Winner: Modern drilling techniques for extracting natural gas, known as "fracking," do not pose a big risk for causing earthquakes, a study by the National Research Council reported this week. Other types of energy-related drilling might be risky, however, the report said, but even these are not believed to pose a huge risk. The report recommended continual study of the relationship between deep drilling and seismic activity. However, the relatively clean bill of health for fracking (a 2.8 magnitude quake in Oklahoma was the only U.S. tremor connected with it) is important good news. The nation's energy needs aren't getting any smaller, and fracking has increased the available supply of inexpensive natural gas many times over. Getting the auto industry to convert to this source may take some time, but the gas will be there, waiting.
Loser: More fallout from the financial collapse of 2008: Former Goldman Sachs director Rajat Gupta was convicted this week of securities fraud and conspiracy for feeding insider information to another hedge fund manager who earlier was convicted on similar charges. The trial brought out evidence of how Gupta called the other manager just moments after a confidential conference call concerning how Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway was going to invest $5 billion in Goldman, The other manager bought $40 million in Goldman stock moments later, which earned him $1 million. This was information ordinary investors had no way of obtaining. Such trading didn't cause the great recession, but it is evidence of an ethical deficiency among some on Wall Street that needs to be punished.
Winner: If you have low back pain — and 80 percent of people will at some point — the news doesn't get much better than what a team of engineering professors at BYU announced this week. Anton Bowden, Larry Howell and Peter Halverson have developed an artificial spinal disc replacement that tests show is as functional as a normal, healthy disc. Sales distribution of the disc is expected next year. Considering the normal answer to low back pain — painful spinal fusion surgery — leaves 54 percent of people feeling unsatisfied, the BYU team has just hoisted the hopes of millions of people on its own backs.
Loser: Almost 60 years ago a Eurasian weed called Squarrose Knapweed established a beachhead in Utah. Today it has overrun rangelands in much of the state, posing a huge wildfire risk. People in Juab County met this week to plan a strategy using weevils, beetles and flies imported from the same Eurasian territory that is the native home to the weed, hoping they will eradicate the problem naturally. The Utah Legislature appropriated $1 million to help. Why do we worry that the weevils, beetles and flies will eventually cause problems of their own that one day need to be fixed?
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