UPDATE: Cincinnati Lawmaker “Bungles” the Facts on Fracturing
UPDATE (1/12/12, 3:00pm) On Wednesday, January 11, Rep. Driehaus took the stage at a protest outside the Statehouse in Columbus. It was designed to encourage lawmakers to block the safe and responsible development of the Utica Shale. Citing recent seismic events in Youngstown, which occurred in close proximity to a class II injection well (and not a natural gas operation utilizing hydraulic fracturing), Ms. Driehaus sought to further her efforts to close the door to an industry projected to bring 200,000 jobs to Ohio by 2015. In speaking on the matter, Ms. Dreihaus indicated her primary source of information and inspiration in proposing a moratorium on shale development statewide as the movie Gasland, which we have thoroughly debunked here. We would suggest a better source of information might be agencies like the U.S. Department of Energy, Interior, Environmental Protection Agency, the Ground Water Protection Council and regulators in over 15 states who all have indicated hydraulic fracturing can, and is, being practiced safely in communities throughout the United States.
Ms. Driehaus went on to demonstrate a fundamental lack of awareness in the conversations, and developments already underway thanks to the Utica shale play including any mention of the significant job growth development has brought to the state:
So let’s talk about jobs. And not just the oil and gas jobs, but the Main Street jobs Ms. Driehaus is referring to. Let’s first look to Carroll County, where unemployment has dropped below 10% for the first time in years. We can discuss the hotel and restaurant owners who are opening new ventures and benefiting from increased business thanks to oil and gas workers. We can talk to the dairy farmers who have rebuilt and modernized their business thanks to the income earned through their land lease. Even beyond, we can look to Youngstown and the reemergence of the long-lost steel industry.
Finally, let’s talk about the potential of “Main Street” jobs heading to southern Ohio due to shale development – the Shell ethane cracker. reports southern Ohio as a likely and ideal destination for the plant, bringing with it a $2 billion investment and thousands of jobs along with it. According to C. Alan Walker, secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development, the plant and related industry could soon rival Andrew Carnegie’s investment in the steel industry.
These are just some of the things that would be impacted by the ill-advised Rep. Dreihaus seeks. And this represents only the proverbial “tip of the iceberg” of the lost opportunity such a policy would bring. .
Yesterday afternoon over at the Capitol, Rep. Denise Driehaus (D-Cincinnati) convened a press conference with Rep. Nicki Antonio (D-Cleveland) to announce her intention to file new legislation seeking to institute a statewide ban on the use of hydraulic fracturing, a technology that’s been safely applied to development of energy here in Ohio more than 80,000 times since the early 1950s.
In all seriousness, if even half of the information put forth by these lawmakers yesterday afternoon was true, we’d probably stand up and support a ban right along with them. Thankfully for us, though — and somewhat embarrassingly for them – very little of what was said at the podium yesterday was accurate, and some things, as we note below, were just flat-out bizarre. Here below, a quick fact check on yesterday’s presser from the team here at EID-Ohio:
Rep. Denise Driehaus (D-Cincinnati): “In 1974, the Safe Drinking Water Act was passed by Congress to ensure clean drinking water is free from both natural and manmade contaminants. However, in 2005, the Bush-Cheney energy bill exempted natural gas drilling from the Safe Drinking Water Act. It exempts companies from disclosing the chemicals used during hydraulic fracking.” ( 3:17 )
- As we noted in our fact-check on the recent shale series in the Columbus Dispatch, the process of hydraulic fracturing has never in its 60-year history been regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act. Here’s a history of the act straight from the EPA .
- SDWA was indeed passed in 1974, so at least she got that right. But what Rep. Driehaus is attempting to argue here is that fracturing had previously been included under SDWA when it was first passed, and only was exempted after the Energy Policy Act of 2005 was signed into law.
- But that’s not true at all. Here’s a letter written by former Clinton EPA administrator Carol Browner, sent to an environmental attorney in 1995. In it, she very clearly states that hydraulic fracturing has never in its history been regulated by SDWA or EPA. According to Browner: “EPA does not regulate – and does not believe it is legally required to regulate – the hydraulic fracturing of methane gas production wells.”
- One more thing about that “Bush-Cheney energy bill” from 2005: It passed the Senate with nearly three-quarters of the chamber’s support (74 votes), including the top Democrat on the Energy Committee; current Interior secretary Ken Salazar, then a senator from Colorado; and President Obama, then a senator from Illinois. 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.
Driehaus: “We’ve learned that Pennsylvania, one of the country’s largest suppliers of natural gas, recently began testing its water when radioactivity levels were found to be too high last year.” ( 3:54 )
- Huge swing and a miss on this one. For starters, Pennsylvania’s natural gas production numbers may be on the upswing these days owing to the Marcellus Shale, but according to the Energy Information Administration, they’re still not even among the Top 15 states nationally.
- More to the point: Earlier this year, Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) released the results of an in-stream water quality monitoring survey of several major rivers all across the state. According to DEP : “The tests were conducted in November and December of 2010 at stations downstream of wastewater treatment plants that accept flowback and production water from Marcellus Shale drilling. … All samples showed levels at or below the normal naturally occurring background levels of radioactivity.”
- DEP secretary Michael Krancer : “We deal in facts based on sound science. Here are the facts: all samples were at or below background levels of radioactivity; and all samples showed levels below the federal drinking water standard for Radium 226 and 228.” In other words, the exact opposite of what Rep. Driehaus claimed at her press conference.
Driehaus: “On November 6, 2011, The New York Times reported that the governor of Pennsylvania ordered a moratorium on new drilling permits in state forests.” ( 4:24 )
- Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell instituted a temporary moratorium on the leasing of state-owned forest land in 2010, not 2011. And he did so less than a month after approving a lease sale of 33,000 acres stretching across three Pennsylvania counties. As Gov. Rendell said at the time : “This is a responsible approach that meets our revenue targets …”
- The temporary moratorium was reversed in Pennsylvania after being on the books for only 90 days .
Driehaus: “In 2009, there were more than 493,000 active natural gas wells in the United States. There’s no denying that Ohio is the industry’s next target.” ( 4:55 )
- Believe it or not, the oil and gas industry has been here in Ohio since the late 1850s, developing more than 268,000 wells in that time – more than 80,000 of which were enhanced via the fracturing process. If Rep. Driehaus is worried that Ohio may become the next “target” for the jobs, revenue and opportunity that this industry threatens to deliver here, she unfortunately appears to be about 150 years too late.
Reporter: “In the last legislative session, I believe it was a bi-partisan bill passed that at least backers say is one of the toughest … drilling regulations in the country, why is that not enough, in your eyes?” Driehaus: “Well, you know [pause]. Why wouldn’t we wait for a federal study, knowing what’s … we can’t be blind to what’s going on in other states. We’ve got problems. We’ve had folks lighting their faucet water on fire.” ( 12:30 )
- Here, the reporter is referring to S.B. 165 , widely regarded as one of the most comprehensive pieces of oil and gas legislation ever passed – not just here in Ohio, but anywhere. The legislation updated and modernized the rules and regulations governing safe oil and gas development in Ohio, and was supported by overwhelming and bipartisan majorities in both the House and the Senate. Gov. Strickland signed the bill into law in 2010.
- Unfortunately, Rep. Driehaus appears to have no conception of what this legislation was about. As is seen in the video, Rep. Driehaus pauses for more than two seconds after hearing the question from the reporter, and then simply reverts back to the same talking points she presented earlier in the press conference on “flaming faucets” and hydraulic fracturing.
- Rep. Driehaus also makes frequent references to the prudence of listening to the federal EPA on issues related to hydraulic fracturing. In May 2010, EPA administrator Lisa Jackson delivered the following testimony to the U.S. Senate: “I am not aware of any proven case where the fracking process itself affected water.”
- Rep. Driehaus also references the flaming faucet scene from the anti-shale documentary “Gasland” as proof that fracturing is contaminating water supplies. But last year, top environmental regulators from Colorado released a fact-sheet on the film completely debunking that particular scene. According to the regulators : “Laboratory analysis confirmed that the [Gasland well] contained biogenic methane typical of gas that is naturally found in the coals of the Laramie–Fox Hills Aquifer. This determination was based on a stable isotope analysis, which effectively ‘finger-printed’ the gas as biogenic, as well as a gas composition analysis, which indicated that heavier hydrocarbons associated with thermogenic gas were absent.”
Driehaus: “The United States EPA is undertaking a study. Why wouldn’t we, as intelligent, responsible legislators, want to wait until the conclusion of that study … why wouldn’t we wait until that information is available? ( 13:07 )
- Although this may be news to Rep. Driehaus, EPA released the findings of a five-year investigation into hydraulic fracturing in 2004 – a study that was originally commissioned under the Clinton administration. EPA’s conclusion :“[A]lthough thousands of [coalbed methane] wells are fractured annually, EPA did not find confirmed evidence that drinking water wells have been contaminated by hydraulic fracturing fluid injection into CBM wells.”
- EPA explains its methodology for the 2004 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 … EPA made a draft of the report available for a 60-day public comment period in August 2002.”
- In 2010, Democrats in Congress asked EPA to undertake a new study, specifically focused on the relationship between hydraulic fracturing and drinking water. It’s a study supported in full by the industry. But notably, not even the Democrats who authored that amendment in Washington have asked for fracturing technology to be banned pending the release of EPA’s new report. So why is Rep. Driehaus?
Driehaus: “We may not understand, but we do know some of the risks, people are lighting their faucets on fire. We’ve seen it. I mean – I don’t know if you’ve seen, I’ve seen now a couple different movies – or, really, they’re like documentaries, of this very thing.” ( 13:33 )
- Rep. Driehaus essentially admits here that her legislation is being informed by something she saw on HBO. But here’s what other folks are saying/have said about the veracity of Gasland:
- Fmr. top environmental regulator in PA: “In an interview with The Inquirer on Wednesday, [DEP secretary John] Hanger was harshly critical of Fox, whom he called a ‘propagandist.’ … Hanger dismissed Gasland…as ‘fundamentally dishonest’ and ‘a deliberately false presentation for dramatic effect.’” (Philadelphia Inquirer, June 24, 2010 )
- Financial Times: Claims in the film are “absurd”: “By failing to evaluate the claims of his interviewees more carefully, [Josh Fox] has left himself open to the kind of takedown carried out by Energy In Depth .” (Financial Times, Jan. 2011 )
- Longtime NYT Editor, columnist: Gasland is “one-sided, flawed … in the Michael Moore mode.” (Peter Applebome, June 9, 2010 )
- Towanda (PA) Daily Review: “If you want a relatively quick overview of the natural gas phenomenon, watch the 60 Minutes program. And by way of contrast, see “Gasland” and learn for yourself the difference between a responsible report and a hatchet job.” ( Jan. 1, 2010 )
Rep. Nicki Antonio (D-Cleveland): “A companion to the legislation that Rep. Driehaus has just talked about it … is legislation that I intend to introduce in the next few weeks to call for some detailed information to be given to us about the components of that cocktail, if you will, that gets used when the chemicals are all put together, in the water, for the fracking process.” ( 5:31 )
- Greater than 99 percent of the fluid is composed of water and sand , and the small fraction of what remains includes many common industrial and even household materials that millions of American consumers use every day.
- By both weight and volume, the most prominent of these materials is a substance known as “guar.” Sounds scary, right? It’s actually an emulsifying agent more typically found in ice cream. In fact, the ice cream industry hasn’t been too pleased with us recently, since, thanks to shale, we’ve been using a good bit of the stuff as of late (though the guar bean growers don’t seem to mind).
- As it relates to disclosure of materials, on the federal level, operators are bound by requirements of the Community Right-to-Know Act (passed in 1986), which mandate that detailed product information sheets be drawn up, updated, and made immediately available to first-response and emergency personnel in case of an accident on-site. In Ohio, section 1509.10 of the state oil and gas act mandates that companies make these information sheets available to state officials.
- More recently, an effort led by the U.S. Department of Energy and the Ground Water Protection Council (GWPC) culminated in the creation of FracFocus — a searchable, nationwide database with specific well-by-well information on the additives used in the fracturing process.
Activist Tish O’Dell, whose recent mayoral campaign platform was focused on “attract[ing] quality, revenue generating businesses to Broadview Heights”: “It’s interesting that places have banned fracking already, and France is one of the countries that has banned fracking in their country. … But it is a French company that is building the plant in Youngstown, Ohio, the steel plant to make fracking tubes. So do you think that they want the energy? Yes, they want the energy. Do they care if they pollute Ohio to get the energy? Probably not. So to me, I think we really need to start putting two and two together.” ( 9:33 )
- We hardly even know where to start on this one. Ms. O’dell is referring to the V&M Star steel plant in Youngstown, which is currently undergoing a $650 million expansion that’s responsible for 350 new, high-paying jobs for folks in that part of the state.
- V&M Star is one of the main manufacturers of the high-quality pipe operators need to produce and deliver Ohio energy to Ohio residents. When news of the expansion was formally and finally released in 2010, Democratic U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan referred to it as an “unprecedented announcement” and “a watershed event for the Mahoning Valley.”
- Youngstown Vindicator: “V&M’s confidence in the Mahoning Valley and its work force could herald a turning point for the region, said Girard Mayor James Melfi. ‘Our economy has had its ups and downs,’ Melfi said. ‘Maybe in our Valley’s history, yesterday was the bottom and today is the day we start our climb back up to the top.’” ( June 29, 2010 )
[personal note: As a die-hard Bengals fan, the last thing I’d want is for the title of this post to be construed as some sort of knock against Who Dey Nation. Nothing can be further from the truth — not even Rep. Driehaus’ erroneous claims about hydraulic fracturing. Go Bengals.]