Shale “Exempt” From Federal Laws? Um, Not Even Close.
For years, opponents of hydraulic fracturing have perpetuated the claim that shale development is somehow “exempt” from federal laws. Far from being “exempt,” shale producers have been held to even higher standards, complying with overlapping federal and state regulations, and held accountable by state regulators who are far better equipped to oversee the process.
For years, opponents of hydraulic fracturing have perpetuated the claim that shale development is somehow “exempt” from federal laws. One of the most persistent exponents of this talking point is Amy Mall of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), who constantly pushes the fallacious assertion that oil and gas corporations “enjoy exemptions from critical protective environmental provisions in the Safe Drinking Water Act and Clean Water Act.” Dr. George Peridas of the NRDC, in opening remarks at last year’s SXSW Eco Conference, echoed Mall’s sentiments, characterizing shale development as “an unregulated free for all,” claiming that the “industry is exempt from RCRA, the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act.”
First of all, the idea that any industry would be allowed to run amok as an “unregulated free for all” is just absurd. Second, while states have (and have always had) primary regulatory authority over hydraulic fracturing, oil and gas producers also have to abide by a whole host of federal laws – in fact, every step of the way they are regulated at the federal, state, and local levels, often at multiple levels simultaneously.
A report released by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) in September 2012 should finally set the record straight on opponents’ claims. In it, the independent agency makes clear that oil and gas developers are required to comply with no fewer than eight federal regulations. From that report:
As with conventional oil and gas development, requirements from eight federal environmental and public health laws apply to unconventional oil and gas development. For example, the Clean Water Act (CWA) regulates discharges of pollutants into surface waters. Among other things, CWA requires oil and gas well site operators to obtain permits for discharges of produced water – which includes fluids used for hydraulic fracturing, as well as water the occurs naturally in oil- or gas-bearing formations – to surface waters. In addition, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) governs the management and disposal of hazardous wastes, among other things.
The report goes on to cite the specific federal environmental and public health laws that govern the development of oil and gas, which include: the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) (for disposal wells); Clean Water Act (CWA); Clean Air Act (CAA); Resources Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA); Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA); Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA); Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA); and Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) – all laws that opponents continually claim are, somehow, “exemptions.”
So, not only do oil and gas producers have to comply with overarching federal laws, they must do so on top of a slew of stringent state regulations. To cite one example, let’s look at Ohio: after going through the process required to obtain the initial permit from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR), companies must then acquire a number of additional federal and state permits before they can even think about drilling the well. Our EID colleague in Ohio, Shawn Bennett, has the full story, but just to summarize a few points here:
First, operators must be approved by the Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. EPA for Clean Water Act 401 and 404 permits for wetlands and water quality. If they receive the green light on these permits, then ODNR begins a technical review of the drilling permit to ensure the cementing plan is sufficient. If this plan is approved, water testing is completed for all homes within 1,500-feet of the wellhead, with results distributed to the landowners, ODNR and the company. Next, the company must work with the U.S. EPA and the Ohio EPA to file a Spill, Prevention, Control and Countermeasure (SPCC) plan. Then, companies must also file a permit to install and operate (PTIO) with the Ohio EPA for their production facilities that will be onsite. The PTIO regulates emissions from a production site under the Clean Air Act. Only after companies jump through all these hoops successfully can they begin to think about actually drilling a well.
Of course, since opponents’ claims about the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act have turned out to be a pretty hard sell, they continue to recite their talking points on the Safe Drinking Water Act ad nauseum. So let’s clear the air one more time on that: hydraulic fracturing was not “exempted” from the Safe Drinking Water Act. The SDWA became the law of the land in 1974, long after the first use of hydraulic fracturing, which occurred in the 1940s. Since then, the Act has been amended and updated more than a half-dozen times – and still has very little to say about hydraulic fracturing. How can a process be “exempt” from something that never covered — and was not designed to cover — it in the first place? Your guess is as good as ours.
This fracturing process is, however, aggressively regulated by the states, and this regulatory framework has resulted in a successful record of enforcement for over sixty years. Even officials from the Obama administration have admitted that state regulators are far more capable in this task than the federal government. As Carol Browner, President Clinton’s EPA Administrator said in 1995, “EPA does not regulate – and does not believe it is legally required to regulate – the hydraulic fracturing of methane gas production wells…” President Obama’s former EPA chief Lisa Jackson has also recognized the effectiveness of states taking the lead. As she said in 2011, “We have no data right now that lead us to believe one way or the other that there needs to be specific federal regulation of the fracking process” – and in February last year, she reaffirmed this position saying, “Let me speak really plainly: There is no EPA setup that allows us to oversee each and every well that’s drilled.”
What have been the results? Going back to our example of Ohio, of the 329 wells that have already been developed in the Utica shale, there hasn’t been a single environmental violation. Ohio is simply building on the record of success that has been repeated throughout the country for decades.
So, far from being “exempt,” shale producers have been held to even higher standards, complying with overlapping federal and state regulations, and held accountable by state regulators who are far better equipped to oversee the process.
Letterman Misses the Mark on HF. Again.
Last night on the "Late Show with David Letterman," the host and self-anointed expert on all things hydraulic fracturing attempted to have a factual conversation with former Vice President Al Gore about onshore oil and gas development. The subject was discussed in between jokes about how the industrial revolution will kill off the human race, Gore's support of President Obama in the 2012 election, and questions about Gore's decision to sell his television station to Al Jazeera.
Last night on the “Late Show with David Letterman,” the host and self-anointed expert on all things hydraulic fracturing attempted to have a factual conversation with former Vice President Al Gore about onshore oil and gas development (spoiler: they failed). The subject was discussed in between jokes about how the industrial revolution will kill off the human race (high brow comedy for sure!), Gore’s support of President Obama in the 2012 election, and questions about Gore’s decision to sell his television station to Al Jazeera.
Before getting into the juicy details, it’s worth mentioning that this isn’t the first time Letterman stepped on a rake trying to discuss shale development. Last summer he went on a rant about flaming water and every other claim imaginable, which EID examined with our own Top Ten list of Dave’s errors. There was also Letterman’s comical interview with Promised Land‘s John Krasinski (comical for all the wrong reasons, mind you), which included its own swing-and-a-miss conversation about hydraulic fracturing.
So, the fact that Letterman brought up the subject last night with Al Gore — a noted environmentalist — is unsurprising, although it’s still unfortunate that the “Late Show” keeps providing a forum for people to spread misinformation about a process that’s so important to American energy development.
Without further ado, here’s the most relevant excerpt, and what they got wrong.
Letterman: “Fracking, people setting fire to their tapwater. That can’t be good. We have to stop that. We’re poisoning the great aquifers that keep the, uh… and with the drought coming on.. uh, we’re nothing but screwed.”
- Once again, Dave is parroting that emblematic (and factually incorrect) scene in Gasland where a Colorado resident lights his tap water on fire — the same incident that Colorado regulators investigated and determined was “not related to oil and gas activity.”
- As for poisoning drinking water, we know that state regulators have repeatedly said that’s not true, as have multiple officials with the EPA.
Letterman: “Where, uh… is there safe fracking?”
Gore: “It should be very tightly regulated. There are serious questions about the way they put the concrete down in the uh, the wells. It tends to fall apart too often. There’s a real problem with the amount of water that’s required and when the water is used it comes back up poisonous. And then they dispose of it by putting it back deep in the ground.”
- To answer Letterman’s question (because Gore clearly did not), let’s ask outgoing Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, shall we? In response to what he deemed “hysteria” about hydraulic fracturing, Salazar said the process “can be done safely and has been done safely hundreds of thousands of times.”
- As for regulation, Al Gore is right that it should be tightly regulated. But what he fails to note is the good news: hydraulic fracturing is tightly regulated by the states, and the EPA says they are doing a “good job” with it.
- Are well casings really falling apart “too often”? If your source of information is Yoko Ono, then you’d obviously believe that to be the case. But if your source is actual data, you’ll realize that failure rates in places like Ohio and even Texas are less than one-tenth of one percent.
- Finally, regarding the supposed “problem” with the amount of water used, the reality is that oil and gas activity — including but not even limited to hydraulic fracturing — constitutes a very small portion of each state’s total water demand. In Colorado, it’s less than one percent. In Texas — the largest oil and gas producing state by far — the water required specifically for hydraulic fracturing is about 23 percent less than what the city of Austin uses (Texas rice farmers, meanwhile, use about three times more water than the city of Austin). Shale wells also use less water per unit of energy produced than so-called “conventional” wells, according to a study from Duke University.
Letterman: “But didn’t the EPA waive requirements for certain elements that are used…?”
Gore: “It wasn’t the EPA, it was in the Bush-Cheney administration. In their first year, former Vice President Cheney got a law passed that exempted fracking from the Safe Drinking Water Act.”
Letterman: “That’s right. Why..why would he do that? What’s the matter with that guy? Honest to God…”
- Forgive us if this sounds like a broken record, but here we go again: hydraulic fracturing was not “exempted” from the Safe Drinking Water Act. The SDWA became the law of the land in 1974, and it was never designed to cover hydraulic fracturing, nor in the forty years since its passage has the Act covered hydraulic fracturing. How can a process be “exempt” from something that never covered — and was not designed to cover — it in the first place?
- The law to which Mr. Gore is referring (which was passed in 2005, not the “first year” of the Bush administration as he suggests) was the Energy Policy Act of 2005. A provision in that bill merely clarified the regulatory system already in place: the states regulate hydraulic fracturing, not the EPA, which had been the system in place literally for decades and continues to be the foundation for responsible shale development nationwide. As mentioned above, the EPA has even praised the states for the efficacy and efficiency in regulating the process.
- Earlier in the show, Mr. Gore had proudly stated that he supported President Barack Obama’s re-election. Conveniently, however, he failed to mention in this particular segment that then-Senator Obama supported the Energy Policy Act of 2005, along with 73 of his fellow Democrats and Republicans.
Seriously? Are We Really Fact-Checking Jim from “The Office” Now?
Folks who stayed up after Led Zeppelin’s interview and guest performance on the Late Show with David Letterman last night were treated to a short segment featuring John Krasinski, one of the stars of “Promised Land." The two discussed several topics, but when the conversation turned to the technical details of hydraulic fracturing, things got really silly.
Folks who stayed up after Led Zeppelin’s interview and guest performance on the “Late Show with David Letterman” last night were treated to a short segment featuring the talented actor John Krasinski, known by most for his role as “Jim” on “The Office,” but now carving out some new credentials as the writer of the screenplay for “Promised Land,” a film in which he co-stars with the dreamy (notwithstanding that buzz-cut he’s currently sporting) Matt Damon.
Heretofore, the promotional activities associated with the soon-to-be-released movie have been pretty low-key – a few interviews with the film and entertainment rags, a Facebook post or two, a quick sit-down with The Today Show, and a fairly subdued online chat with the New York Times. And the funny thing is, for a movie that’s supposed to be some sort of polemic about “hydraulic fracturing,” that topic really hasn’t come up a whole lot yet as part of the interviews they’ve done. Indeed, Krasinski (and Damon too) continue to go to great lengths to assure us that this film isn’t about hydraulic fracturing at all – insisting instead that it’s a story about “American identity,” which we assume is something really profound that only folks in Hollywood would fully understand.
Anyway, Krasinski’s interview with Letterman was going along just fine last night – lots of talk about how Led Zeppelin’s the greatest band ever (we agree); good bit of chatter about how Krasinski’s career has really taken off; some friendly banter about how gorgeous Matt Damon is, the usual stuff. But then the topic turned to hydraulic fracturing, and, as sometimes they do on Letterman, things turned really silly really quickly from there – with Letterman querying whether he could ask the decidedly non-technical Krasinski “a technical question” about hydraulic fracturing, leading to a two-minute, fact-free explanation of a process about which neither participant proved to have any real, actual, discernible knowledge.
So then: since it can be assumed that John Krasinski will be doing more of these promotional interviews in the weeks and months to come – and likely will be fielding additional questions about what hydraulic fracturing is, how it’s done, and how it’s regulated – here below, a quick “cheat sheet” with information on everything he talked about last night … so that next time, he can get it right.
Krasinski: Hydraulic fracturing is “drilling into shale deposits rather than oil deposits.”
- First of all, hydraulic fracturing is not a drilling technique. When companies want to develop oil and natural gas from shale, and after they have conducted all of the preliminary geologic monitoring and testing, they drill down to what’s known as the target formation, which is the geologic area from which they will be producing oil or natural gas. For hydraulic fracturing to occur, however, the drilling equipment must first leave the well pad. Trucks and other equipment enter the well pad after the drilling rig has left, and then the process of hydraulic fracturing can commence. So when Krasinski says of hydraulic fracturing: “basically it’s just a long drill,” that’s clearly not the case.
- As the director of Indiana’s Department of Natural Resources, Herschel McDivitt, has said: “Remember that drilling is drilling, well construction is well construction…producing is producing, and fracing is fracing.”
- Secondly, a shale deposit and an oil deposit are not mutually exclusive things. Indeed, the massive Bakken oil field in North Dakota and large parts of the Eagle Ford shale in south Texas, for example, are oil deposits. Shale and other “tight” reservoirs are the source rock for oil and natural gas, and the fact that the industry can produce from these formations is proof that they are, in fact, oil and natural gas deposits. After all, the oil and natural gas produced from shale formations is no different than the oil and natural gas produced in what some call “conventional” wells – deposits that don’t need added stimulation like hydraulic fracturing.
Letterman: “Now let me ask you a technical question. There is the ‘deep fracking’ that you go deep, and then, and then, horizontal – and then there is the more shallow version of it. … And it’s my understanding that the more shallow version of it is the more dangerous – the more …”
Krasinski: “Yes. Because it’s releasing gases, um, they’re not able to trap it as much, um, it’s coming right through the ground.”
- Whether the well is shallow or deep, the fracturing process really doesn’t change a whole lot. Sure, the volume of pressure and water needed may differ, with deeper wells requiring more and shallower ones less, but the basic mechanics of a fracturing operation don’t change based on depth: no matter how you slice it, it’s about delivering water, sand and pressure downhole, to create millimeter-sized conduits in rock for hydrocarbons to access the wellbore. Some folks would like you to believe that shale “fracking” is different from conventional stimulation – so that they can convince you that the former is more dangerous than the latter, or maybe the other way around? We don’t remember. But it’s not.
- Of course, shallow or deep, hydraulic fracturing has been applied more than 1.2 million times since 1947, and there is not a single confirmed case of water contamination. How do we know that? Well, for one, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency – under three separate administrations – has said so. Here’s what Lisa Jackson, current EPA administrator, said earlier this year: “In no case have we made a definitive determination that [hydraulic fracturing] has caused chemicals to enter groundwater.” That’s one heck of a record.
- We’re not really sure what Krasinski means when he says “it’s releasing gases” and that the industry can’t “trap it as much,” though – we think he may just be free-styling there. What he may be referring to, however, is the fact that shallow geologic formations often contain deposits of methane. These are also often the same deposits that have naturally entered into water wells, a phenomenon that has been documented for centuries. In many parts of Pennsylvania, for example, methane bubbles to the surface in small rivers and creeks – all due to natural processes. What the industry usually targets for shale development, however, are formations a mile or more below groundwater supplies, and obviously much further from the surface.
Letterman: “And chemicals are used to blow it back out of the shale.”
Letterman: “And chemicals which not necessarily need to be identified …”
Krasinski: “Ahhhh, who needs that?”
Letterman: “So. And a provision removed from the EPA Clean Water bill …”
Krasinski: “You’ve done your homework …”
Letterman: “So these oil companies and go ahead and use whatever they want. And would only have to reveal what was in there if there was a problem.”
- Oof. Unfortuantely, there’s clearly much more homework to be done here!
- Regarding the claim that the chemicals don’t need to be identified, that’s not true. States across the country have mandatory disclosure laws on the books, and other states are moving forward with similar such laws, typically with the support of the industry. Many operators, however, already use FracFocus.org, which is an online database of the additives used during hydraulic fracturing. Visitors to that site can search on a well-by-well basis to discover what is and isn’t in the specific fracturing fluid used at a particular well site.
- FracFocus has been highly praised, too. For example, here’s how President Obama’s energy and climate change advisor Heather Zichal described it: “As an administration, we believe that FracFocus is an important tool that provides transparency to the American people.”
- Also, the “EPA Clean Water bill” (which is actually the Safe Drinking Water Act) was amended in 2005 to affirm that the strong regulatory regime already in place at the state level – which the current EPA has applauded for doing a “good job” of protecting the environment – should remain the primary means of regulation for hydraulic fracturing. Nothing was “removed” from SDWA, which has been the law of the land for nearly forty years – and, by the way, was never designed to cover hydraulic fracturing.
Letterman: “And that’s where we see the stories of … ‘er, turn on the water, ma’ … whoosh. And you know, the sink explodes.”
Krasinski: “Yeah. Gives new meaning to ‘fire water.’”
- Flaming water? We can only guess this is coming from that emblematic scene in Gasland where a Weld County, Colorado man lights his tap water on fire.
- What did that film leave out? Well, Colorado regulators were interested in that incident and decided to investigate. They even released a fact sheet in response to the film. Those same regulators said this particular case “was not related to oil and gas activity,” but rather a result of what’s known as biogenic methane – that is, methane that occurs naturally in groundwater.
Letterman: “But the thing about the film. I know it happens. There are towns in the north and the west where people are divided. Because some towns are in desperate economic need. And some towns want to preserve the culture that they like about their hometown.”
Krasinski: “100 percent.”
- The great news here is that shale development is not a barrier to towns who want to “preserve the culture that they like about their hometown.” In fact, the small businesses that populate Main Street in towns across the country are often some of the biggest beneficiaries of shale development. People who work for the industry need places to eat, apartments to sleep in, and other stores to do their shopping. These workers are also members of the community, and they like to support local businesses just as much as their fellow citizens.
- But the bigger point here is that the “division” between economic benefits and environmental protection is one that has been invented by opponents of development. Yes, there are risks inherent with all forms of energy. And residents have a right to ask questions and demand answers – based in fact – about what the impacts may or may not be in their communities. The industry frequently holds open forums and information sessions in towns across the country to engage in this dialogue and address concerns.
- What opponents have done, however, is undermine that good faith discussion by trying to convince landowners that the industry is only looking out for “profits” and will pollute the water, cause earthquakes, and countless other problems. They have lodged accusations designed to secure headlines, and tragically, they have been very successful.
- The reality is that shale development is done under tight regulatory regimes in every state, and higher operating standards help ensure that these processes are done efficiently and responsibly.
- That means we don’t have to pick between a healthy environment and strong local economies, though we also acknowledge that the best Hollywood movies are based on conflict, not harmony – even if that conflict has been largely manufactured.
Texas Monthly Could Sure Use an Ombudsman
Nate Blakeslee at Texas Monthly has decided to take the Ian Urbina route to reporting about hydraulic fracturing: just keep throwing stuff up on the wall and see what sticks. That’s too bad. Ian Urbina, of course, is the New York Times reporter who, throughout 2010 and 2011, filed a series of inflammatory, Gasland-style pieces that took about 30 minutes to fully debunk. His reports were so poorly sourced and inaccurate that the public editor for the Times felt it necessary to file not one but two separate pieces of his own apologizing to the Times’ readership for Mr. Urbina’s serial misreporting...
Field Director, Texas
Nate Blakeslee at Texas Monthly has decided to take the Ian Urbina route to reporting about hydraulic fracturing: just keep throwing stuff on the wall and see what sticks. That’s too bad.
Ian Urbina, of course, is the New York Times reporter who, throughout 2010 and 2011, filed a series of inflammatory, Gasland-style pieces that took about 30 seconds to fully debunk. His reports were so poorly sourced and inaccurate that the public editor for the Times felt it necessary to file not one but two separate pieces of his own apologizing to the Times’ readership for Mr. Urbina’s serial misreporting.
Such embarrassment must have had an effect on the Times’ editorial staff, since it’s been quite awhile since we have heard from Mr. Urbina on the subject of shale gas or hydraulic fracturing.
Filling the void appears to be Mr. Blakeslee, who filed an “Urbina-style report” in the October issue of Texas Monthly, making many of the same half-true claims upon which The Times was fond of expounding. For instance: the claim that hydraulic fracturing benefits from some sort of loophole in the Safe Drinking Water Act (not true). And like the claim that hydraulic fracturing has been proven to contaminate drinking water (not true), in which he relies on a single disputed case in West Virginia that occurred in 1982. On this, Mr. Blakeslee hangs his hat on an inconclusive event that took place three full decades ago, in another state, under a completely different regulatory regime than we have here in Texas.
When my colleague Steve Everley responded to the Texas Monthly piece with a letter pointing out the facts about hydraulic fracturing, the publication did print it – albeit an edited version. But for some reason, the publication also gave Mr. Blakeslee a second opportunity to repeat his debunked claims.
To be sure, no one is afraid of or opposed to healthy debate, and we’re pleased that Texas Monthly posted the response. But it’s interesting that a magazine would publish the functional equivalent of a letter to the editor, then give the author of the offending article more space than was allowed for the letter itself to respond to it.
Fact is, hydraulic fracturing has never been regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act since its passage in 1974 — for the simple fact that scientists and policymakers in seven different administrations spanning both parties and 38 years have determined the process does not present a threat to ground water. Mr. Blakeslee, however, chose to insinuate that the 2005 Congress did something nefarious, picking up on a tack that’s popular among anti-shale bloggers, but isn’t considered credible by most responsible journalists.
As for the West Virginia case, EID has actually done a little work on that one. Here are the facts:
- In 1982, a well was drilled into and through the Pittsburg sandstone in West Virginia.
- Some time later, residents near the well site noticed contaminants in their drinking water, and reported this to state regulators.
- West Virginia regulations at the time required operators to set casing 20 feet below known drinking water zones. However, at the time the well was drilled, no one in the state government knew that anyone was obtaining drinking water from the Pittsburg sand, which had long been known also to contain productive amounts of oil and gas.
- Thus, it is unlikely that well casing was set and cemented below this water-containing zone, making it possible that fracturing fluids could have escaped into the Pittsburg sand. (Another possibility, however, is that the “contaminants” in residents’ drinking water were simply naturally occurring oil and gas that the Pittsburg sand formation is known to contain.)
- West Virginia state regulators at the time made no determinative finding as to the source of the contamination. However, after finding out that the Pittsburg sand actually was a source of drinking water for some West Virginia residents, the state began requiring casing to be set below that formation in order to prevent any oil and gas well fluids from escaping into it.
- Urbina and Blakeslee claim that the “EPA” determined this 30 year old incident was without any question at all the result of hydraulic fracturing. However, that claim is based not on any real-time formal EPA finding, but a report issued five years later, in 1987, by Carla Greathouse, a well-known, long-time opponent of the oil and gas industry, who was working on contract for the EPA. No agenda-free reporter would think of claiming Ms. Greathouse as an authoritative, unbiased source.
Now, there is a reason why EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson has repeatedly and unambiguously gone on the record dismissing the accusations of the other side: she understands that a 30 year-old incident in which no real determination of any kind was made is not the sort of thing a credible person would hang his or her hat on.
Texas Monthly wants Texans to believe otherwise, advancing the same discredited talking points that we were forced to endure from The New York Times last year. But hey, at least The Times had an ombudsman on hand over there to set the record straight when it was needed. If there’s one of those on staff over at the Texas Monthly, now might be a good time to dust him off and hear what he has to say.
An Unregulated Free For All? Is He Serious???
Last Friday, I traveled to Austin to participate in a panel discussion on the Sustainability of Shale Natural Gas at the annual SXSW Eco Conference. My basic role was to be the lone spokesperson for the natural gas industry on a panel whose other three participants were otherwise tilted (predictably) in the opposite direction. Which was fine – I actually enjoy a good debate, at least when the debate is based on facts and focused on real issues surrounding shale gas production.
Field Director, Texas
Last Friday, I traveled to Austin to participate in a panel discussion on the Sustainability of Shale Natural Gas at the annual SXSW Eco Conference. My basic role was to be the lone spokesperson for the natural gas industry on a panel whose other three participants were otherwise tilted (predictably) in the opposite direction. Which was fine – I actually enjoy a good debate, at least when the debate is based on facts and focused on real issues surrounding shale gas production.
Unfortunately, as is typical of this kind of setup, that turned out to largely not be the case. (To be fair, the representative on the panel from the Environmental Defense Fund, Dr. Elena Craft, did stick with real issues and delivered a very thoughtful and balanced presentation.)
One statement made by the representative of the NRDC, Dr. George Peridas, really stood out from the rest. During his opening remarks, he characterized shale gas development as “an unregulated free for all”, and claimed that the “industry is exempt from RCRA, the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act”, and other major federal environmental laws.
That characterization of the oil and gas exploration and production industry would come as a huge surprise to those who work in it. I personally have had a 33 year career in the industry, and know beyond any doubt that NRDC’s contention here is completely false. The fact of the matter is that pretty much everything anyone at an oil and gas company does on a daily basis is heavily regulated at the federal, state, and local levels, often at multiple levels simultaneously. I know that, and could only marvel that the NRDC could somehow remain unaware of it after years of opposition to the industry’s existence.
This reality was really brought home to me this week as I listened to the director of Health, Safety and Environment (HSE) for a large independent natural gas producer go through a presentation about the various state and federal laws and regulation his team of 35 people is responsible for ensuring the company be in compliance with. Note that this company employs around 700 people, so fully 5% of its workforce works full time to ensure compliance, and that does not include the daily efforts by the company’s field and office personnel to ensure compliance in their own activities.
At one point, the HSE Director showed a slide listing the major federal acts the company must comply with. Lo and behold, that list included “RCRA, the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act” and other major environmental laws like the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act, and OSHA, the act that governs workplace safety.
The HSE Director’s next slide listed, in very small print, all the various provisions of just the Clean Air Act that apply to exploration and production activities. If I tried to list them all here I’d run out of space, so I won’t try to do it. But one key point to understand is that just a few months ago, the EPA finalized a major new rulemaking related to National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP) that apply specifically to oil & gas E&P operations.
Is it really possible that Dr. Peridas and his colleagues at the NRDC somehow missed completely a rulemaking process that dragged on for almost a year? Or was he just engaging in the very common practice preferred by these anti-development groups these days of throwing out inaccurate, hyperbolic statements about the oil and gas industry, expecting to go unquestioned on them by a sympathetic news media or a general public that doesn’t know any better?
While this practice is no doubt a useful way for anti-development groups like the NRDC to raise money by creating a perception of a never-ending crisis, it is a wholly non-productive exercise in what ought to be a quest to find real solutions to real issues that do exist around the development of this nation’s incredible wealth of shale oil and gas resources.
Are the existing regulations around shale gas development perfect? Probably not. Could they use some modernization? Probably so. But characterizing the oil and gas E&P industry as “an unregulated free for all” is simply not true, and serves no useful purpose from a problem solving perspective.
You Missed a Spot: A Timeline of Hydraulic Fracturing
Last week, ProPublica posted a big fancy chart about hydraulic fracturing on its website. So, we decided to make our own timeline to provide everyone with a little more context (and facts)...
Last week, ProPublica posted a big fancy chart about hydraulic fracturing on its website that purports to show that “government involvement with the drilling technique goes back decades.” (By “drilling technique” we assume they’re referring to hydraulic fracturing, even though, as a point of fact, hydraulic fracturing is not a drilling technique.) It’s a less-than-veiled attempt to provide cover for the claim that it was the federal government, not private industry, that facilitated the growth of shale development. But as we already know, that claim lacks merit. As Professor Michael Giberson of Texas Tech University has observed, the federal government’s role was “merely convenient to technological advancement and not necessary.” (emphasis added)
And, as it turns out, the chart is defined more by what it omits than what it includes. So, we decided to make our own timeline to provide everyone with a little more context (and facts) about the history of hydraulic fracturing, not to mention its incredible safety record.
1947: First well receives hydraulic fracturing treatment to stimulate natural gas development (Grant County, Kan.).
1950s: Hydraulic fracturing is used for the first time in Canada (Cardium oil field in central Alberta).
November 1974: Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) is signed into law. Establishes new standards and regulations to protect underground sources of drinking water (USDW). Despite having been utilized commercially for a quarter century, hydraulic fracturing was never considered for regulation under SDWA.
June 1986: SDWA is amended to regulate more than 100 specific contaminants. Hydraulic fracturing, now commercially utilized for nearly four decades, is never considered for regulation.
1980s/early 1990s: George Mitchell successfully combines horizontal drilling with hydraulic fracturing to “crack the code” of the Barnett Shale in north Texas.
1994/1995: The Legal Environmental Assistance Foundation (LEAF) petitions the EPA to withdraw approval of Alabama’s underground injection control (UIC) program, arguing that the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) required that the federal EPA regulate hydraulic fracturing. Then-EPA Administrator (and later President Obama’s climate czar) Carol Browner responds with a clear message: “EPA does not regulate – and does not believe it is legally required to regulate – the hydraulic fracturing of methane gas production wells under its UIC program [under the Safe Drinking Water Act].” In that same letter, Browner says there was “no evidence” of hydraulic fracturing contaminating ground water.
August 1996: SDWA is amended once again to emphasize sound science and standards. Hydraulic fracturing is not considered for regulation.
1997: LEAF appeals EPA’s position (in LEAF v. U.S. EPA) on Alabama’s UIC program, arguing once again that the Safe Drinking Water Act requires EPA to regulate hydraulic fracturing of coalbed methane.
1999: In response to the LEAF decision, the State Oil and Gas Board of Alabama promulgates new rules and regulations on hydraulic fracturing, which the EPA approves one year later. LEAF appeals the Board’s new regulations to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The Court ultimately sides with the EPA and the State Oil and Gas Board of Alabama, agreeing that the state’s regulatory system is an “effective program to prevent endangerment of underground sources of drinking water.”
2000: EPA initiates its own study of hydraulic fracturing. At less than 0.5 trillion cubic feet (tcf) of production, natural gas from shale accounts for roughly one percent of America’s total natural gas production.
August 2002: EPA releases a draft of its study of hydraulic fracturing, which affirms that the technology does not pose a risk to drinking water.
June 2004: EPA completes its four-year study on hydraulic fracturing (which began under the previous administration), concluding that the technology poses only a “minimal” threat to water supplies and that there are “no confirmed cases” linking hydraulic fracturing to drinking water contamination.
July 2005: The U.S. Congress passes the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (signed in August by the President), which includes a provision codifying that Congress never intended for hydraulic fracturing to be regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act (as also evidenced by decades of precedence.) Also in 2005, Range Resources drills the first wells in the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania (three of them, in fact).
September 2008: The Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) sends a letter to Mike W. Markham in Weld County, Colo., after Mr. Markham expressed concern that nearby natural gas production could have contaminated his drinking water. After extensive sampling and testing, COGCC finds “no indications of any oil & gas related impacts” to Mr. Markham’s well.
June 2009: U.S. Reps. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), Jared Polis (D-Colo.), and Maurice Hinchey (D-N.Y.) introduce the FRAC Act in Congress, which would rewrite the intent of the Safe Drinking Water Act (and upend the effective, state-based regulatory regime currently in place) to put control of hydraulic fracturing squarely in the hands of the U.S. EPA. Senator Bob Casey (D-Pa.) introduces companion legislation in the Senate. Interestingly, Colorado’s Governor at the time, Bill Ritter (D), accused Rep. DeGette of trying to create a “new and potential intrusive regulatory program” with the FRAC Act. Ritter further noted that states, including Colorado, have already “responsibly addressed” hydraulic fracturing. State regulators from across the country, meanwhile, defend the safety record of hydraulic fracturing.
August 2009: Initial testing of local water supplies in Pavillion, Wyo., by the EPA reveals the presence of a “tentatively identified compound,” or TIC. Earthworks blasts out a press release saying EPA has linked hydraulic fracturing to water contamination, even though the EPA made no conclusion or statement about the origin of the TIC, nor did it make any declaration that public health was in danger. A staffer with EPA says the possible contamination could be traced to household items, mentioning cleaning solvents specifically.
February 2010: Steve Heare, director of EPA’s Drinking Water Protection Division, says: “I have no information that states aren’t doing a good job already” with respect to regulating hydraulic fracturing.
March 2010: Under direction from Congress, the EPA initiates yet another study of hydraulic fracturing. The focus of the study is specifically on potential water impacts (despite dozens of state regulators saying hydraulic fracturing does not contaminate water.)
June 2010: The state of Wyoming approves a rule to require disclosure of the additives used during hydraulic fracturing. Later that month is the HBO premiere of the film Gasland, which, among many other things, attempts to rewrite much of the history of hydraulic fracturing. The film includes footage of one Mike Markham from Weld County, Colo., lighting his tap water on fire, which the film links to nearby gas drilling, despite the 2008 letter from Colorado regulators clearly and scientifically denying such a link.
October 2010: The Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) releases a document debunking many of the inaccuracies in Gasland, including notably the “flaming faucet” scene.
December 2010: Arkansas adopts new rules to require disclosure of additives used during hydraulic fracturing.
February 2011: Pennsylvania updates its regulations to include disclosure requirements for hydraulic fracturing fluids.
April 2011: The Ground Water Protection Council (GWPC) and the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission (IOGCC) officially launch FracFocus.org, an online disclosure website for the additives used during hydraulic fracturing. To date, the industry has uploaded more than 11,000 wells to the searchable database. That same month, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) releases a report that finds natural gas from shale accounts for 23 percent of total natural gas production in the United States, increasing from 0.39 trillion cubic feet (tcf) in 2000 to 4.87 tcf in 2010. Democrats on the House Energy & Commerce Committee, despite using “no scientific data” to support their most frightening conclusions, release a report summarizing the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing fluids. The report says nothing about actual water quality, nor does it provide appropriate context relating to concentration levels.
May 2011: During a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson says, “I’m not aware of any proven case where the fracking process itself has affected water.” Michigan regulators announce new regulations that include, among others, a provision to require disclosure of the additives used during hydraulic fracturing.
July 2011: The city of Fort Worth, Tex., releases results from a study looking at health impacts near natural gas exploration and production sites in the Barnett shale. The study “did not reveal any significant health threats.”
September 2011: Montana begins implementing its new disclosure rules for additives used during hydraulic fracturing.
October 2011: Louisiana’s rules for hydraulic fracturing fluid disclosure go into effect (see page 3064 of this document).
December 2011: EPA issues a draft report on water quality in Pavillion that, despite no independent scientific review, alleges that hydraulic fracturing was “likely” the cause of water contamination in the area. Numerous state officials and regulators criticize the report as inherently flawed. Meanwhile, Colorado implements new rules requiring disclosure for hydraulic fracturing fluids, and Texas regulators approve their own disclosure law. Both Colorado and Texas utilize the FracFocus website for implementation of their laws.
January 2012: In his State of the Union address, President Obama issues strong support for developing natural gas from shale, noting that his administration will “take every possible action to safely develop this energy” in order to create “more than 600,000 jobs” by the end of the decade. “The development of natural gas will create jobs and power trucks and factories that are cleaner and cheaper, proving that we don’t have to choose between our environment and our economy,” the President added.
February 2012: Two months after releasing its draft report on Pavillion, the EPA backtracks its initial (and inflammatory) claim that hydraulic fracturing “likely” caused water contamination. At a hearing before the House Subcommittee on Energy and Environment, EPA Region 8 administrator Jim Martin says: “We make clear that the causal link [of water contamination] to hydraulic fracturing has not been demonstrated conclusively,” adding that EPA’s draft report “should not be assumed to apply to fracturing in other geologic settings.” President Obama, in his FY 2013 budget, requests additional funds for the EPA to expand its own mandate for its hydraulic fracturing study, a mandate that goes beyond what was authorized by Congress. Two days later, during a hearing before the House Natural Resources Committee, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar says of hydraulic fracturing (subs. req’d): “From my point of view, it can be done safely and it has been done safely.”
Of course, we’d be remiss if we didn’t include all of the economic benefits that hydraulic fracturing — by helping to unlock enormous amounts of natural gas — is delivering to Americans from coast to coast. We’re talking about hundreds of thousands of jobs, lower energy bills for consumers, and a rebirth of domestic manufacturing, not to mention less reliance on places like Russia and Saudi Arabia for our energy supplies.
Hydraulic fracturing certainly has a long history, and though it may be inconvenient for opponents to acknowledge, it’s a history that shows time and again how industry best practices and regulation by the states, not federal control, have facilitated robust economic growth as well as a clean and healthy environment.
Now we know why Maryland’s called the “Old Line” state. Following up on a column in the Baltimore Sun this week that was filled with tired old talking points on hydraulic fracturing and shale gas, some actual honest-to-goodness facts were put forth in today’s paper by Erik Milito of the American Petroleum Institute (API). In his must-read Baltimore Sun response, Mr. Milito – a retired U.S. Army Major who directs API’s upstream division – writes this under the headline “Shale gas extraction is safe”:
Del. Heather Mizeur fails to account for previous studies by the EPA and what natural gas development has the potential to do for Marylanders. Just last month, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson noted to NBC Nightly News that previous federal studies have shown no scientific evidence of contamination and that hydraulic fracturing can be done responsibly to develop the energy resources we need to keep our homes comfortable and get to work every day.
Delegate Mizeur is correct in stating that the vast natural gas reserves found in the Marcellus Shale region are a game changer. There is enough natural gas to create hundreds of thousands of well-paying jobs and provide Americans with a stable, domestic energy source for generations to come.
Repeating unproven accusations about the hydraulic fracturing process does a disservice to those searching for ways to boost state revenue and get Americans back to work.
And while we’re on the subject of correcting the record and debunking unsubstantiated claims regarding the tightly-regulated development of clean-burning, homegrown energy resources, Colorado Oil & Gas Association’s Tisha Schuller separates fact from fiction in response to Josh Fox’s latest iteration of smears. Here are highlights from Ms. Schuller’s AskMen.com piece:
On Fluids Used in Fracturing, the Technology’s Importance to Energy Security
Hydraulic fracturing can sound frightening, however, I want you to know that this is a highly engineered, managed and monitored process. Truly, for over 60 years, the process of hydraulic fracturing has been conducted safely. But don’t take my word for it. Lisa Jackson, the head of the EPA, recently said so on national television. Currently, over 90% of wells are hydraulically fractured. Hydraulic fracturing is important to all of us because, without hydraulic fracturing, we don’t have access to domestic natural gas resources.
I have two small children and live in the mountains where we drink from a domestic well. I get the concerns about hydraulic fracturing fluids — so here are a few facts to remember. The hydraulic fracturing process uses a mixture comprised almost entirely (99.5%) of water and sand. The remaining materials, used to condition the water, are typically found and used around the house. The most prominent of these, a substance known as guar gum, is an emulsifier commonly found in ice cream. (Emulsifier, by the way, is something that makes something gooey.) The average fracturing operation uses fewer than 12 of these additives, according to the Ground Water Protection Council — not 600. I don’t want 600 chemicals injected at one time into the ground either.
The entire universe of additives used in the fracturing process is known to the public and the state agencies that represent them. Here in Colorado, for example, operators must maintain safety sheets for any chemical products brought to a well site.
On Tired, Debunked Claims About the “Halliburton Loophoole”
Opponents of hydraulic fracturing often blame the so-called “Halliburton Loophole” in the Energy Policy Act of 2005 for protecting hydraulic fracturing from federal regulation and exempting it from restrictions of the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA).
Remember: Hydraulic fracturing fluids are not being injected into drinking water. They are being injected into the oil- and gas-bearing formation, the one that has been geologically isolated for millions of years. The shallow drinking water aquifers are protected by layers of metal pipe and cement that make up the well bore.
Hydraulic fracturing was never intended to be subject to the Safe Drinking Water Act and it has never been regulated under SDWA — not in the 60-year history of the technology, the 36-year history of the law or the 40-year history of the EPA. … The 2005 Energy Policy Act was nothing more than a restatement of current and practiced law.
Every step of drilling, including hydraulic fracturing, is regulated carefully and with pride in Colorado by our Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC).
State Regulators Confirm That Fracturing Has Never Impacted Groundwater
The Environmental Protection Agency, Ground Water Protection Council, Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission, and others have all examined the process and found it to be safe. In Colorado, operators have to apply to get a permit to drill, describing all of their surface and downhole activities through the COGCC.
Despite the assertions in the movie Gasland, the COGCC has investigated hundreds of cases and to date has found no water well contamination attributable to hydraulic fracturing. And these include the flaming faucets and the bubbling surface water in West Creek Divide wetland, both of which were determined to be naturally occurring methane or gas unrelated to drilling.
State regulators in Pennsylvania, New York, Texas, Ohio, New Mexico, and Alabama have also stated the same conclusion that not one case of contaminated groundwater has been caused by hydraulic fracturing.
“It’s an American energy renaissance”
“Shale Gas Drilling: Pros & Cons,” was the title that CBS’s Lesley Stahl went with in her 60 Minutes segment last night on natural gas development in America from shale rock formations that have been around for hundreds of millions of years. Thanks to advancements in horizontal drilling technologies coupled with the 60 year old energy stimulation process called hydraulic fracturing, natural gas is not longer “the ugly stepchild of our national energy debate.”
In a Wilkes Barre Times-Leader story today, under the headline “TV report focuses on gas drilling,” Energy In Depth weighs-in on last night’s CBS segment:
Chris Tucker, of EnergyInDepth.org, an organization that promotes the benefits of natural gas drilling, said the segment was “fairly balanced,” although the show didn’t get everything right.
“I think they did a great job of telling the story of real people, everyday people, all across the country whose lives have changed for the better thanks to the development of this clean, American resource,” Tucker said.
“They didn’t quite get it right when they attempted to venture into the regulatory history of hydraulic fracturing. The reality is that fracturing technology is among the most thoroughly regulated procedures that takes place at the wellsite, which is a big reason why it’s been able to compile such a solid record of safety and performance over the past 60 years of commercial use.”
Here are key experts from the CBS segment:
On America’s Abundance
- What is increasingly evident is that shale gas is overwhelmingly abundant right here in the U.S.A. “In the last few years, we’ve discovered the equivalent of two Saudi Arabias of oil in the form of natural gas in the United States. Not one, but two,” Aubrey McClendon, the CEO of Chesapeake Energy, told “60 Minutes” correspondent Lesley Stahl. “Wait, we have twice as much natural gas in this country, is that what you’re saying, than they have oil in Saudi Arabia?” Stahl asked. “I’m trying to very clearly say exactly that,” he replied.
On the Economic Promise
- Some 10,000 wells will be drilled in northwest Louisiana, in some of the poorest communities in the country, where impoverished farmers are becoming overnight millionaires as they lease their land for drilling. “I never dreamed of money like this,” C.B. Leatherwood told Stahl. ” Leatherwood, a retired oil field worker, got a bundle to drill under his farm: $434,000. His cousin, Mike Smith, also profited: he was paid nearly $2 million.
- They actually call them “shaleionaires,” and they don’t mind putting up with the noisy, smelly drilling when the wells are built because they get a cut of the profits, which could last for years and add up to millions more. Last year, shale drilling generated almost $6 billion in Louisiana in new household earnings. As the rest of the nation plunged into a recession, the region added over 57,000 local jobs, and the Cadillac dealership in town is hopping.
On Hydraulic Fracturing
- The other technology is hydraulic fracturing or “fracking,” where millions of gallons of water, mixed with sand and chemicals, are pumped down the well at enormous pressure. “We break the rock. We fracture the rock. And that stimulates the ability of the gas to flow into the well bore, where we can flow it to the surface and sell it,” Duginski explained to Stahl.
- “But fresh water aquifers are only from the surface to about one thousand feet below the surface of the earth, okay? We are fracking wells at depths of 7, 8, 10, 12 thousand feet. Okay? So there is almost two miles of rock between where we are active and where fresh water is drawn from,” McClendon said.
However, there’s some outstanding facts that didn’t make it into last night’s segment. For instance, Sierra Club’s Michael Brune claims that natural gas production is “under-regulated,” and that “the first thing that the industry should do is disclose what chemicals are being used in fracking.” “The 2005 energy bill completely exempted the natural gas industry and fracking technology from any regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act. It’s an outrage,” continues Mr. Brune.
But here are several critical facts that CBS viewers, and Mr. Brune, should be aware of:
- FACT: Hydraulic fracturing has never been regulated by the federal government or the EPA or under the Safe Drinking Water Act. This technology, however, is ably and tightly regulated by individual energy-producing states. Far from being “pushed through Congress by Dick Cheney,” the Energy Policy Act of 2005 earned the support of nearly three-quarters of the U.S. Senate (74 “yea” votes), including the top Democrat on the Energy Committee; current Interior secretary Ken Salazar, then a senator from Colorado; and a former junior senator from Illinois named Barack Obama. In the U.S. House, 75 Democrats joined 200 Republicans in supporting the final bill, including the top Democratic members on both the Energy & Commerce and Resources Committees.
- FACT: Natural gas development is regulated under the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Superfund law.
- FACT: Fluids used in the fracturing process – made up of more than 99.5 percent water and sand – are readily available to the public. Pursuant to federal law, these fluids must be available at every wellsite nationwide. Additionally, state regulators list these additives online, including Pennsylvania’s Dept. of Environmental Protection. Further, a host of energy companies and service providers have disclosed these additives (see Halliburton, Range Resources, Chief Oil & Gas, just to name a few).
Congressman Maurice Hinchey, Democrat from Hurley, N.Y., may not have a particularly firm grasp on the history of hydraulic fracturing – continuing to tell anyone who will listen (wrongly) that HF was previously regulated by EPA under the Safe Drinking Water Act, but now is not.
But anyone who thinks he doesn’t have a sophisticated understanding of how to use all levels of government to get things done (or, in this case, stop things from happening) – think again.
Mr. Hinchey, an original co-sponsor of the job-killing FRAC Act – which aims to strip individual energy-producing states of their ability to tightly and able regulate hydraulic fracturing – has elevated (or at least tried) his attack on responsible domestic shale gas development.
Under the headline “Obama admin rejects timeout for Marcellus drilling,” Greenwire’s Mike Soraghan reports this:
Brig. Gen. Peter “Duke” DeLuca, commander of the North Atlantic Division of the Army Corps of Engineers, last week declined a request from Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-N.Y.) to use the federal government’s vote on the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) to seek a temporary ban on gas production in the Delaware watershed.
The Obama administration has decided against pressing for a temporary halt to Marcellus Shale drilling in Pennsylvania and New York, a key federal official said.
Hinchey wants drilling there to wait until the commission completes a “cumulative impact statement,” but DeLuca said that could delay drilling for years.
“Just to be clear here, Hinchey was trying to use a federal agency to direct the actions of a regional water board for the purposes of preventing the development of natural gas in a state where he doesn’t even live,” said Chris Tucker, spokesman for Energy in Depth, a group of independent drillers. “Next thing you know, he’ll be ordering the Army Corps to build levees around our well sites in Wyoming.”
Here’s what others – who have actual energy backgrounds and expertise – are saying about hydraulic fracturing’s long and clear record of environmental safety and effectiveness.
- IPAA’s Barry Russell: “Special Interests’ Misguided Policies”: “While some opponents of responsible American energy production contend that Washington ought to step in and brush aside the authority and expertise of the states in this area, the industry continues to provide the facts, history and data needed to better understand and appreciate the record of achievement to which state officials continue to lay claim after 60 years of successful oversight. This has become such an important policy issue, that the industry has created a coalition – small and large companies, consumers, landowners – to address the very questions asked today by National Journal. You can visit the Energy in Depth coalition’s website at www.energyindepth.org. (National Journal, 9/20/10)
- Pa. Petroleum Geologist: “In praise of shale gas”: “The risk of polluting underground aquifers is vanishingly small. The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection tightly regulates the use of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling, the technique that’s made it possible in recent years to reach large deposits of shale gas, and hydraulic fracturing is done at a considerable distance from any underground water resources. Safeguards also are in place to protect water systems from discharging drilling wastes. (Post-Gazette, 9/22/10)
- Ph.D. in Geophysics with a focus in Petroleum Seismology: “Pa. doesn’t need federal agency’s help regulating shale gas development”: “Pennsylvania has returned to the national energy stage. The Marcellus Shale is filled with natural gas but only allows it to flow along cracks in the rock known as “fractures.” Hydraulic fracturing – sometimes called “fracking” – involves injecting fluid into these tight formations at very high pressures to create man-made fractures. Without directional drilling and fracking, the gas boom in Pennsylvania might never have started. The type of fluid used for fracking varies, but it is usually over 99 percent water and solids with the remainder being additives that promote flow of the fracking fluid through the rock. (Wilkes Barre Times-Leader, 9/19/10)
Earlier this week, EPA found itself in the unenviable position of having to scramble for an alternate location for hosting its previously scheduled public information session on the shale gas stimulation technique known as hydraulic fracturing.
Of course, it was pure coincidence that the agency settled on the one city in the state whose newspaper ran four separate letters to the editor late last week targeting with misinformation the technology in question.
Syracuse, of course, is the city we’re talking about, and even though New York State has more than 13,000 oil and natural gas wells in operation today – the vast majority of which have been fractured – activists continue to spread misleading information about the 60-year-old technology, and the many state and federal regulations in place to ensure that this process is conducted in a safe and environmentally sound manner.
Last week the readers of Syracuse’s Post-Standard witnessed this effort first hand and in full-force – four letters in a single day. Luckily however, there are folks out there who know the truth, speak the truth and are willing to set the record straight on a technology been deployed over 1.1 million different times without a single confirmed case of groundwater contamination.
Which brings us to the first letter from last week’s Aug. 6 Post-Standard:
“Here are some of the exemptions from the United States federal laws that the natural gas industry can ignore due to the “Cheney loophole” in the Federal Energy Act of 2005: Exemptions of the gas (and oil) industry: 1) the Safe Drinking Water Act, 2) the Clean Water Act, 3) the Clean Air Act, 4) the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, 5) waste management laws, 6) public right to know provisions of the emergency planning and community right to know act.” – David Kauber, Aurora
Funny thing about these claims? Not a single one is backed up by fact. And no, just because Josh Fox says it’s true, doesn’t mean it is. Local resident Andy Leahy sums it up best in today’s Post-Standard:
“I’m going to have to leave aside the preposterous claims that the oil and gas industry is exempt from the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, the Superfund law and so on… The history of the Safe Drinking Water Act, on the other hand, carries a slightly more interesting “kernel of truth,” from which the activists have sprouted their claims. For more than two decades since passage in 1974, no one in authority on any state or federal level interpreted underground injection control as encompassing oil and gas well “stimulation,” or fracturing, as had long been routinely deployed during development of these resources… in the late 1990s there was a very effective lawsuit brought by an environmental group having to do with hydraulic fracturing for coalbed methane in Alabama.”
Mr. Leahy goes on to write:
“The Energy Policy Act of 2005, among many other things, rendered this Alabama legal decision ineffective by clarifying congressional intent within SDWA. It said clearly that hydraulic fracturing was not meant, and was never meant, by Congress to be covered under the federal underground injection control program. So that’s the exemption, the so-called “Halliburton loophole.” It just confirmed the status quo, which is that the states remain the primary regulators of oil and gas exploration activity.”
We are a well-informed, intelligent, educated people who are well aware of what we have to lose if the gas companies are allowed to frack within the aquifers of our state. We know that we are exempt from the Clean Water and Clean Air Acts.” – Beverly Ann Scholl, Skaneateles
Sorry, Ms. Scholl, educated people support their arguments with facts, not fiction.
So what’d he think of the write-up? According to one columnist for a major national daily with whom we both spoke, Fox’s primary critique of the EID fact-check was that we had based it off an “earlier print of the film,” not the new and improved version purchased by HBO. That iteration was going to be different, we were told — different from the film he had previously screened in dozens of places all across the country. After all, it was an HBO product now. And certainly a network with more than 30 million U.S. subscribers couldn’t be expected to just run any picture show it got its hands on without conducting a thorough job of vetting and reviewing it first. Right?
Our curiosity was officially piqued. What would Fox decide to change? The possibilities were endless. He could decide to strike the portion of the film on Dunkard Creek, which even the local press in the area have derided as a “glaring error.” Maybe he’d decide to toss-in a quick mention of the report from Colorado regulators on the Markham well in Fort Lupton, which found the methane in the water had nothing to do with oil or gas development.
But then again, adding in that little disclaimer would sort of ruin the flammable faucet scene, wouldn’t it? How about that bit about the endangered species in Wyoming? That part’s factually incorrect as well, and easily confirmable as such. Would that segment make HBO’s final cut? EID had to find out – even if it meant staying up well past its bedtime to do it.
So we watched the film, again. And what do you know? Dunkard Creek’s still in there. And so is the flammable faucet. And so is the phantom claim that natural gas exploration in Wyoming is rendering the sage grouse extinct. Incidentally, if that’s true, someone should tell the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission. It might want to discontinue its sage grouse hunting season. Ditto for the mule deer. We shouldn’t be hunting endangered species.
So what did he actually change, then? In the final analysis, unfortunately, not a whole lot. Take a gander for yourself:
Previous version: “In 2004, the EPA was investigating a water contamination incident due to hydraulic fracturing in Alabama. But a panel rejected the inquiry, stating that although hazardous materials were being injected underground, EPA did not need to investigate.” (31:32)
HBO version: “In 2004, the EPA was investigating water contamination incidents due to hydraulic fracturing across the country. But a panel rejected the inquiry, stating that although hazardous materials were being injected underground, EPA did not need to investigate.” (30:17)
- Mercifully, someone informed the director that the 2004 EPA investigation in Alabama he previously cited did not actually take place. His new version for HBO excludes the mention of Alabama, but unfortunately still mischaracterizes EPA’s course of study in this area.
- In the new version, Fox says that EPA “was investigating water contamination incidents,” but then the agency apparently decided it “did not need to investigate” those incidents. Which one is it? Did EPA conduct an investigation focused on hydraulic fracturing in 2004, or didn’t it?
- Here’s what actually happened: In June 2004, EPA released the conclusions of a nationwide study on the relationship between the fracturing of coalbed methane wells and underground sources of drinking water. What did it find? “In its review of incidents of drinking water well contamination believed to be associated with hydraulic fracturing, EPA found no confirmed cases that are linked to fracturing …”
- More on the scope of research involved in the EPA study: “In addition to reviewing more than 200 peer-reviewed publications, EPA also interviewed 50 employees from state or local government agencies and communicated with approximately 40 citizens who were concerned that CBM production impacted their drinking water wells. EPA made a draft of the report available for a 60-day public comment period in August 2002.”
Previous version: “What I didn’t know was that the 2005 energy bill pushed through Congress by Dick Cheney exempts the oil and natural gas industries from Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Superfund law, and about a dozen other environmental and Democratic regulations.” (6:05)
HBO version: “What I didn’t know was that the 2005 energy bill pushed through Congress by Dick Cheney exempts the oil and natural gas industries from the Safe Drinking Water Act.” (5:03)
- Once again, kudos to Fox for at least having the decency to convert what was previously an outright falsehood into a respectable distortion. As he concedes here, the Energy Policy Act of 2005 contains no such exemptions to the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, the Superfund law, or any of the other “dozen” statutes he cites. Click here for EID’s fact sheet on the various federal laws that apply to each step of the energy development process.
- The 2005 energy bill does, however, contain language relating to hydraulic fracturing and the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA). Here’s what it does: It makes crystal clear Congress’s long-standing position that hydraulic fracturing was never intended to be regulated under SDWA, and that the process is best regulated by state experts and officials on the ground, not by EPA staff in Washington, D.C. Is that what you would call an “exemption” to the law? Not exactly. It was simply a restatement of current law: how it is, how it was, how it’s always been. For the past 36 years.
- As for the claim that the Vice President of the United States “pushed” the bill through Congress, consider: The Energy Policy Act of 2005 earned the support of nearly three-quarters of the U.S. Senate (74 “yea” votes), including the top Democrat on the Energy Committee; current Interior secretary Ken Salazar, then a senator from Colorado; and a former junior senator from Illinois named Barack Obama. In the U.S. House, 75 Democrats joined 200 Republicans in supporting the final bill, including the top Democratic members on both the Energy & Commerce and Resources Committees. That’s quite a push.
Two minor changes — that’s all we noticed in watching the “new” version of the film on HBO last night. Of course, we did pick up on a few little things we missed the first couple times around. For instance, Fox does an interview with one woman in Colorado, who is shown coughing on camera and stating that natural gas exploration is the reason “I’m never healthy.” In the next scene (27:48), she’s shown holding a cigarette. The woman also blames natural gas development for the occurrence of methane in her water well. For what it’s worth, Colorado regulators disagree: “COGCC sampled the McClure water well on 3/25/09. Sample results show naturally occurring biogenic methane gas in well and no impact from O&G [oil and natural gas] operations.”
Next up for GasLand? An encore airing on HBO slated for Thursday afternoon at 1 p.m. EST. Check back at energyindepth.org for updates and additional points of debunkery from the film. Tough to imagine we’re through with this yet.
EID responds to mistaken assertions made during recent markup of Energy & Commerce Committee
WASHINGTON – The federal government mandates the disclosure of materials used in the commonly used, 60-year-old process of hydraulic fracturing – but do any of the states? Late last month during a markup in the House Energy and Commerce Committee, U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) told her colleagues on the panel that “only three states have laws requiring reporting.” But according to the Ground Water Protection Council, the actual number is significantly higher than that – and as recently as this week, growing.
Earlier today, Energy In Depth executive director Lee Fuller sent a detailed letter and accompanying packet of information on disclosure to every member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, seeking to dispel any misconceptions that may exist on what is fundamentally a basic, verifiable question. The text of that letter, along with links to the various addenda included with it, can be found below.
June 11, 2010
The Honorable Henry Waxman
Chairman, Committee on Energy and Commerce
2125 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515-6115
The Honorable Joe Barton
Ranking Member, Committee on Energy and Commerce
2322A Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515-6115
Dear Chairman Waxman and Ranking Member Barton:
On May 26, the Energy and Commerce panel held a full committee markup of H.R. 5320, the Assistance, Quality, and Affordability (AQUA) Act of 2010, a bill that was reported favorably to the House by a vote of 45-1. One of the amendments brought up for consideration that afternoon, offered by U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), sought to amend the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) to target the continued use of hydraulic fracturing, a key energy technology never previously regulated under SDWA, but over the past 60 years, one that has been aggressively regulated by the many states in which the technique is commonly deployed.
Although the DeGette language was ultimately withdrawn — a motion that was supported by the chairman – the debate that was spurred by the introduction of the amendment included several assertions which, upon closer scrutiny, don’t quite reflect the current reality as it relates to state involvement in the regulation and oversight of fracturing activities. I appreciate the opportunity to correct that record on behalf of the Independent Petroleum Association of America and Energy In Depth, of which I have the pleasure to serve as executive director.
Reviewing the archived video of the debate on the committee’s website, Rep. DeGette on several occasions makes reference to what she believes to be an inadequate number of states currently requiring service companies to disclose information related to the materials used in the fracturing process. In particular, she suggests that “only three states have laws requiring reporting,” and that two other states “are considering implementing those laws” as well. All told, she estimates that “only one-tenth of the states require this type of reporting,” and proceeds to use that premise as the foundation for constructing a broader argument in support of her amendment.
But those numbers don’t quite align with research jointly published last year by the Ground Water Protection Council (GWPC) and the U.S. Department of Energy. According to that report, of the 27 states in which 99.9 percent of oil and gas activity takes place:
- 25 of those states require a detailed well treatment report to be submitted to state regulatory agencies;
- 18 states require the submission of a list of materials used (water, sand, additives) in the process;
- 19 states require the volumes of those materials to be disclosed; and
- 10 states demand a list of specific additives the service company intends to use on site.
Attached for your convenience, please find a previously unpublished addendum to the GWPC report providing a detailed summary of how these states regulate hydraulic fracturing, as well as other rules in place governing every stage of the energy exploration, production and delivery process. Please note that since this addendum was compiled, a number of states – such as Colorado, Pennsylvania, and most recently Wyoming – have updated their disclosure rules to provide for even greater level of transparency in the process.
In analyzing the disclosure requirements currently in place in the individual states, it’s important also to recognize that the federal government also requires the forthright disclosure of additives used in the fracturing process in the form of Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS), which are mandated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to be present at every well site in America where a minimum amount of chemicals are found. In states such as New York, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, these sheets and aggregations thereof can be accessed easily by navigating to the website of the appropriate state regulatory office. In other states, similar information can be obtained by submitting a simple request to the agency.
In closing, one additional comment made by Rep. DeGette during the debate over her amendment last week may warrant further explanation – specifically, the assertion that “in 2005, the oil and gas industry got itself exempted from the Safe Drinking Water Act, the only industry which is exempt from that legislation.”
As senior members of the committee during that time, certainly you remember that the provision of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 dealing with hydraulic fracturing did not result in a substantive change to existing law; it merely clarified Congress’s long-standing position that hydraulic fracturing had never been – and, in fact, was never intended to be – regulated under SDWA. But that doesn’t mean other aspects of the process aren’t regulated under SDWA and a host of other federal rules and statutes. For your convenience, I’ve attached a fact sheet depicting the various forms of federal regulation (SDWA, Clean Water Act, etc.) that apply to each step of that process.
Thank you for the opportunity to address some of the misconceptions that exist regarding ongoing efforts by the states to discharge their long-held responsibilities related to the regulation of oil and natural gas. Please don’t hesitate to contact me directly should you have any additional questions, concerns or comments.
Lee O. Fuller
Energy In Depth
cc: All members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee
Josh Fox makes his mainstream debut with documentary targeting natural gas – but how much of it is actually true?
For an avant-garde filmmaker and stage director whose previous work has been recognized by the “Fringe Festival” of New York City, HBO’s decision to air the GasLand documentary nationwide later this month represents Josh Fox’s first real foray into the mainstream – and, with the potential to reach even a portion of the network’s 30 million U.S. subscribers, a potentially significant one at that.
But with larger audiences and greater fanfare come the expectation of a few basic things: accuracy, attention to detail, and original reporting among them. Unfortunately, in the case of this film, accuracy is too often pushed aside for simplicity, evidence too often sacrificed for exaggeration, and the same old cast of characters and anecdotes – previously debunked – simply lifted from prior incarnations of the film and given a new home in this one.
“I’m sorry,” Josh Fox once told a New York City magazine, “but art is more important than politics. … Politics is people lying to you and simplifying everything; art is about contradictions.” And so it is with GasLand: politics at its worst, art at its most contrived, and contradictions of fact found around every bend of the river. Against that backdrop, we attempt below to identify and correct some of the most egregious inaccuracies upon which the film is based (all quotes are from Josh Fox, unless otherwise noted):
Misstating the Law
(6:05) “What I didn’t know was that the 2005 energy bill pushed through Congress by Dick Cheney exempts the oil and natural gas industries from Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Superfund law, and about a dozen other environmental and Democratic regulations.”
- This assertion, every part of it, is false. The oil and natural gas industry is regulated under every single one of these laws — under provisions of each that are relevant to its operations. See this fact sheet for a fuller explanation of that.
- The process of hydraulic fracturing, to which Fox appears to be making reference here, has never in its 60-year history been regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA). It has, however, been regulated ably and aggressively by the states, which have compiled an impressive record of enforcement and oversight in the many decades in which they have been engaged in the practice.
- Far from being “pushed through Congress by Dick Cheney,” the Energy Policy Act of 2005 earned the support of nearly three-quarters of the U.S. Senate (74 “yea” votes), including the top Democrat on the Energy Committee; current Interior secretary Ken Salazar, then a senator from Colorado; and a former junior senator from Illinois named Barack Obama. In the U.S. House, 75 Democrats joined 200 Republicans in supporting the final bill, including the top Democratic members on both the Energy & Commerce and Resources Committees.
(6:24) “But when the 2005 energy bill cleared away all the restrictions, companies … began to lease Halliburton technology and to begin the largest and most extensive domestic gas drilling campaign in history – now occupying 34 states.”
- Once again, hydraulic fracturing has never been regulated under SDWA – not in the 60-year history of the technology, the 36-year history of the law, or the 40-year history of EPA. Given that, it’s not entirely clear which “restrictions” in the law Mr. Fox believes were “cleared away” by the 2005 energy bill. All the bill sought to do was clarify the existing and established intent of Congress as it related to the scope of SDWA.
- Interest in developing clean-burning natural gas resources from America’s shale formations began to manifest itself well before 2005. The first test well in the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania, for example, was drilled in 2004. In Texas, the first wells in the prolific Barnett Shale formation were spudded in the late 1990s. But even before natural gas from shale was considered a viable business model, energy producers had been relying on hydraulic fracturing for decades to stimulate millions of wells across the country. The technology was first deployed in 1948.
- The contention that current energy development activity represents the “largest … drilling campaign in history” is also incorrect. According to EIA, more natural gas wells were developed in 1982 than today. And more than two times the number of petroleum wells were drilled back then as well, relative to the numbers we have today. Also, while it may (or may not) be technically true that fracturing activities take place in 34 states, it’s also true that 99.9 percent of all oil and gas activity is found in only 27 U.S. states (page 9, Ground water Protection Council report)
(32:34) “The energy task force, and $100 million lobbying effort on behalf of the industry, were significant in the passage of the ‘Halliburton Loophole’ to the Safe Drinking Water Act, which authorizes oil and gas drillers exclusively to inject known hazardous materials, unchecked, directly into or adjacent to underground drinking water supplies. It passed as part of the Bush administration’s Energy Policy Act of 2005.”
- Not content with simply mischaracterizing the nature of existing law, here Fox attempts to assert that the law actually allows energy producers to inject hazardous chemicals “directly into” underground drinking water. This is a blatant falsehood. Of course, if such an outrageous thing were actually true, one assumes it wouldn’t have taken five years and a purveyor of the avant-garde to bring it to light.
- The subsurface formations that undergo fracture stimulation reside thousands and thousands of feet below formations that carry potable water. These strata are separated by millions of tons of impermeable rock, and in some cases, more than two miles of it.
- Once again, to characterize the bipartisan 2005 energy bill as having a “loophole” for hydraulic fracturing requires one to believe that, prior to 2005, hydraulic fracturing was regulated by EPA under federal law. But that belief is mistaken. And so is the notion that the 2005 act contains a loophole for oil and natural gas. As stated, hydraulic fracturing has been regulated ably and aggressively by the states.
(1:32:34) “Diana DeGette and Maurice Hinchey’s FRAC Act [is] a piece of legislation that’s one paragraph long that simply takes out the exemption for hydraulic fracturing to the Safe Drinking Water Act.”
- Here Fox is referring to the 2008 iteration of the FRAC Act, not the slightly longer (though equally harmful) 2009 version of the bill. The legislation does not, as its authors suggest, “restore” the Safe Drinking Water Act to the way it was in 2004. It calls for a wholesale re-writing of it.
- Here’s the critical passage from the FRAC Act: “Section 1421(d)(1) of the Safe Drinking Water Act is amended by striking subparagraph (B) and inserting: (B) includes the underground injection of fluids or propping agents pursuant to hydraulic fracturing operations related to oil and gas production activities.”
- Why would you need to “insert” new language into a 36-year-old statute if all you were looking to do is merely “restore” it?
Misrepresenting the Rules
(1:00:56) “Because of the exemptions, fracking chemicals are considered proprietary … The only reason we know anything about the fracking chemicals is because of the work of Theo Colborn … by chasing down trucks, combing through material safety data sheets, and collecting samples.”
- With due respect to eminent environmental activist and former World Wildlife Fund staffer Theo Colborn, no one has ever had to “chas[e] down a truck” to access information on the materials used in the fracturing process.
- That’s because there’s actually a much easier way to obtain that information: simply navigate to this website hosted by regulators in Pennsylvania, this one from regulators in New York (page 130), this one for West Virginia, this one maintained by the Ground Water Protection Council and the U.S. Department of Energy (page 63), and this one on the website of Energy In Depth.
(1:03:33) Dr. Colborn: “Once the public hears the story, and they’ll say, ‘Why aren’t we out there monitoring’? We can’t monitor until we know what they’re using. There’s no way to monitor. You can’t.”
- According to environmental regulators from Josh Fox’s home state of Pennsylvania, “Drilling companies must disclose the names of all chemicals to be stored and used at a drilling site … These plans contain copies of material safety data sheets for all chemicals … This information is on file with DEP and is available to landowners, local governments and emergency responders.”
- Environmental regulators from Fox’s adopted state of New York also testify to having ready access to this information. From the NY Dept. of Environmental Conservation (DEC) information page: “The [state] is assessing the chemical makeup of these additives and will ensure that all necessary safeguards and best practices are followed.”
- According to the Ground Water Protection Council (GWPC), “[M]ost additives contained in fracture fluids including sodium chloride, potassium chloride, and diluted acids, present low to very low risks to human health and the environment.” GWPC members include state environmental officials who set and enforce regulations on ground water protection and underground fluid injection.
Mischaracterizing the Process
(6:50) “[Hydraulic fracturing] blasts a mix of water and chemicals 8,000 feet into the ground. The fracking itself is like a mini-earthquake. … In order to frack, you need some fracking fluid – a mix of over 596 chemicals.”
- As it relates to the composition of fluids commonly used in the fracturing process, greater than 99.5 percent of the mixture is comprised of water and sand. The remaining materials, used to help deliver the water down the wellbore and position the sand in the tiny fractures created in the formation, are typically components found and used around the house. The most prominent of these, a substance known as guar gum, is an emulsifier more commonly found in ice cream.
- From the U.S. Dept. of Energy / GWPC report: “Although the hydraulic fracturing industry may have a number of compounds that can be used in a hydraulic fracturing fluid, any single fracturing job would only use a few of the available additives [not 596!]. For example, in [this exhibit], there are 12 additives used, covering the range of possible functions that could be built into a fracturing fluid.” (page 62)
- In the documentary, Fox graphically depicts the fracturing process as one that results in the absolute obliteration of the shale formation. In reality, the fractures created by the procedure and kept open by the introduction of proppants such as sand are typically less than a millimeter thick.
(50:05) “Each well completion, that is, the initial drilling phase plus the first frack job, requires 1,150 truck trips.”
- Suggesting that every well completion in America requires the exact same number of truck trips is absurd. As could be guessed, the number of trips required to supply the well site with the needed equipment and personnel will vary (widely) depending on any number of factors.
- As it relates to a source for Fox’s identification of “1,150 truck trips,” none is given – although it appears he may have derived those numbers from a back-of-the-envelope calculation inspired by a chart on page 6-142 of this document from NY DEC. As depicted on that page, the transportation of new and used water supplies, to and from the wellsite, account for 85 percent of the trips extrapolated by Fox.
- Unrepresented in this chart is the enormous growth in the amount of produced water that is currently being recycled in the Marcellus – with industry in Pennsylvania reusing and recycling on average more than 60 percent of its water, according to the Marcellus Shale Coalition.
- According to GWPC: “Drilling with compressed air is becoming an increasingly popular alternative to drilling with fluids due to the increased cost savings from both reduction in mud costs and the shortened drilling times as a result of air based drilling.” (page 55)
(51:12) “Before the water can be hauled away and disposed of somewhere, it has to be emptied into a pit – an earthen pit, or a clay pit, sometimes a lined pit, but a pit – where a lot of it can seep right back down into the ground.”
- The vast majority of energy-producing states – 27 in total, including all the ones to which Fox travels for GasLand – have explicit laws on the books governing the type of containment structures that must be used for temporarily storing flowback water. A number of producers today choose to store this water in steel tanks, eliminating all risk of that water re-entering the surrounding environment.
- GWPC (May 2009) “In 23 states, pits of a certain type or in a particular location must have a natural or artificial liner designed to prevent the downward movement of pit fluids into the subsurface. … Twelve states also explicitly either prohibit or restrict the use of pits that intersect the water table.” (page 28-29)
- GWPC (April 2009): “Water storage pits used to hold water for hydraulic fracturing purposes are typically lined to minimize the loss of water from infiltration. … In an urban setting, due to space limitations, steel storage tanks may be used.” (page 55)
Flat-Out Making Stuff Up
(53:36) “The Pinedale Anticline and the Jonah gas fields [of Wyoming] are directly in the path of the thousand year old migration corridor of pronghorn antelope, mule deer and sage grouse. And yeah, each of these species is endangered, and has suffered a significant decline of their populations since 2005.”
- 0 for 1: Three species of the pronghorn antelope are considered “endangered,” none of which are found anywhere near the Pinedale Anticline. Those are: the Sonoran (Arizona), the Peninsular (Mexico), and the Mexican Pronghorn (also of Mexico). According to the Great Plains Nature Center: “The great slaughter of the late 1800s affected the pronghorns … Only about 12,000 remained by 1915. Presently, they number around one million and the greatest numbers of them are in Wyoming and Montana.”
- 0 for 2: Only one species of mule deer is considered “endangered”: the Cedros Island mule deer of Mexico (nowhere near Wyoming). The mule deer populations are so significant in Wyoming today that the state has a mule deer hunting season.
- 0 for 3: The sage grouse does not currently have a place on the endangered species list, according to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) – and “robust populations of the bird currently exist across the state” of Wyoming, according to the agency. Interestingly, FWS recently issued a press release identifying wind development as a critical threat the sage grouse’s habitat.
- That said, producers in the area have taken the lead on efforts to lessen their impact and reduce the number of truck trips required to service their well sites. As part of that project, operators have commissioned a series of independent studies examining additional steps that can be taken to safeguard the Anticline’s wildlife.
(8:07) “And now they’re coming east. They’re proposing 50,000 gas wells along a 75-mile stretch of the Delaware River and hundreds of thousands more across New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia. From 1972 until now – my whole life – all of this has been protected.”
- Not even the most optimistic scenario for future development in the Marcellus Shale in general, or along the Delaware River in particular, comes anywhere close to 50,000 natural gas wells. A recent study by Penn State Univ. projects that by the year 2020, producers will have developed 3,587 shale gas wells. A study conducted for policymakers in the Southern Tier of New York predicted a maximum of 4,000 wells for that region.
- Where Fox comes up with his 50,000 figure is unknown. The protections to the area apparently in place since 1972 to which he refers are also unknown.
(19:27) “One thing was resoundingly clear: If the industry’s projections were correct, then this would be the end of the Catskills and the Delaware River Basin as we knew it. And it would mean a massive upheaval and redefinition of all of New York State and Pennsylvania.”
- According to the Energy Information Administration, Pennsylvania is already home to 55,631 active natural wells; New York, according to DEC, is home to roughly 14,000. Again, even assuming the most active development scenario, Marcellus wells are expected to account for less than 10 percent of all wells in these two states over the next 10 to 20 years – not exactly the type of dramatic “upheaval” and “redefinition” that Fox suggests in his film.
(31:32) “In 2004, the EPA was investigating a water contamination incident due to hydraulic fracturing in Alabama. But a panel rejected the inquiry, stating that although hazard materials were being injected underground, EPA did not need to investigate.”
- No record of the investigation described by Fox exists, so EID reached out to Dr. Dave Bolin, deputy director of Alabama’s State Oil & Gas Board and the man who heads up oversight of hydraulic fracturing in that state. In an email, he said he had “no recollection” of such an investigation taking place.
- That said, it’s possible that Fox is referring to EPA’s study of the McMillian well in Alabama, which spanned several years in the early- to mid-1990s. In 1989, Alabama regulators conducted four separate water quality tests on the McMillian well. The results indicated no water quality problems existed. In 1990, EPA conducted its own water quality tests, and found nothing.
- In a letter sent in 1995, then-EPA administrator Carol Browner (currently, President Obama’s top energy and environmental policy advisor) characterized EPA’s involvement with the McMillian case in the following way: “Repeated testing, conducted between May of 1989 and March of 1993, of the drinking water well which was the subject of this petition [McMillian] failed to show any chemicals that would indicate the presence of fracturing fluids. The well was also sampled for drinking water quality, and no constituents exceeding drinking water standards were detected.”
- For information on what actually did happen in Alabama during this time, and how it’s relevant to the current conversation about the Safe Drinking Water Act, please download the fact sheet produced last year by the Coalbed Methane Association of Alabama.
(1:28:06) “Just a few short months after this interview, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection suffered the worst budget cuts in history, amounting to over 700 staff either being fired or having reduced hours and 25 percent of its total budget cut.”
- DEP press release, issued January 28, 2010: “Governor Edward G. Rendell announced today that the commonwealth is strengthening its enforcement capabilities. At the Governor’s direction, the Department of Environmental Protection will begin hiring 68 new personnel who will make sure that drilling companies obey state laws and act responsibly to protect water supplies. DEP also will strengthen oil and gas regulations to improve well construction standards.”
Recycling Discredited Points from the Past
Weston Wilson (EPA “whistleblower”): “One can characterize this entire [natural gas] industry as having a hundred year history of purchasing those they contaminate.” (33:36)
- Mr. Wilson, currently on staff at EPA’s Denver office, was not part of the team of scientists and engineers that spent nearly five years studying hydraulic fracturing for EPA. That effort, released in the form of a landmark 2004 study by the agency, found “no evidence” to suggest any relationship between hydraulic fracturing and the contamination of drinking water.
- Wilson has a well-documented history of aggressive opposition to responsible resource and mineral development. Over his 35-year career, Mr. Wilson has invoked “whistleblower” status to fight dam construction in Colorado, oil and gas development in Montana, and the mining of gold in Wyoming.
- Wilson in his own words: “The American public would be shocked if they knew we make six figures and we basically sit around and do nothing.”
Dunkard Creek: Fox includes images of dead fish along a 35-mile stretch of Dunkard Creek in Washington Co., Pa.; attributes that event to natural gas development. (01:23:15)
- Fox’s attempt to blame the Dunkard Creek incident on natural gas exploration is contradicted by an EPA report – issued well before GasLand was released – which blamed the fish kill on an algal bloom, which itself was fed by discharges from coal mines.
- EPA report: “Given what has been seen in other states and the etiology of this kill, we believe the toxin from this algae bloom led to the kill of fish, mussels, and salamanders on Dunkard Creek. … The situation in Dunkard Creek should be considered a chronic exposure since chloride levels were elevated above the criteria for long periods of time.” (issued 11/23/09)
- Local PA newspaper calls out Fox: “One glaring error in the film is the suggestion that gas drilling led to the September fish kill at Dunkard Creek in Greene County. That was determined to have been caused by a golden algae bloom from mine drainage from a [mine] discharge.” (Washington (Pa.) Observer-Reporter, 6/5/10)
Mike Markham: Fox blames flammable faucet in Fort Lupton, Colo. on natural gas development
- But that’s not true according to the Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC). “Dissolved methane in well water appears to be biogenic [naturally occurring] in origin. … There are no indications of oil & gas related impacts to water well.” (complaint resolved 9/30/08, signed by John Axelson of COGCC)
- Context from our friends at ProPublica: “Drinking water with methane, the largest component of natural gas, isn’t necessarily harmful. The gas itself isn’t toxic — the Environmental Protection Agency doesn’t even regulate it — and it escapes from water quickly, like bubbles in a soda.” (Abrahm Lustgarten, ProPublica, 4/22/09)
Lisa Bracken: Fox blames methane occurrence in West Divide Creek, Colo. on natural gas development.
- That assertion has also been debunked by COGCC, which visited the site six separate times over 13 months to confirm its findings: “Stable isotopes from 2007 consistent with 2004 samples indicting gas bubbling in surface water features is of biogenic origin.” (July 2009, COGCC presentation by Margaret Ash, environmental protection supervisor)
- Email from COGCC supervisor to Bracken: “Lisa: As you know since 2004, the COGCC staff has responded to your concerns about potential gas seepage along West Divide Creek on your property and to date we have not found any indication that the seepage you have observed is related to oil and gas activity.” (email from COGCC’s Debbie Baldwin to Bracken, 06/30/08)
- More from that email: “These samples have been analyzed for a variety of parameters including natural gas compounds (methane, ethane, propane, butane, pentane, hexanes), heavier hydrocarbon compounds including benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, xylenes (BTEX), stable isotopes of methane, bacteria (iron related, sulfate reducing, and slime), major anions and cations, and other field and laboratory tests. To date, BTEX compounds have not been detected in any of the samples.”
Calvin Tillman: Fox interviews mayor of DISH, Texas; blames natural gas development, transport for toxins in the air, benzene in blood.
- Tillman in the press: “Six months ago, nobody knew that facilities like this would be spewing benzene. Someone could come in here and look at us and say, ‘You know what? They’ve sacrificed you. You’ve been sacrificed for the good of the shale.’” (Scientific American, 3/30/10)
- A little more than a month later, Texas Dept. of State Health Services debunks that claim: “Biological test results from a Texas Department of State Health Services investigation in Dish, Texas, indicate that residents’ exposure to certain contaminants was not greater than that of the general U.S. population.” (DSHS report, May 12, 2010)
- More from the agency: “DSHS paid particular attention to benzene because of its association with natural gas wells. The only residents who had higher levels of benzene in their blood were smokers. Because cigarette smoke contains benzene, finding it in smokers’ blood is not unusual.”
Anything we miss? Guess we’ll be seeing you at the movies. Maybe not this one, though.
EID letter to Kerry, Graham & Lieberman lays out the facts on hydraulic fracturing, importance of technology in fueling America’s shale gas revolution
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CNBC’s Cramer on EPA’s new HF study: “Even though we can’t find a single documented case of groundwater contamination caused by hydraulic fracturing, I’m concerned this could be the beginning of process that creates more regulatory hurdles for natural gas companies, and makes it more difficult to drill in the United States.”
Cramer: “Steve Heare is the EPA’s director of drinking water protection. He recently said that the states our ‘doing a good job already regulating hydraulic fracturing,’ and he added that there is no evidence to suggest the process contaminates water … He would seem to be a knowledgeable figure. He’s the drinking water protection person at the EPA.”
WASHINGTON – Now we know why they call it “Mad” Money. Yesterday afternoon, U.S. Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-N.Y) appeared on Jim Cramer’s CNBC financial show to discuss shale gas exploration, hydraulic fracturing, and his ongoing and very active efforts to prevent clean-burning, American made shale gas resources from being produced in New York, or anywhere else.
Actually, Rep. Hinchey disputed that characterization of his intent, offered up throughout by the host. In reality, he said, he’s just interested in “making sure that drilling occurs” and that the exploration process “is not impinged upon” – notwithstanding that his bill, known as the FRAC Act, would impede efforts to safely explore for natural gas in the very best case, and outright ban those efforts in the worst (and most plausible) case.
Keep in mind, this is the same congressman who suggested to one online writer that “very substantial economic elements,” and sinister ones at that, were involved in exploiting the shale gas revolution “for their own economic advantages.” And oh yeah, this is also the fella who once famously said: “I do not think that relying on foreign oil impacts our security. I would hope…that there might be a new approach to this whole issue and that approach would essentially mean let us import as much [energy] as we possibly can.” Yikes.
That aside, let’s see how the congressman’s latest performance holds up under an EID fact check:
“A significant portion of the Clean Water Drinking Act [sic.] was repealed in 2005. And that provision in 2005 said that people who are drilling don’t have to tell anybody what they’re putting into the ground.”
The bipartisan 2005 energy bill, supported by then Sen. Barack Obama, clarified that Congress never intended hydraulic fracturing to be regulated under Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA). If Congress ever intended the SDWA to extend beyond its original scope and cover the fracturing of energy wells, it certainly had plenty of chances to make that view known.
Passed in 1974, SDWA has been amended a whopping eight separate times over the past 35 years (’74, ’77, ’79, ‘80, ‘86, ‘88, ’96, ‘05), but at no time during that extended run was the concept of regulating fracturing under the Act a significant component of the debate. And that’s true even though at the time of the bill’s passage in ‘74, fracturing had already been in commercial use for 25 years.
What’s changed in 35 years? Not a whole lot on the technological side, with the notable exception of exciting advancements in horizontal drilling techniques that allow producers today to access 10 times the energy by drilling 1/10 the number of wells.
So again: Fracturing was never regulated under SDWA – and, by that definition, could never have been granted an “exemption.” How can you be exempt from something that never covered you in the first place?Dennis Lathem, executive director of the Coalbed Methane Association of Alabama, sheds some additional light on the 2005 bipartisan legislation:
“Hydraulic fracturing has never been regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act. The 2005 Energy Policy Act contained language clarifying this intent. The language was necessary because a federal circuit court ruled (incorrectly in my opinion) the temporary process of hydraulic fracturing is the same as the permanent disposal of wastes underground and is therefore covered by the SDWA.
“The fact is, if the language clarifying hydraulic fracturing had not been in the 2005 Energy Policy Act, every state in the union would be in exactly the same regulatory posture as they are today, except Alabama.”
Also, click HERE to view a comprehensive timeline illustrating fracturing’s long and clear record of effective regulation.
“It was one of the drillers that put 12 homes into jeopardy [in Pennsylvania], and which caused a lot of contamination of drinking water supplies.”
PA DEP: “Responding to recent concerns expressed by residents of Dimock Township, Susquehanna County, the Department of Environmental Protection has collected dozens of water supply samples in the Carter Road area and determined that nearby gas well hydro fracturing activity has not impacted local wells.” (Release, 3/27/09)
“I don’t think what I’m doing is going to cause the drilling in New York to be hesitated in any way, or stopped or done more slowly.”
The FRAC Act could give EPA outright authority to regulate fracturing in energy-producing states, stripping states of their ability to closely and effectively regulate this technology. In an editorial entitled “Power play: Fracturing plan wrong, indefensible,” The Oklahoman writes this:
“The latest power grab is an attempt to switch regulation of hydraulic fracturing from the states to the Environmental Protection Agency. … Some believe the technique poses harm to drinking water supplies. U.S. Rep. Dan Boren, D-Muskogee, disagrees and says the regulatory shift would be “disastrous for the industry.” … Legislation has been introduced in Congress to require companies to disclose the chemicals used in the process and allow the EPA to ensure compliance with the Safe Drinking Water Act. This is a solution in search of a problem.” (6/15/09)
“There’s a lot of examples where drilling has caused damage to drinking water supplies.”
At a recent Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing, U.S. Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) asked senior EPA and USGS officials if “Any one of you know of one case of ground water contamination that has resulted from hydraulic fracturing?” Here are the answers:
Peter Silva (EPA Water Chief): Not that I’m aware of, no.
Sen. Inhofe: Ms. Giles?
Cynthia Giles (EPA Compliance Administrator): I understand there’s some anecdotal evidence, but I don’t know that it’s been firmly established.
Sen. Inhofe: So the answer is no, you don’t know of it.
Cynthia Giles nods.
Sen. Inhofe: Alright, Mr. Larsen?
Matthew Larsen (Assoc. Director for Water, EPA): I’ll have to respond in writing, I don’t, I’m not aware of all of our studies on that topic.
Click HERE to view this exchange online.
Comments by EPA’s Steve Heare aligns with past statements from agency, directly contradicts arguments in support of FRAC Act
WASHINGTON – States are doing “a good job already” when it comes to regulating a 61-year-old energy technology known as hydraulic fracturing, a top EPA water official said yesterday – directly contradicting those who support re-writing the Safe Drinking Water Act to impose EPA regulation over the process for the first time in the agency’s (or Act’s) history. Following comments made yesterday from Steve Heare, EPA’s director of EPA’s drinking water protection office, Energy In Depth executive director Lee Fuller issued the following statement:
“These comments from a key EPA drinking water protection official underscore the tremendous work that state regulators have done for decades, and continue to do today, to ensure the proper balance between responsible energy exploration and the safeguarding of our land, air and water. They also align seamlessly with every single official pronouncement that EPA has ever made on hydraulic fracturing; namely, that fracturing technology is safe, it’s incredibly effective, and that it poses no risk to drinking water supplies as currently regulated.”
In particular, Fuller pointed to testimony offered in December by several EPA water and compliance officials to a committee of the U.S. Senate, a hearing in which EPA’s Peter Silva, Cynthia Giles and Matthew Larsen were asked if they were aware of a single instance of water contamination tied to hydraulic fracturing. None were able to identify a single such case, according to the hearing transcript – a reality confirmed by EPA itself in 2004 when it found “no evidence” of alleged contamination after conducting an exhaustive study of the issue over the course of nearly five years.
Fuller also noted that EPA’s latest comments on hydraulic fracturing present a direct challenge to those who support the so-called FRAC Act currently being considered in Congress – legislation that would fundamentally re-write the 36-year-old Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) with an eye on shoehorning hydraulic fracturing into a potentially unworkable federal regulatory regime. Sponsors of the FRAC Act premise their support for the bill on the assertion that states cannot effectively regulate the fracturing process as currently constituted – a notion that stands in direct contradiction to comments made by Mr. Heare yesterday.
“It seems we have a bit of a disagreement to resolve here,” Fuller added. “If supporters of the FRAC Act believe that EPA’s drinking water official is wrong, they should say so – and be ready to defend that assertion. Alternatively, if they think he may right, they ought to take a second look at the legislation they’re trying to pass, and perhaps do a bit more research into how their individual states are effectively handling this important responsibility. I think they’ll be pleasantly surprised by how aggressively this process is being managed by experts on the ground and in the community.”
- EPA Report on HF: “No credible evidence” that hydraulic fracturing endangers groundwater
- Senate Hearing: Top Brass from Obama Admin Tell Congress They’re “Not Aware” of Even “One Case” of HF-Related Contamination
- Fact Sheet: HF Opponents Say the Darndest Things
- Issue Alert: When Gummy Bears Attack
- Graphic: What’s In Frac Fluids?
- Browner Memo: Letter of Support for Hydraulic Fracturing from Carol Browner, Fmr. EPA Administrator
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