Saturday, July 16, 2016

Fracking and Common Core

Common Core has become a rallying cry for the right. Fracking has become a rallying cry for the left. Red flags in front of political bulls. The sad thing is that neither side understands what it’s opposing.
Most Republicans don’t understand Common Core, except that President Obama favors it (that must make it bad), and most Democrats don’t understand fracking, except that environmentalists tell them they should oppose it (it causes climate change and poisons our drinking water).
The willful ignorance on both sides is astonishing. Let’s look at some facts.
Common Core was developed by Republicans. Crafted by governors (largely Republican) for the benefit of American business (largely Republican), it is not and has never been a federal mandate. Washington has nothing to do with it.
Here’s the background. Faced with declining quality in public education and a hodgepodge of state criteria, the National Governors Association in 2009 set out to develop a single set of rigorous standards: the Common Core State Standards Initiative. The goal was to make all children “college- and career-ready,” using the same yardsticks in Mississippi as in Massachusetts.
The key was establishing a common denominator in learning — what students should know at each level in math and English language arts, the “common core” of education. Standardized tests were meant to track progress toward meeting those benchmarks.
What Common Core has never done is tell states or school districts how to get there. That’s up to them. It doesn’t establish curricula or prescribe textbooks.
Embraced by most educators, Common Core was adopted by 45 states in 2011. Then the trouble began. In an effort to boost public education, the Obama administration underwrote a portion of the funding to draft standardized tests. And it provided grant money, 14% based on efforts to “enhance standards and high-quality assessments.” A gentle push toward improved learning.
For the far right, that was all it took. The Tea Party had a new cause. “Government dictating what our children read.” “Obama usurping local control.” “Obamacore.” “Government lobotomizing our students.” And worse. It became a snowball rolling downhill.
Staunch supporters of Common Core began to bail. Business leaders hid under the table. States, including Republican strongholds like Texas and Oklahoma, withdrew approval. And Common Core became a rallying cry for the right: “a national takeover of our schools.”
You hear it today. Conservative groups in Collier and Lee Counties equating Common Core to government brainwashing. The Collier County Republican Executive Committee putting all of its chips on school-board candidates sworn to oust Common Core.
Where do things stand? Nationally and in Florida the pendulum has swung back. Today 45 states have Common Core-like standards (the name has been changed in many states to provide political cover). In Florida, the dreaded Common Core name was dropped in favor of Next Generation Sunshine State Standards. Some 90% of the standards and testing criteria are the same.
Okay, enough on Common Core. What about the other bogeyman, fracking, a celebrated cause of the left? Like Common Core, fracking evokes a knee-jerk response. It has become synonymous with air and water pollution, a driver of climate change.
Nothing could be further from the truth. First, let’s understand what fracking is. It’s shorthand for hydraulic fracturing — use of water, slurried with sand and a small amount of chemicals, to fracture under high pressure and hold open tight underground formations to free trapped oil and natural gas. It is often accompanied by horizontal drilling — turning the drill from vertical to horizontal to extend the production reach from a single platform.
Fracking isn’t the only game in town but, rather, one of many “enhanced-recovery” possibilities. Others include acidizing in carbonate formations, microbial treatment to fluidize heavy oil, carbon dioxide injection to cut oil viscosity, surfactant/water sweeps to scrub residual oil, gel emplacements to enhance oil and retard water production, and many others. Most of these procedures have been used for over 50 years.
The point is “fracking” doesn’t cover everything. To ban fracking and allow everything else makes no sense. It’s important to know what you’re opposing.
How widely used is fracking? Economical since 1998 and now a common tool in the oil patch, fracking will provide “the majority of U.S. oil and gas produced over the next few years.” It has revolutionized the energy business.
Early on there were serious pollution problems. Most of those have now been addressed, and many have been solved.
- Proper completion procedures have sharply reduced methane leakage.
- Improved containment has cut spillage runoff.
- New filtration systems have allowed recovered water to be reused for fracking, reducing strain on freshwater supplies.
- Green chemicals, including food additives and biodegradable polymers, are increasingly used in injection recipes.
Fracking has neither led to widespread harm to drinking water nor promoted global warming. In fact, replacement of coal-fired power plants with those using natural gas from fracking has led to a huge drop in carbon dioxide emissions. Locally, no environmental damage resulted from acidizing the infamous Collier Hogan well (the well was never fracked).
Still it’s wise to be cautious, particularly in Southwest Florida, where any drilling upset could damage our quality of life and chase away tourists.
The answer is not to demonize, but to understand. The sensible approach is a moratorium on all enhanced-recovey procedures until a study of effects on local groundwater can be carried out, preferably by the Department of Environmental Protection. Then stringent statewide regulations should be imposed.
We’ll all benefit from a better understanding of Common Core and fracking. And who knows? It may turn out neither one is so bad after all.

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