Appalachian Basin

Debunking Athens Letter to the Editor

In reading a recent letter to the editor entitled “There’s plenty of Scientific Evidence Backing Up the Anti Fracking Position” in the Athens News on Sunday, one couldn’t help but think: If there is plenty of evidence, why doesn’t the author, Drake Chamberlin, cite one single study or remarks by a regulatory body to prove his statement? The answer, of course, is pretty straightforward:  The facts simply don’t support opposition to hydraulic fracturing.

Although most of Chamberlin’s claims have already been debunked in a previous blog post by my colleague Dan Alfaro, it is worth addressing Chamberlin’s letter directly.

First of all, it’s important to reinforce a very important point: Hydraulic fracturing fluids are not secret formulas. In fact, when a company has these fluids on site they must keep a detailed log of what additives are used to fracture a well. The reason, of course, is that in case of an incident, workers, OSHA and emergency responders must know what they are trying to contain. If you would like to know what is actually in these fluids, here is a chart that details the most commonly used ingredients in a fracturing solution.

Here is a sampling of the other inflammatory statements made throughout this letter to the editor, all of which are addressed directly.

CHAMBERLIN: “Oil-producing shale contains Radium 226, Uranium and Radon 222, which can concentrate in fracking operations.”

FACT: Radium levels have never shown above the federal drinking standard due to hydraulic fracturing. “We deal in facts based on sound science,” said Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Michael Krancer. “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.”

FACT: Radon is naturally occurring in the earth.  Just look at Licking County. If you dig a hole there is a possibility you will hit a radon pocket.  Radon and Uranium is also a known trace element in ground water due to it being naturally occurring in the earth. There has never been one example of unsafe levels of Uranium, Radon or Radium found in water where hydraulic fracturing has been utilized. The author’s claims are again baseless.

CHAMBERLIN: “The oil and gas industry has managed to exempt h-fracking from the protections of the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act.”

FACT: Contrary to this letter’s assumptions — similarly presented in the movie Gasland — the process of hydraulic fracturing has never in its 60-year history been regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act. The Energy Policy Act of 2005 included language that simply reaffirmed this history, while also acknowledging the important role that states play in the direct regulation and oversight of the fracturing process. Nor should anyone assume — much less boldly claim — that the federal government does not regulate hydraulic fracturing. In fact, onshore oil and gas production is regulated by the federal government through every step of the process.

  • Clean Water Act: “Onshore exploration and production facilities may be subject to four aspects of the CWA: national effluent limitation guidelines, stormwater regulations, and wetlands regulations, and Spill Prevention Control and Countermeasure (SPCC) requirements.” (p. 101)
  • Clean Air Act: “The oil and gas production industry is subject to … National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants … Additional requirements include the installation of air emission control devices, and adherence to test methods and procedures, monitoring and inspection requirements, and recordkeeping and reporting requirements.” (p. 100) Like other industries, oil and natural gas extraction facilities may be regulated in areas that fail to meet CAA ambient air quality standards if they emit those materials.

CHAMBERLIN: “Fracking companies have consistently denied any responsibility for diseases in areas of their operations.”

FACT: It is hard to take responsibility for an act when one has not happened.  Carol Browner, EPA Administrator under President Bill Clinton, stated in 1995 that there is “no evidence” that hydraulic fracturing has resulted in drinking water contamination or endangerment. Current EPA Director Lisa Jackson has also affirmed the safety of hydraulic fracturing, when she said recently during congressional testimony: “I’m not aware of any proven case where the fracking process itself has affected water.”

What every good argument needs is facts and studies to back up the statement. When it comes to judging the safety of hydraulic fracturing, hopefully the readers of the Athens News do a little more research than Mr. Chamberlin did.

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