A Debate About Hydraulic Fracturing (Fracking) and Its Environmental Impact

Hydraulic fracturing, better known as fracking has been a hot environmental topic in our society today. Fracking is the process of drilling into the layers of the Earth's crust using a high pressurized mixture of water, sand, and chemicals. This process is used to release natural gas that is buried in underground shale rocks. In today's society, the need for natural gas is becoming more necessary. Because of this, debate about if fracking is safe for the quality of groundwater and if the reward is worth the potential repercussions is a well-rehearsed discussion. David Brooks, columnist for the New York Times and author of “Shale Gas Revolution” believes fracking is a blessing that America should take advantage of. On the contrary, "Safety First, Fracking Second” written by the editors of Scientific American, the oldest continuously published magazine in the United States believes that fracking would be very beneficial, but precautions and safely standards must be put in place beforehand. Brooks uses dramatic language and pathos to persuade readers that fracking is something we need to utilize now, while only glimpsing into the possible consequences of fracking, thus decreasing his goodwill and ability to reach to broader audiences. Scientific American uses strong logos, enhancing their credibility, to convince readers not to rush into solutions we don't know much about. In addition, Scientific American's choice of topic arrangement and the decision to use more factual knowledge and list possible solutions to the troubles of fracking instead of influencing emotions of the audience making this a piece an argument a variety of audiences can get on aboard with. All in all, this strengthens Scientific American's ethos and suggests that their rhetoric is overall more effective.

To emotionally persuade his readers to agree with his point of view, Brooks uses dramatic language and pathos to strengthen his argument. Instead of sticking to the facts, Brooks uses almost a story-telling style of writing. He proceeds to fracking a "blessing," one that America should take advantage of (238). According to Brooks, because America is “clogged" with different interests and opinions, we "groan to absorb even the most wondrous gifts” (238). Surprisingly enough, all of this is just in the first paragraph of the Brook’s piece. In the first paragraph alone, Brooks uses strong ethos to almost make his readers feel bad for not getting on board with fracking. Brooks, obviously a right-winged columnist, is speaking to any readers that might not be on his side. Brooks continues to show his strong ethos by including opinions from other notable authors. Daniel Yergin writes about a man, in his book “The Quest”, to which Brooks calls a “business genius,” George P. Mitchell (238). George P. Mitchell, credited for introducing the process of fracking, apparently "fought through waves of skepticism and opposition to extract gas from shale” (Brooks, 238). Brooks wants to convince his audience that making fracking a popular ideal is a battle and a battle that should be won. Yergin even goes on to call the fracking revolution “game-changing” (Brooks, 239). Before even listing the benefits of fracking in his article, Brooks wants to convince his audience that despite the number of benefits for the American citizens, despite the number of possible consequences, America needs fracking and it should be used regardless.

In addition, to conclude his article, Brooks added an anecdote about his meeting with John Rowe, the chief executive of Exelon. Because Exelon runs on nuclear plants, the company knows it will hurt if fracking became the new frontier. Despite this, John Rowe knows "how much shale gas could mean to America" and "it would be a crime if we squandered this blessing" (Brooks, 240). Brooks ends on this note to persuade his readers that if a man was willing to sacrifice so much for the economic gain of America, then we should too.

Brooks spends most of his essay trying to emotionally appeal to his audience, which leaves very little room for the facts about fracking, and even less room to explain both sides it: the benefits and the possible dangers. Brooks chose to spend most of his time illustrating the good fracking has done such as providing employment opportunities and only glimpses into the consequences. According to Brooks, the use of shale gas produced half a million jobs and counting in states such as Texas, New York, Pennsylvania, and soon Ohio. Another benefit is that America can start to invest in their own energy instead of places aboard. The French company, Vallourec, is even building a $650 million plant in Ohio that makes steel tubes for the wells (Brooks, 239). Brooks' strategy of listing the benefits of fracking first did have purpose. Hopped on the excitement of the possibility of America becoming a place where other countries would turn for natural energy, readers probably didn't even notice the three-paragraph essay discussing how fracking could potentially contaminate drinking water. Even if readers did notice this paragraph, following it, Brooks quickly includes a study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology discussing, in Brooks' own words, how the “inherent risks can be managed if there is reasonable regulatory regime, and if the general public has a balanced and realistic sense of cost and benefits" (240). The act of concealing one side of the story significantly decreases Brooks' creditability of a trustworthy author. 

Furthermore, Brooks choses to criticize the people that may be on the other side of his argument. He blames the environmentalists for the fact that fracking hasn't become nationally accepted by saying they “seem to regard fossil fuels as morally corrupt and imagine [that] we can switch to wind and solar overnight" (239). Brooks even goes on to say that "not-in-my-backyard activists are organizing to prevent exploration” and that the clash between them and the coal industry is “brutal” and “totalistic” (239). Brooks does an amazing job of defending his argument and trying to persuade his readers to agree with him, but by making assumptions about the activists' intentions and bashing them and the environmentalists is also an another example of how Brook's ethos is seriously lacking. Who would trust an author who would fortify the confidence in his argument by stomping on opposing views? This also limits Brooks' ability to reach to a broader range of audiences, limiting his audience to only the people that share his same beliefs.

Meanwhile, Scientific American's rhetoric is much more effective because while it is well-written, the argument stays fairly neutral appealing to people that have different kinds of opinions on fracking. The editors tend to stick solely to the facts, including studies and possible solutions to the dangers of fracking for the good of the readers. Scientific American gives their argument by saying “Drilling for natural gas has gotten ahead of the science needed to prove it safe" (241). This statement is straightforward and sets the tone for the rest of the essay. This argument also doesn't criticize any other side of fracking, making Scientific American successful on being able to reach their audience, the general public. Early on, Scientific American explains that they are not against fracking, but urge the need for regulations to be set that can guarantee the safety of fracking for American citizens. Scientific American show they are willing to support fracking by informing the readers that fracking would be good news for global climate by agreeing with the fact: “burning gas emits less carbon dioxide than burning coal” (241). Scientific American show a degree of care for their readers and have their best interest at hand. They prove this by concluding their essay with saying how “natural gas could benefit everyone. With basic precautions, we can enjoy both cleaner energy and clean water" (242).

Before that ending quote, Scientific American wisely chooses to arrange their article in which the possible consequences come first and the benefits second. By doing this, the audience is well formed about the topic of fracking and the potential dangers while also left with hope for the future of fracking. By keeping their audience well-informed, Scientific American's credibility is strong. The audience is also able to trust their authors more because Scientific American chooses to focus on the facts, instead of emotionally persuading them. Scientific American is trying to explain to their audience that "benefits come with risks, however, that state and federal governments have yet to grapple with” (241). Scientific American believes that states are “flying blind" and the government needs to step in to help (241). There shouldn't be a rush into fracking, especially since there is so many unanswered questions. Unlike New York, who's governor lifted the ban on fracking, some states are stepping up to the plate and regulating gas industries on their own, but sometimes its not enough to ensure the purity of our ground water. Scientific American includes Pennsylvania regulators as an example: "[They] propose to extend a well operator's liability for water quality out to 2,500 feet from a well, even though horizontal bores from the central well can stretch as far as 5,000 feet” (242). Scientific American also shows the strength in their logos by including studies that illustrate research on the safety of fracking that must be a priority before shale gas becomes a common resource. A study from Duke University found methane gas in drinking-water wells within 3,280 feet of fracking sites were seventeen times higher than wells that were farther away (241).

Scientific American also increases their credibility and knowledge on the subject of fracking by listing possible solutions to the problems fracking can cause instead of just plainly listing the dangers. As stated by Scientific American, these solutions include the increasing inspection of casing in well bores, storing toxic fluid, a huge by-product of fracking, in tanks instead of open pits where they could potentially leak into the soil. Gas companies should also put tracers in the fracking fluid to see if any fluid ends up where its not supposed to be. Lastly, gas companies should test aquifers and drinking water wells nearby before, during, and after fracking occurs (242). Scientific American knows the benefits fracking can bring to America's economy, but their argument remains unbiased and solely wants to advise the public to be better informed and better equipped if they decide to start fracking in their state.

In conclusion, Scientific American chooses to supply factual knowledge and possible solutions to the dangers fracking can cause to persuade the audience that fracking is a thing that needs better research and technology before states start drilling. On the other hand, Brooks uses emotional appeals to convince his audience that fracking is a gift that we must utilize as soon as possible, but lacks in knowledge about the possible consequences, leaving his audience ill informed. Scientific American's rhetoric is more effective because their argument can communicate to a wider range of audiences and makes it a point that their audience is well informed about the pros and cons of fracking, increasing the creditability of the editors of Scientific American.

Works Cited

  1. Brooks, David. "Shale Gas Revolution." Rpt. in Johnson, June. Global Issues, Local Arguments, Third ed.: 238-40. Print
  2. "George P. Mitchell." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. Web. 20 Sept. 2015.
  3. "Hydraulic Fracturing." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. Web. 20 Sept. 2015.
  4. "Safety First, Fracking Second." Scientific American. 5th ed. Vol. 305. 2011. Rpt. in
  5. Johnson, June. Global Issues, Local Arguments. 3rd ed. Pearson Education, 2014. 240-42. Print.