“Of course I’m afraid of an oil spill. I’m afraid of a car accident, [too]. But do I drive? Yes.” What does this mean and is it true?

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kipling2448 | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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The now widely circulated quote from a resident of British Columbia is a recognition of one particular individual -- an individual whose livelihood may be directly affected by the outcome of debates regarding the environmental risks associated with oil shale fracking processes and the use of pipelines and railways to transport oil to refineries and to markets -- that life is not without risk. Diane Dessureault (the individual to whom the quote has been attributed) appears to be suggesting that, to once again borrow an old adage, you must break a few eggs in order to make an omelet. In other words, some measure of risk to our collective well-being must be accepted in exchange for the kinds of activities upon which our current societies are highly dependent, such as energy production needed to heat our homes in the winter, fuel our vehicles, and so on.

It is the rare human endeavor that has not entailed some level of risk, either to the individual undertaking such an endeavor (e.g., climbing Mt. Everest) or to society as a whole (e.g., construction of coal-fired or nuclear power plants). The ongoing debates regarding exploitation of oil shale deposits in Canada and the U.S. upper Midwest involve economic, environmental and national security considerations, the latter referencing the ramifications of U.S. and European dependence upon oil sources located in politically unstable regions like the Middle East and Central Asia. Americans and Canadians have both, within the recent past, experienced oil spills associated with the exploitation of those deposits, just as we have endured environmentally and financially costly accidents like that of the Exxon Valdez tanker that ran aground off the coast of Alaska in 1989 and, more recently, the British Petroleum offshore oil platform disaster of April 2010 (the Deepwater Horizon accident). These accidents, both the result of negligence, served to highlight the dangers associated with our continued reliance on fossil fuels. To those whose livelihoods are directly connected to energy production -- such as the communities near the activities in question whose residents are employed by the energy or transport company -- there is sometimes little or no distinction between their personal interest and that of the broader society in which they live. It is a common human psychological phenomenon at work wherein we interpret what is good for us personally as beneficial to society as a whole.

The quote is an acknowledgement that risk is inherent in many human activities that we take for granted. It remains true that more people will die in a car accident than by almost any other form of unnatural death. Such facts, however, do little to dissuade people from driving, as they are dependent upon automobiles for basic transportation. That is the point Diane Dessureault is attempting to make. Yes, environmental damage will occur as a result of fracking. No, she, and many others, will not curtail their existing way of live in deference to the risks associated with fracking.

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