At a debate last week at Stanford University’s Precourt Energy Efficiency Center, a top scientist fired back against environmentalists’ claims that hydraulic fracking is dangerous.

Mark Zoback, a longtime geophysics professor at Stanford, explained that already, 250,000 fracked wells exist in the United States. Forbes has the write-up:

"The assertion that this caused or will soon cause severe environmental damage is simply not true and needlessly alarmist. Through emphasizing best practice, appropriate regulation, and enforcement of those regulations, I have every confidence that horizontal drilling and multi-stage fracturing can be done with minimal environmental impact," [Zoback said.]

The Sierra Club countered by offering anecdotes about nosebleeds, rashes, nausea, dizziness and birth defects.

But Zoback wasn’t backing down. In fact, he argued that fracked natural gas has been an environmental breakthrough—part of the reason he now heads Stanford’s Natural Gas Initiative.

“It’s somewhat ironic to be asked to argue for the notion that these benefits outweigh the environmental costs, when it’s the environmental benefits that got me into this business in the first place."

… Zoback argued that natural gas can replace coal and "dirty diesel" at significant scale throughout the world, supporting economic growth while slashing carbon emissions. (When burned, natural gas emits about half the CO2 that coal does).

"The global abundance of natural gas provided in part by horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing provides us with a critical option for addressing all of these critical issues," Zoback said. "Natural gas is an ideal fuel to decarbonize and cause less pollution in the energy system in the future. It is not the end; it is a means to get to a decarbonized energy world."

Kudos to Zoback for standing up to the Sierra Club and Natural Resources Defense Council. It’s critical that America base its energy and environment decisions in hard science. Listening to top scientists would be a good start.