The Governor of Colorado has a serious drinking problem, or How not to do science

Guys, I think Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper might have just done something crazy:

Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper has made no secret of his support for hydraulic fracturing, but on Tuesday he went one big step further and testified that he actually drank fracking fluid.

“You can drink it. We did drink it around the table, almost ritual-like, in a funny way,” Hickenlooper said before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.

Of course, for every crazy action, there is an equal and opposite crazy reason. In this case, Hickenlooper was trying to endorse — in a very personal way — the safety of fracking fluids, and by extension, the practice of fracking.

Fracking is short for “hydraulic fracturing”, an extractive method in which drillers pump fracking fluid into the earth in order to force natural gas out of the earth. The practice has come under attack for a variety of reasons, but one concerns the constituent elements of fracking fluid. Drilling companies claim it is totally harmless and non-toxic, but refuse to release a list of its ingredients because they claim it is a trade secret. Skeptics suggest they are reluctant to disclose the ingredients because fracking fluid is not, in fact, totally harmless and non-toxic.

Enter Gov. Hickenlooper, with his claim to have consumed it.

Obviously, the claim demonstrates nothing. For one, just because the fluid didn’t kill the Governor immediately doesn’t mean it’s safe for consumption. For another, we have only the Governor’s word that he drank the fracking fluid, and he’s hardly a disinterested party. For another, even if you believe Hickenlooper is telling the truth, you’re still relying on the drillers’ word that what they fed him was fracking fluid, and they’re hardly disinterested parties.

Finally, even if you believe that drilling companies fed the Governor fracking fluid, and he ingested it to no ill effect, we still haven’t really learned anything. Think back to a moment to the drilling industry’s claim that the recipe for fracking fluid should not be disclosed because it is a trade secret. They’re obviously not worried you or I might go home and cook some up over the stove — they’re worried that other drilling companies might figure out the secret ingredient. The obvious implication is that no two fracking fluids are alike. In other words, what the governor drank may have been one variety of fracking fluid, but that doesn’t mean it’s the only one being regularly pumped into our drinking water supplies.

In short, Hickenlooper’s stunt may have grabbed a lot of headlines, but it doesn’t necessarily tell us anything new. After all, people have been drinking something that looks like fracking fluid — at least as I imagine it, which is the best I can do so long as the drilling companies refuse to disclose what it’s actually made of — for a very, very long time:

blue milk

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