Fact-Checking Olivia Newton-John’s Hydraulic Fracturing Claims

The (Tasmanian) Devil is in the Details

In a weekend column, Olivia Newton-John – perhaps best known for her starring role in the film Grease – takes issue with hydraulic fracturing, a tightly-regulated 60-year-technology used to enhance the production of oil and natural gas. To her credit, Ms. Newton-John rightfully tells the Sydney Morning Herald that “I don’t claim to be an expert” on fracturing.

Not surprisingly, her efforts to misinform the public about hydraulic fracturing are largely based on the belief that business at “her luxury Byron Bay resort” may be impacted by the responsible development of natural gas in the region. For those wondering, the going rate for the ‘Love The One You’re With’ package at her posh Gaia Retreat & Spa comes in at roughly $3,732 (USD). That, of course, includes champagne and gourmet chocolates (Does any actually eat non-gourmet chocolates these days?).

The United Nation’s first ever Goodwill Ambassador for the environment writes this in Australia’s The Agenewspaper under the headline “The cold hard fracks”, citing the debunked film Gasland throughout.

[Gasland] includes a disturbing scene of landowners in Pennsylvania able to set their tap water alight, although industry officials attribute this phenomenon to naturally occurring methane gas, not gas drilling.

Ms. Newton-John and the readers of The Age should know that Gasland’s flaming faucet scene was 1) filmed in Colorado – not Pennsylvania – and 2) Colorado state regulators – not just natural gas “industry officials” – determined that hydraulic fracturing did not impact the water well featured in the film. This from the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC), whose mission entails the “prevention and mitigation of adverse environmental impacts”:

Gasland incorrectly attributes several cases of water well contamination in Colorado to oil and gas development when our investigations determined that the wells in question contained biogenic methane that is not attributable to such development.

The column goes on to pose a series of questions. Here are fact-based answers to just a few of her questions:

What studies have been done to prove beyond any shadow of doubt that coal seam gas mining does not damage and pollute the water table?

  • In 2004, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released landmark study, which found “no evidence” to suggest any relationship between hydraulic fracturing and the contamination of drinking water.
  • Further, and more recently, President Obama’s top environmental regulator, EPA administrator Lisa Jackson, told Congress this when asked if fracturing has ever impacted groundwater: “I’m not aware of any proven case where the fracking process itself has affected water.” (5/24/11)

What chemicals are being used in CSG exploration and mining?

  • For context, it’s important to understand that fracturing fluids are typically made up of more than 99.5 percent water and sand. Additives, used to reduce wellbore friction and to combat bacteria, make up less than 0.5 percent of the fluids. Many energy-producing states in the U.S. make the entire universe of additives public, including PennsylvaniaNew York (page 130), and West Virginia, just to name a few., a site maintained by the Ground Water Protection Council (GWPC), also makes these additives public on a well-by-well basis. Many companies, including Halliburton, also make these additives publicly available.
  • According to GWPC, “[M]ost additives contained in fracture fluids including sodium chloride, potassium chloride, and diluted acids, present low to very low risks to human health and the environment.” GWPC members include state environmental officials who set and enforce regulations on ground water protection and underground fluid injection.

Why are mining companies exempt from revealing the chemicals used in fracking?

  • As for disclosure in the United States, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), informational materials known as Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) are required to be kept at all well sites – and are available for use by emergency personnel responding to a potential disturbance. These sheets contain full listings of the materials involved in the fracturing process.
  • And in Pennsylvania – one of the most active shale gas-producing states – its environmental regulators note that, “Drilling companies must disclose the names of all chemicals to be stored and used at a drilling site … These plans contain copies of material safety data sheets for all chemicals … This information is on file with DEP and is available to landowners, local governments and emergency responders.”

During these ‘summer nights,’ as Australians and consumers across the world continue to learn more about hydraulic fracturing’s enormous potential, we’d urge Ms. Newton-John, and others, to for the facts.

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