At Regulatory Hearings, Activists Oppose Common-Sense Solutions

I spend a good deal of my time explaining responsible shale development (as per EID’s mission), and helping the public understand complex issues within the industry is without a doubt one of the most rewarding aspects of what I do. Unfortunately, it has become increasingly important to focus on setting the record straight (another key part of our mission), because there are those in California who are determined to obfuscate and repeat misinformation in an effort to frighten the public about oil and gas development, no matter how many times the facts are explained to them.

I was in both “explaining” and “setting the record straight” mode last week in Monterey, when the Division of Oil and Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) held its last of five hearings on the “discussion draft” of new hydraulic fracturing regulations.

DOGGR’s proposed regulations are expansive and strict, covering issues such as: pre-fracturing notification and evaluation; monitoring during the process; storage and handling of fracturing fluids; post-fracturing well monitoring; and extensive public disclosure of chemicals used in the process. On that latter point, the proposed regulations are consistent with the California Uniform Trade Secrets Act and with other such regulations in the United States, and have been praised by environmental activists in other states.

However, the one constant in the five public hearings on the draft regulations – and the seven “scoping” hearings that DOGGR held last year prior to drafting the regulations – has been that activists have been trying to impose on citizens and regulators an anti-industry ideology even though DOGGR’s regulations seek to address the issues raised most frequently by these activists.

Feigning concern about the safety of hydraulic fracturing is the activists’ attempt to reach their ultimate goal, which is not a ban on hydraulic fracturing but an end to the domestic oil and gas industry. That this would destroy millions of jobs and billions of dollars in economic activity appears unimportant to these groups – but things like facts and trade-offs are not typically important to ideologues.

How do we know that the activists’ stated concern is actually something much more destructive? To their credit, many have freely admitted their goal during DOGGR’s hearings. On Tuesday, the best example came from a Sierra Club representative who said that we could eliminate fossil fuels altogether by 2030, citing a recent paper by anti-industry researchers (and pals of Gasland director Josh Fox) at Stanford, Cornell (remember these guys?) and UC Davis. Those researchers suggested that it would be feasible to move New York State – including New York City! – to an all-wind, water and solar energy platform in less than 20 years.

To most reasonable people, such thought experiments are interesting, but hardly the stuff of serious policy discussion. That the Sierra Club, which has been going through a bit of an identity crisis, would tout such a notion suggests, again, that their intentions are more about ideology and headlines than constructive dialogue about energy policy.

Even California Governor Jerry Brown, a man whose political career has been enthusiastically supported for decades by groups like the League of Conservation Voters and the Sierra Club, has rejected activist calls for a halt to hydraulic fracturing. Brown has said such an effort amounts to an “ideological bandwagon” that he would not join. He has also thrown his full support behind DOGGR and the regulatory process, saying at a recent press conference that it should be “based on science, based on common sense, and based on a deliberative process that listens to people,” adding that the process should also allow California to “take advantage of the great opportunities we have in this state.”

In other words, Brown’s responsible common-sense position puts him squarely at odds with the fear-mongering claims of anti-hydraulic fracturing activists.

Moreover, in recognizing that hydraulic fracturing is fundamentally safe and well suited to regulation, Governor Brown joins a long list of scientists, politicians (including the President), Cabinet officials, and regulators from across the country who have affirmed this fact in the face of activist propaganda.

For example, President Obama’s former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has described opposition to hydraulic fracturing as “hysteria,” because the process “can be done safely and has been done safely hundreds of thousands of times.” The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the Ground Water Protection Council concluded hydraulic fracturing is “safe and effective.” Mark Zoback, a Stanford geophysicist and senior adviser to the DOE, says hydraulic fracturing fluids “have not contaminated any water supply.” Zoback has also challenged claims that hydraulic fracturing poses a serious risk of earthquakes, observing that the process releases about the same amount of energy “as a gallon of milk falling off a kitchen counter.”  President Obama himself has hailed the domestic energy production made possible by hydraulic fracturing and said “we can do it in an environmentally sound way.”

Here’s what DOGGR itself writes on its website (emphasis added):

“Hydraulic fracturing was first used in 1947 in a well in Kansas.  Since then, hydraulic fracturing has become a regular practice to tap into previously unrecoverable reserves, or to stimulate increased production from existing oil or gas wells in the United States.  In California, hydraulic fracturing has been used as a production stimulation method for more than 30 years with no reported damage to the environment.

With the increase in the development of horizontal shale gas wells in various regions of the United States, hydraulic fracturing has become the focus of significant attention.  Some have questions about the safety of continued use of this technology.”

It is not surprising that the public has questions about hydraulic fracturing, especially given the drumbeat of misinformation spread by activists. But it’s important to recognize that DOGGR’s proposed regulations would address many if not all of these concerns.

It should ease the mind of every Californian that those charged with protecting our health and safety are moving forward in a responsible manner to ensure that future shale development in California remains tightly regulated. This will help us ensure that we have economic growth that does not come at the expensive of public health or the environment that all Californians cherish.


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