After completing doctoral research on the viscosity of the earth’s mantle, Cathles spent seven years with Kennecott Copper, where his research included studies of the genesis of porphyry copper deposits and industrial leaching processes. In 1978 he joined the faculty of The Pennsylvania State University and in 1982 he returned to industrial research at the Chevron Oil Field Research Laboratory, where he worked on the development of genetic and exploration models for gold and sulfide deposits. He became a Cornell faculty member in 1987. Cathles is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and is a member of several professional societies. He has served on committees of the National Research Council and is a past associate editor of Economic Geology. In 1985 he won the Extractive Metallurgy Science Award of the Metallurgical Society of the American Institute of Mining, Metallurgical, and Petroleum Engineers.
Cathles is well known as a proponent of fracking. In a letter to Gov. Cuomo cited below he explains his views. He writes:
Good regulation can assure that natural gas incurs less risk than any other economically equivalent development, and the economic benefits of natural gas development are large.
True or not, I am not convinced that good regulation is likely given our corrupt legislature which has yet to take needed action to regulate or tax fracking should it be allowed. Cathles does not discuss obstacles to enacting needed legislation in NYS or difficulties experienced in PA. Further, in discussion economic benefits he fails to address economic hardships other than damage to roads.
Having looked at these issues carefully over the last 5 years, my conclusion is that the benefits from natural gas development far outweigh any risks or negatives involved. Natural gas represents a major economic, health, and global warming reduction opportunity, not a threat.
This conclusion seems based on several tacit assumptions:
- Needed regulations and taxes will be enacted
- The economic benefits claimed are real, sufficiently long lasting, and not offset by economic hardships.
- Hazards can be identified and mitigated in practice.
The letter author’s style is to set up straw men, then kick them down. For example, Cathles writes:
The risk of aquifer contamination comes from spillage of waters returned to the surface, and to a lesser extent casing failures. These risks are local.
Even if true, that all such risks can and will be contained, local risks are not necessarily negligible.
While Professor Cathles’ letter purports to be unbiased, I find his assumptions insufficiently justified to support his sweeping conclusion.
© William Hungerford – October 2014