Fact Checking a Denton ‘Frack Check’

A recent article from the Denton Record-Chronicle, entitled “Frack Check,” attempted to separate fact from fiction regarding the claims of opponents and proponents of a drilling ban in Denton. Unfortunately, the “facts” presented were all too often unsupported by the evidence.

First of all, contrary to the article’s assertion, hydraulic fracturing is not a “new” completion technique, with examples of the process dating back over 60 years. It has also been utilized in a variety of industries, including geothermal energy development and well water production.  The article correctly attributes the completion process of hydraulic fracturing as a separate step from the drilling of the well, but trying to ban this component of the broader process is a disingenuous distinction made by anti-drilling advocates, and one without a difference.

The article identified several myths and claims, and then provided its own attempt to fact-check them. Below, we look at a few of the examples that missed the mark.

Myth: Fracking is under-regulated: The Texas Legislature recently required the disclosure of chemicals through, an industry-sponsored website. While hailed at the time, few energy companies disclosed all the chemicals being used, ultimately diminishing the value of the website’s data.”

FACT:  The Texas disclosure law, finalized in 2011, was applauded by both industry and environmentalists. FracFocus itself has been hailed by even the Obama administration as “an important tool that provides transparency to the American people.”

As stated countless times in the past, the oil and gas industry is one of the most heavily regulated industries in the country, and hydraulic fracturing is covered under that far-reaching oversight.  Not only are there full disclosures of the materials used in the process, but assessments of air and water quality inspections across the country have found these energy projects to be safe.

Myth: “Fracking does little for the local economy: Mineral valuations comprise about 1 percent of the city’s $7.7 billion tax base, which is expected to bring about $675,000 in taxes to the general fund this year.”

FACT: Focusing narrowly on the economic impacts from exploration taxes alone presents only a sliver of the broader impact.  The economic boom from shale development has been widely covered, and the positive impacts from job growth have kept Texas insulated from the national economic doldrums of the great recession.  The benefits from domestic energy production have been seen across the country, but Texas has led the way.  And recent studies have relayed the negative economic impact from a ban, stating succinctly that, “Banning fracking would have substantial adverse effects on the economy and tax revenues to local entities and the state.”

Only by using the narrowest of lenses, and by ignoring the very real spinoff economic impacts that come along with oil and gas development, can the claim be made that shale development is just a small contributor to the economy – local, state, regional, or otherwise.

Myth: “Denton has the worst air quality in Texas: Ozone monitors at Denton Enterprise Airport routinely record the highest levels in the state in recent years, according to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.”

FACT: Of all the associated impacts to air quality, the increased use of natural gas has been a net positive for the environment and public health. Claims about ozone in the Barnett Shale have proliferated in recent years, with activists rushing to blame oil and gas development. But the regulators whose data they use routinely debunk that claim, attributing the issue to rapid growth in the region and automotive sources.

Remember, environmental groups once heralded the lower-emissions benefits of natural gas as a bridge fuel to when renewable fuels could be economically implemented.  The revisionist history of some in the anti-drilling community and the turn against natural gas, however, came about because of the very success in hydraulic fracturing.  This does little to sway the actual values derived from newfound domestic production and lower energy costs, though.  Even the EPA has touted the voluntary efficiency measures the industry has implemented over the past years.  We have conveyed before how those opposed to drilling will twist the facts to meet their own needs.

Myth: “Fracking is uniquely invasive:  As a result, new wells have been drilled in Denton neighborhoods just a few hundred feet from many new homes.”

FACT: How, exactly, did gas wells come to be within “a few hundred feet” from new homes? Simply put, the housing communities were permitted by the city and later built within that distance of existing well pads, which had already been permitted.

As the Record-Chronicle noted this past weekend in an editorial encouraging voters to reject the drilling ban, “thanks to Denton’s rapid development, homes have sprung up near existing well sites.” A separate article last year noted: “Current city ordinance does not allow a driller to come closer than 1,200 feet to a protected use, but it does allow a developer to build homes close to wells.”

There are over 280 active wells in Denton, and the perceived invasiveness by some has led to many groups outside of Denton to step into the political arena, “pitting neighbor against neighbor,” according to the Record-Chronicle.

Myth: “Fracking is dangerous:  Blowouts are rare but can be catastrophic.”

FACT: The two examples given in the article do not characterize catastrophic events, given the lack of harm to people or measurable environmental impacts, and this gives credence to the fact there have been too few incidents to mention.  The Obama Administration has articulated the values of new oil and gas development, with the Secretary of Department of Interior making it clear that, “Fracking has been done safely for many, many years.”

Myth: “Fracking is bad news for property rights:  Statewide elected officials have acknowledged in many public meetings that the property rights of mineral owners are dominant over the property rights of surface owners in Texas.”

FACT: The article is nonspecific of which elected officials or what public meetings may have alluded to inequities of property rights in Texas.  The claim itself – that shale development harms property values – has been debunked time and again, though. In Weld County, Colo., for example – which has more than 52,000 active oil and gas wells – local officials say it’s not true that development drives down property values. “We haven’t seen that proximity to oil and gas operations has caused a loss in value. We’re not seeing that,” said Chris Woodruff, Weld County Assessor. Woodruff added that they “expect at least a 20 percent increase in residential property values across the board in Weld County” in 2015, thanks in part to the increased economic value that oil and gas have brought.

What has been seen is the economic developments in regions with newfound oil and gas development have been felt throughout the state and indeed all across the country.

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