Wicked problems

Being a sustainability major, I can go on and on about fracking, drilling, urban sprawl, biodiversity loss, you name it. So I was really excited when I saw we needed to do a post on this!

First of all, I wanted to talk about wicked problems. In all sustainability classes we spend weeks on defining what a wicked problem is, and attempting to solve a current wicked problem. Wicked problems are :

•Vague Problem Definition

•Undefined Solution: Most of the time there are multiple “solutions” or ideas to fix the problem, or more than one together to fix it.

•Irreversible: Once a solution is implemented it cannot be reversed


•No Endpoint: There are usually numerous problems within the one wicked problem, and one solution may lead to another problem.

———–An example of “No endpoint” would be introducing a new species of insect that kills an “invading” plant species. However, this new insect also feeds on other insects in the nearby ecosystem and threaten the species. 

Once, we have established the definition of a wicked problem we can begin to understand why fracking is a wicked problem. The definition of fracking, also known as hydraulic fracturing by dictionary.com is “a process in which fractures in rocks below the earth’s surface are opened and widened by injectingchemicals and liquids at high pressure: used especially to extract natural gas or oil.”

Here is a video that shows an animation of fracking:       http://youtu.be/Xeo-gEkbq6k

Fracking is especially common to our neighbors, Canada. The providence Alberta, contain massive quantities of oil sands. 

There are numerous problems with fracking. By sustainability and my personal standards, the amount of water use is top of the list. Hydraulic fracturing uses way more water than traditional technologies. This is because fracking entails blasting large volumes of water, sand and chemicals at high pressure down a well to crack the rock and free up natural gas. Once the water is used, it becomes polluted, and must be cleaned. Which equals more energy usage just to do that. Beyond that, it contributes to groundwater pollution. Fracking has been linked to contaminated water in Alberta and Pennsylvania.

When fracking antural gas and methane (both greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming) can sometimes leak, causing air pollution. It has even been shown now that in terms of contributions to global warming, frackign is equally as bad as coal!

Lastly, fracking destroys the land. The process of developing fracking sites, drilling and hauling wastewater requires over 1,000 truckloads per well , which can cause massive damage to nearby ecosystems, the soil, and nearby residents. 

So how does this make fracking a “wicked” problem? Lets go back to the first issue with wicked problems, ” vague problem definition”. There are multiple issues with fracking, not jus tone. It causes air and water pollution, uses massive quantities of water, a natural resource, and is a driver for global climate change. All of these are huge problems within this one “wicked” problem. 

Next is “undefined solution”. Think about it.How can we solve fracking? Stop fracking altogether? Create a new machine that uses less water? rely on only renewables? There no exact certain solution. scientist will have to implement a solution they see fit, and go from there. 

Also, the solutions we implement for this wicked problem are irreversible. Once implemented it cannot b undone. Just like the action of fracking. once they frack a site, it cannot be unfracked. They have used,taken, and destroyed that area. 

Next, fracking is unique. It is specific to certain sites and areas. It is also unique in that we need to frack for energy, however it is contributing to the end of our society. 

Lastly, there is no endpoint, unless you count running out of oil sands. Even if a new machine is invented to lower the water usage, there are still major problems with fracking. Also, we cannot clearly define where it starts or begins unless it never begins altogether, something citizens tried to make happen when they fought back hard against the keystone Xl pipeline. 

I hope that I have clearly defined a wicked problem, as well as why fracking is wicked. These are important topics that many people should know but don’t!

***************These “wicked” problems cannot be fixed, but can be minimized through the design process. 


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