-win. Frack, baby, frack!
However, not everyone is convinced that natural gas is the climate change solution that its boosters claim it to be. Furthermore, while the gas industry contends that fracking is safe, environmentalists have raised concerns about groundwater contamination, air pollution, the unsafe disposal of drilling wastewater and the degradation of rural landscapes. What makes this debate more complicated is that regulations are wildly different state-by-state. Furthermore, most states lack the resources to conduct rigorous reviews, while the industry has disclosed very little information about the chemicals that are used in fracking.
So the jury is clearly still out. And yet, new studies on fracking have been slowly seeping out, such as one this week published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that presented evidence that fracking -- which occurs thousands of feet below the surface -- can still pollute shallow aquifers.
What's the Big Idea?
As the natural gas boom promises to fundamentally reshape our energy portfolio, we need to have a firm grasp on how this energy source could impact our health, our environment, and our bottom line.
In the video below, Fred Krupp, President of the Environmental Defense Fund and co-author of the 2008 bestseller Earth: The Sequel, walks us through the major concerns about fracking. Krupp was a member of Energy Secretary Chu's task force on natural gas, and he offers advice for policy makers, forward-looking companies, savvy consumers and concerned citizens -- all of whom have a strong stake in this issue.
Watch the video here:
What can 3D printing do for medicine? The "sky is the limit," says Northwell Health researcher Dr. Todd Goldstein.
- Medical professionals are currently using 3D printers to create prosthetics and patient-specific organ models that doctors can use to prepare for surgery.
- Eventually, scientists hope to print patient-specific organs that can be transplanted safely into the human body.
- Northwell Health, New York State's largest health care provider, is pioneering 3D printing in medicine in three key ways.
A recent study gives new meaning to the saying "fake it 'til you make it."
- The study involves four experiments that measured individuals' socioeconomic status, overconfidence and actual performance.
- Results consistently showed that high-class people tend to overestimate their abilities.
- However, this overconfidence was misinterpreted as genuine competence in one study, suggesting overestimating your abilities can have social advantages.
Is this proof of a dramatic shift?
- Map details dramatic shift from CNN to Fox News over 10-year period
- Does it show the triumph of "fake news" — or, rather, its defeat?
- A closer look at the map's legend allows for more complex analyses
Dramatic and misleading
Image: Reddit / SICResearch
The situation today: CNN pushed back to the edges of the country.
Over the course of no more than a decade, America has radically switched favorites when it comes to cable news networks. As this sequence of maps showing TMAs (Television Market Areas) suggests, CNN is out, Fox News is in.
The maps are certainly dramatic, but also a bit misleading. They nevertheless provide some insight into the state of journalism and the public's attitudes toward the press in the US.
Let's zoom in:
- It's 2008, on the eve of the Obama Era. CNN (blue) dominates the cable news landscape across America. Fox News (red) is an upstart (°1996) with a few regional bastions in the South.
- By 2010, Fox News has broken out of its southern heartland, colonizing markets in the Midwest and the Northwest — and even northern Maine and southern Alaska.
- Two years later, Fox News has lost those two outliers, but has filled up in the middle: it now boasts two large, contiguous blocks in the southeast and northwest, almost touching.
- In 2014, Fox News seems past its prime. The northwestern block has shrunk, the southeastern one has fragmented.
- Energised by Trump's 2016 presidential campaign, Fox News is back with a vengeance. Not only have Maine and Alaska gone from entirely blue to entirely red, so has most of the rest of the U.S. Fox News has plugged the Nebraska Gap: it's no longer possible to walk from coast to coast across CNN territory.
- By 2018, the fortunes from a decade earlier have almost reversed. Fox News rules the roost. CNN clings on to the Pacific Coast, New Mexico, Minnesota and parts of the Northeast — plus a smattering of metropolitan areas in the South and Midwest.
Image source: Reddit / SICResearch
This sequence of maps, showing America turning from blue to red, elicited strong reactions on the Reddit forum where it was published last week. For some, the takeover by Fox News illustrates the demise of all that's good and fair about news journalism. Among the comments?
- "The end is near."
- "The idiocracy grows."
- "(It's) like a spreading disease."
- "One of the more frightening maps I've seen."
- "LOL that's what happens when you're fake news!"
- "CNN went down the toilet on quality."
- "A Minecraft YouTuber could beat CNN's numbers."
- "CNN has become more like a high-school production of a news show."
Not a few find fault with both channels, even if not always to the same degree:
- "That anybody considers either of those networks good news sources is troubling."
- "Both leave you understanding less rather than more."
- "This is what happens when you spout bullsh-- for two years straight. People find an alternative — even if it's just different bullsh--."
- "CNN is sh-- but it's nowhere close to the outright bullsh-- and baseless propaganda Fox News spews."
"Old people learning to Google"
Image: Google Trends
CNN vs. Fox News search terms (200!-2018)
But what do the maps actually show? Created by SICResearch, they do show a huge evolution, but not of both cable news networks' audience size (i.e. Nielsen ratings). The dramatic shift is one in Google search trends. In other words, it shows how often people type in "CNN" or "Fox News" when surfing the web. And that does not necessarily reflect the relative popularity of both networks. As some commenters suggest:
- "I can't remember the last time that I've searched for a news channel on Google. Is it really that difficult for people to type 'cnn.com'?"
- "More than anything else, these maps show smart phone proliferation (among older people) more than anything else."
- "This is a map of how old people and rural areas have learned to use Google in the last decade."
- "This is basically a map of people who don't understand how the internet works, and it's no surprise that it leans conservative."
A visual image as strong as this map sequence looks designed to elicit a vehement response — and its lack of context offers viewers little new information to challenge their preconceptions. Like the news itself, cartography pretends to be objective, but always has an agenda of its own, even if just by the selection of its topics.
The trick is not to despair of maps (or news) but to get a good sense of the parameters that are in play. And, as is often the case (with both maps and news), what's left out is at least as significant as what's actually shown.
One important point: while Fox News is the sole major purveyor of news and opinion with a conservative/right-wing slant, CNN has more competition in the center/left part of the spectrum, notably from MSNBC.
Another: the average age of cable news viewers — whether they watch CNN or Fox News — is in the mid-60s. As a result of a shift in generational habits, TV viewing is down across the board. Younger people are more comfortable with a "cafeteria" approach to their news menu, selecting alternative and online sources for their information.
It should also be noted, however, that Fox News, according to Harvard's Nieman Lab, dominates Facebook when it comes to engagement among news outlets.
CNN, Fox and MSNBC
Image: Google Trends
CNN vs. Fox (without the 'News'; may include searches for actual foxes). See MSNBC (in yellow) for comparison
For the record, here are the Nielsen ratings for average daily viewer total for the three main cable news networks, for 2018 (compared to 2017):
- Fox News: 1,425,000 (-5%)
- MSNBC: 994,000 (+12%)
- CNN: 706,000 (-9%)
And according to this recent overview, the top 50 of the most popular websites in the U.S. includes cnn.com in 28th place, and foxnews.com in... 27th place.The top 5, in descending order, consists of google.com, youtube.com, facebook.com, amazon.com and yahoo.com — the latter being the highest-placed website in the News and Media category.
If you thought your mother was pushy in her pursuit of grandchildren, wait until you learn about bonobo mothers.
- Mother bonobos have been observed to help their sons find and copulate with mates.
- The mothers accomplish this by leading sons to mates, interfering with other males trying to copulate with females, and helping sons rise in the social hierarchy of the group.
- Why do mother bonobos do this? The "grandmother hypothesis" might hold part of the answer.
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