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Intelligence Squared U.S.: The Great Fracking Debate

Managing Attorney Deborah Goldberg in the Intelligence Squared U.S. debate: "No Fracking Way: The Natural Gas Boom is Doing More Harm Than Good".

Length: 50 min 30 sec
Recorded: July 2012

Earthjustice Managing Attorney Deborah Goldberg joined Katherine Hudson of Riverkeeper to debate New York Times Op-Ed columnist Joe Nocera and former Department of Energy Asst. Sec. Susan Tierney in a nationally broadcasted event presented by Intelligence Squared U.S., in partnership with the Aspen Ideas Festival.

Deborah and Katherine debated in favor of the motion, "No Fracking Way: The Natural Gas Boom is Doing More Harm Than Good."

After listening to the arguments from both sides, an additional 15% of audience members supported the motion, making Deborah and Katherine the winners of the debate.

How is the Winner Determined?

Intelligence Squared U.S. debates are based on the traditional Oxford-style format.

Before the debate begins, the audience votes based on their opinion. After the debate concludes, the audience delivers the final verdict by voting again whether they are for, against, or undecided on the proposition. The winner is determined by which team swayed more audience members.

Deborah and Katherine debated in favor of the motion, "No Fracking Way: The Natural Gas Boom is Doing More Harm Than Good."

Audience poll before the debate:

38%
FOR the motion
38%
AGAINST the motion
24%
UNDECIDED

Audience poll after the debate:

53%
FOR the motion
42%
AGAINST the motion
5%
UNDECIDED
Debate Wrap-up
No Debate About the Winner

Campaign Manager Kathleen Sutcliffe wrote about the debate in the Fall 2012 issue of the Earthjustice Quarterly Magazine.

At 7 p.m. more than half of those at the Aspen District Theater in Colorado were unconvinced that the natural gas drilling boom known as fracking is doing more harm than good. By 7:50 p.m., Deborah Goldberg, a leader of Earthjustice's gas program, had swayed the skeptics.

A 53 to 42 percent tally of audience members at the live taping of the public radio debate program Intelligence Squared, made it official. Goldberg and her debate partner, Katherine Hudson of Riverkeeper, had defeated New York Times business columnist Joe Nocera and former Clinton administration energy appointee Sue Tierney—who had argued that fears of fracking were overblown.

Drawing from decades of courtroom experience, Goldberg prepared for the debate just as she would for a court case. She worked with a team of colleagues and friends from across the environmental movement, who drilled Goldberg and Hudson with multiple timed run-throughs. Goldberg also methodically studied her adversaries—watching and reading her opponents' appearances and writings.

In her closing argument, Goldberg read back quotes from Nocera and Tierney in which they had each acknowledged the troubling unknowns associated with the process of blasting millions of gallons of chemically treated water into the ground to extract gas.

"I agree," Goldberg declared, undermining her opponents' arguments in one deft maneuver. It was the moment, debate organizers said, that had clinched the debate.

"I regard Deborah as an extremely skilled and experienced litigator," Hudson later said. "I am in awe of her skills and her confidence."

The victory may not have set any legal precedents. But it was sweet nonetheless. Sweeter still is the impression Goldberg and Hudson made on their opponents. Speaking at a recent industry conference in Colorado, Tierney admitted to losing the debate, citing the pair's winning arguments.

Though she made it look easy, Goldberg confessed later she'd been a bit nervous about agreeing to participate.

"I've done a lot of public speaking and oral arguments in court, but I'd never done a formal debate," she said.

The experience recalled a moment in Goldberg's past. She was a young associate attorney arguing before the Second Circuit court, representing a rural county in upstate New York fighting a radioactive waste site. It was her first time arguing in such a formal court setting and she had prepared extensively, with binders detailing answers to every conceivable question the judge might ask. There was just one problem: the podium and microphone towered over Goldberg's 4' 10" frame.

As the court clerk hastened to lower the podium, Goldberg tamped down on her nervousness, made a joke about her size, and proceeded to make her case.

"I was extraordinarily calm going into the argument," Goldberg recalled. "But as I walked out of the Second Circuit courtroom, all of that pent up nervous energy came out. I started trembling uncontrollably."

Decades later, as Goldberg prepared to take the stage at the Intelligence Squared debate, Hudson noticed a small hummingbird pin on Goldberg's lapel. Goldberg, an avid birdwatcher, explained to Hudson the tiny creature had special significance.

"She told me, 'Hummingbirds dream the impossible and then they do it.'"

Read more about the debate at the blog post: Winning The Debate On Fracking

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