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Comment: Quick summary of the papers involved here. (Score 3, Interesting) 266

The summary conflates two papers, a review paper in Science which summarizes the state of knowledge about fracking the Marcellus Shale (Vidic et al. 2013), and a study of an individual incident published this month in PNAS in which researcher purport to have found a single instance of minor contamination from a fracking well (Llewellyn et al. 2015). Neither paper is particularly damning or inflammatory, so at first blush it's not immediately obvious why the fracking PR flacks have gone to DEFCON 3 on this. The key is to read the review paper first. This is almost always the best way to start because review papers are supposed to give a full and balanced overview of the current state of scientific knowledge on a topic. TL;DR, I know, but stick with me for a few paragraphs and I think I can make the problem clear.

Vidic paints a rather favorable picture of the fracking industry's response to problems that have arisen during the fracking boom in the Marcellus shale. It absolves them of any responsibility for the infamous "burning tapwater" we've all seen in Youtube videos. It states they have been quick to respond to wastewater leaks and well blowouts before contamination could spread. It says the industry has redesigned wells in response to concerns that they might leak fracking water as they pass through the aquifer. And it says that fracking water that returns to the surface ("flowback") is treated and re-used for more fracking -- an expensive environmental "best practice".

Vidic does raise some important concerns, however, and the most important is this. At present recycling flowback into more fracking water is practical because production is booming. But at some point production will level off and begin to decline, and when that happens the industry will be producing more flowback than it can use economically. In Texas, where fracking was pioneered, flowback was disposed of in deep wells -- a process not without its drawbacks, but better than leaving the contaminated water on the surface. Pennsylvania doesn't have enough disposal capacity to handle today's flowback, which helps make recycling fracking water attractive at the present time.

We now have enough context to understand Llewellyn, and why Llewellyn is so upsetting to the industry. Llewellyn's paper documents a single instance of minor contamination which matched the chemical fingerprint of flowback from a nearby well. This contamination was well below a level that would be cause for any concern. Llewellyn concludes the most likely cause was a small spill from the flowback holding pit, although it can't rule out the possibility that the contamination occurred inside the well. Taken with the picture Vidic paints of an industry that is generally on top of stuff like this, the occurrence of a single mishap with negligible consequences is hardly damning. So why has the fracking industry unleashed its flying PR monkeys on this?

Because the fracking industry apparently has made no plans for when the day comes it can no longer recycle all the flowback it uses, and it doesn't want the public to think about that.

It would be sensible for them to prepare for the flowback problem now on the upswing of the boom, for the same reason the industry has been able to be so responsive to date: these are good times for the industry in the Marcellus Shale. They're flush. Although preparing for the problem now would be expensive, it wouldn't slow the boom appreciably, and it would add jobs. But... if the industry can kick the flowback can far enough down the road, we'll have to ask it to fix the problem while production and probably the regional economy is in decline. Doing something about the problem then will cost jobs and require money nobody will have.

  So if the industry isn't forced to do something about the looming problem soon, it will become politically if not financially impossible to make them do that ever. That's why the industry is allergic to the very mention that surface contamination from flowback is even possible. In the scheme of things the Llwewllyn incident is negligible, but when fracking starts producing more waste than the industry can use surface contamination is going to become a lot more common and a lot worse.

Vidic raises some other serious long term concerns. Nobody knows where most of the fracking water used goes. The geology of the area is complex enough, but it is further complicated by many old gas and oil wells, quite a few of which are not fully documented. Contamination of the aquifer is a quite plausible possibility that needs further scientific study -- study that has been hindered by lack of research funding and industry transparency. More research might lay this concern to bed; or it may require changes in the industry's operation. We don't know. But we do know that some day we'll have a wastewater problem, and if we wait to address that it will be politically impossible to do anything about.


Vidic, R. D., et al. "Impact of shale gas development on regional water quality." Science 340.6134 (2013): 1235009.

Garth T. Llewellyn, Frank Dorman, J. L. Westland, D. Yoxtheimer, Paul Grieve, Todd Sowers, E. Humston-Fulmer, and Susan L. Brantley. "Evaluating a groundwater supply contamination incident attributed to Marcellus Shale gas development." PNAS 2015 ; published ahead of print May 4, 2015,

Comment: Re:Hmmm Tasty Whale Tongue (Score 1) 46

Were you trying to say:

"LOL, nei, (th)að var ekki augljóst að "here" ((væri?)) Ísland og að (th)ú værir íslensk. En ((??????)) Google Translate get ég látið eins og hálfviti á tveimur tungumálum. Ef gert er ráð fyrir auðvitað að Slashdot ((sé ekki að flækja Unicodeið?))"

That is:

"LOL, no, it wasn't clear that here is Iceland and that you were were Icelandic. But (????) Google Translate I can come across like an idiot in two languages. If one assumes of course that Slashdot isn't screwing up the Unicode"?

Comment: Re:One Criterion Missing (Score 1) 344

by Catbeller (#49621973) Attached to: No, NASA Did Not Accidentally Invent Warp Drive

The inventor had the hypothesis before he had the device, so it isn't a True Scottman drift. He hypothesized, he wrote about it, he formed a company to own it (that being how science works now). A few brave people tested it, and it seems to work. Each successive test excludes the factors that could have invalidated the previous tests, and now NASA has a group on it. And, it seems to produce a thrust. Okay, interesting.

We'll all be sad, should it come to nothing, but at this point the inventor has a hypothesis to cover the effect, described a machine to produce the effect, and now we have machines that seem to produce the effect. I've read his hypothesis, and damn, I don't have that kind of math or science and never will. But, you know, if he described an angel-making machine, and someone built the machine and made an angel, at some point you have to look at the damned angel flapping away in front of you.

Comment: Re:Hmmm Tasty Whale Tongue (Score 1) 46

I'll reiterate: People here think it's a ridiculous product. The page is stupid marketing to foreigners. Yes, there are separate accent and apostrophe keys (in case you're curious, here's what an Icelandic keyboard layout looks like). Hákarl (the fermented shark you refer to) isn't eaten commonly, it's actually fairly rarely eaten (though some people do like it). Most of the foods you'd consider weird are rarely consumed, like sheep heads, skate, etc, often associated with a particular festival or whatnot. Probably the only things you'd find weird that are eaten fairly commonly are horse and fish jerky (harðfiskur). Lamb is commonly eaten here but you probably wouldn't find that weird. We also have a lot of dairy products you don't have but I don't think you'd find most of them that weird. Anyway, probably the most commonly-eaten food here is pizza ;) Hamburgers and hotdogs are common too (though our hotdogs are made of lamb).

Whale is eaten here but rarely. Nearly half of the catch consumed in Iceland is eaten by tourists (a large percentage of which, I should add, come from America). Also I'm continually surprised by the percentage of Americans who criticize Iceland for whaling but don't know that America whales too, and no small amount (producing thousands of tonnes of whale meat per year). Yes, they're "natives" whaling, but 1) it's no less traditional for Icelanders to whale than it is for Alaskan natives, 2) Alaskan natives use modern equipment for whaling too, including chasing them down in speedboats, killing them with modern equipment, and dragging them on shore with backhoes; and 3) Alaskan whales end up no less dead than Icelandic ones. None of the Icelandic whale populations are threatened.

Anyone who wants to discourage whaling over here, a few tips.

One, don't come out with the self-righteous stuff, because it doesn't fly. Not only does the US whale too, but receiving lectures on morality from a country where a majority of the population supports torture and who engages in all sorts of obscene human rights abuses and whose domestic livestock are mostly raised in factory farms in horrible conditions doesn't exactly come across well.

Secondly, know that any overt pressure is just going to cause backlash, and the more overt, the more the backlash. Many of you may see for example Paul Watson as a hero. Here he's seen as a ecoterrorist; he literally sent people in to sink ships right in the public harbour. If you want to be taken seriously, you need to distance yourself from these sort of people. You don't make friends by talking up people who come in and wreck up the place.

Third, understand the local perspective. It's not only that they've been eaten traditionally since Iceland was settled (indeed, the word for "beached whale" also means "jackpot" or "godsend", because in the old days it could mean the difference between life or death for a whole town). It's that they live free out in the open ocean, growing up their whole lives unhindered by man (except when, say, a NATO ship uses a super-powerful anti-sub sonar in the area or whatnot :P), living a pretty much idyllic life - and a single whale provides a vast amount of meat. Meanwhile, pigs for example - also highly intelligent animals - grow up in horrible squalid conditions in many of the countries that criticize Iceland .

Fourth, there are actual arguments you can make that have effect, and have on their own been discouraging whale consumption - but which foreigners who oppose whaling rarely make. Probably the foremost of these is the health issue. Whales, being top predators, tend to have dangerously high levels of heavy metal and organic pollutant contamination. If you want to make someone feel uncomfortable about eating whale meat, point out how much mercury and lead they're eating in that serving. There are also lesser arguments you can make that may or may not have effects on the person, depending on the individual - intelligence (but you better be well versed in the scientific literature, unbacked claims won't fly), for example, or how long it takes a whale to die versus other types of animals slaughtered for meat - but depending on the person, that may or may not be seen as a good argument. But the toxin contamination issue will have an effect on pretty much everyone.

(also, realize that not everyone here eats whale at all, and most people who do eat it only rarely)

Lastly, focus on the tourists. They come in for just a couple days and yet a large chunk of them order whale while they're here. Many of them oppose whaling back home, but it's as if when they come here their strict "morality" goes out the door, in the interest of "trying new things". I don't think they realize that they eat such a large percentage of the Icelandic catch, or that they somehow disconnect from where the meat comes from. There's a campaign here called "Meet Us, Don't Eat Us", encouraging whale watching instead of eating whale meat, and I think that's a very good strategy. The whale watching industry is economic counterpressure to the whaling industry.

(As a side note - I say all of this as a vegetarian).

Comment: Re:Warp drive? (Score 1) 344

by Catbeller (#49621815) Attached to: No, NASA Did Not Accidentally Invent Warp Drive

Cold fusion - fusing hydrogen by using chemical bonding compression - is not a fraud. It is a legitamite hypothesis, peer-reviewed and all. Probably not impossible, merely difficult to do.
The test in the eighties wasn't a "fraud". They thought they had it licked, and it turned out they didn't. What they really did wrong, however, in those early Reagan era years of science privatization, was to try to keep their idea a patented secret so they could make some $$$$$. Standard procedure today, and a major, if not the only, cancer on science today. Science came of age in an era where everyone shared their results. Now it is about the precious, precious money. Universities especially have contracted that cancer. Science is crawling when it should be leaping.
Fun fact: Tony Stark's arc reactor is a cold fusion power generator. Note the main ring he installed into the unit was pure palladium - the famous matrix used in the eighties experiment.

Comment: Re:strictly speaking (Score 1) 344

by Catbeller (#49621549) Attached to: No, NASA Did Not Accidentally Invent Warp Drive

"Impulse" drive is just a sciencey-sounding name Roddenberry gave his spaceships' sub-light drive. He had no idea of what he was talking about. According to the "tech" books, it is a photon drive (convert mass to energy, point it thataway, get thrust).

This is a virtual-particle drive, a theoretical exploitation of quantum weirdness. No free energy, just free thrust without expending mass. The Dean Drive in the fifties was claiming a free-thrust vacation, and a lot of people fell for it. So we take it with a lot of skepticism. But never say never, esp. if something seems to be happening.

Comment: Re:NASA didn't invent it anyway. (Score 1) 344

by Catbeller (#49621451) Attached to: No, NASA Did Not Accidentally Invent Warp Drive

There are other groups testing it, but US scientists don't trust their results. NASA people doing the test gives it more cred in the US.
And yes, poor Mr. Shawyer, who is roundly ignored by just about everyone. He put his neck on the line for advocating his hypothesis, and NASA gets the credit.

Comment: Re:All this fuss over 50 micronewtons?!? (Score 1) 344

by Catbeller (#49621415) Attached to: No, NASA Did Not Accidentally Invent Warp Drive

With space drives, you want tiny forces that you can run indefinitely. We're used to rockets that go BOOM and burn for ten minutes, but they are useless for high-speed space travel. For really high speed, you need only tiny acceleration that goes on and on and on.... it adds up to huge numbers. A hundredth of a G gives you the solar system in weeks rather than months, months rather than years. One G gives you the stars, excepting the bit about hitting radiation and random objects at ludicrous speed, the real head scratcher (186000 mile-long cylinder every second - how much junk is in that volume, and as for photons, you're slamming into them and jacking the frequency up into the x-ray/cosmic-ray range. Like a nuclear accelerator from hell in there).

"Just think, with VLSI we can have 100 ENIACS on a chip!" -- Alan Perlis