Appalachian Basin

Cory Booker’s Big Shale Blunder

Last week, Newark Mayor and U.S. Senate candidate Cory Booker (D-N.J.) squared off against Republican candidate Steve Lonegan in a heated debate, covering issues ranging from job creation to crime prevention. But when the back-and-forth turned toward EPA regulation, Booker tried to rope the oil and gas industry into the contaminated waterways coursing through New Jersey:

“The Delaware River—if we have the pullback of the EPA, let fracking go on, like many of the frackers want to do, it could pollute our waters.”

Watch the clip here:

Booker would also reference the Passaic River, which has been its own squalid wasteland for over a century.

Joking aside, Mr. Booker is suggesting a highly-regulated practice like hydraulic fracturing is going to pollute New Jersey’s rivers – with no basis whatsoever. Unfortunately, given Booker’s previous statements, the confusion is entirely explainable.

Earlier this year, Booker announced on Twitter that the body of work he leans on when discussing hydraulic fracturing comes not from an engineer, not a geologist, not even a regulator. Instead, his inspiration comes from Josh Fox, director of the infamous Gasland films.

As we’ve explained before, the Gasland films are purposefully deceptive and, according to even The Daily Kos, constitute “science denial.” Sadly, an aspiring U.S. Senator has chosen to disregard the scientific and regulatory communities, all because of a couple of sensationalist and widely-panned films.

Mr. Booker would have been better served by listening to, say, Ernest Moniz, the United States Secretary of Energy. Moniz, who is a nuclear physicist with a Ph.D. from Stanford, says he has not seen any evidence of hydraulic fracturing contaminating groundwater.

Perhaps Mr. Booker also missed a January 2013 study from the U.S. Geological Survey, which found “no significant effects on groundwater quality from shale gas development.” And he clearly overlooked repeated statements from former EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson – who is also a former Commissioner of Environmental Protection in New Jersey – affirming no evidence of hydraulic fracturing polluting groundwater.

The Center for Rural Pennsylvania, meanwhile, conducted statistical analyses in October 2011  of post-drilling versus pre-drilling water chemistry. The researchers found no “major influences from gas well drilling or hydrofracturing (fracking) on nearby water wells, when considering changes in potential pollutants that are most prominent in drilling waste fluids.”

As many of you already know, Pennsylvania dwarfs New Jersey in terms of shale development (New Jersey having none), and is in fact one of the biggest producers of natural gas from shale. If water contamination from hydraulic fracturing were more than just a (baseless) talking point from the activist crowd, one would expect it to be found in Pennsylvania. Not for nothing, a recent U.S. Department of Energy study in western Pennsylvania also found no evidence of contamination.

And then there’s Dr. Stephen Holditch, a member of the Texas A&M Department of Petroleum Engineering and who has been involved with hydraulic fracturing for over forty years. Holditch also sat on President Obama’s Shale Gas Advisory board. He recently said, “there is absolutely no evidence hydraulic fractures can grow from miles below the surface to the fresh water aquifers.”

Plenty of other regulators and scientists have come to the exact same conclusion.

As for the Passaic River, Booker is right: it is disgusting — so much so that the lower 17-mile stretch of the river is considered among the most contaminated waterways in the world. At one point, the river even topped the EPA’s national priority list. In 1956, the American poet William Carlos Williams described the river as “the vilest swillhole in Christendom.”

Shale development is tightly regulated and continually advancing. It has provided unheralded economic growth and – most importantly – it’s safe. We elect our officials with the understanding that they will use the best tools at their disposal to bring about positive change and to keep us safe. Unfortunately, some aspiring for higher office will consider alarmist and factually deficient HBO movies to be among those tools, even when the scientific community’s conclusions are accessible to anyone with an Internet connection.

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