Food & Water Watch’s “Urgent Case” a Desperate Measure

Anti-fracking activists across the country are running full tilt to have their message platforms ready for the United Nations Climate Change Conference in New York next week.  Unsurprisingly, Food & Water Watch (F&WW) is marching out another misguided assessment purporting the need to shut down domestic energy development across the country, even enlisting the assistance of Mark Ruffalo to bring the message home.  Melodramatically titled “The Urgent Case for a Ban on Fracking” the report compiles the group’s past grievances in a tidy 35 page document – a case study for repetition as a form of “science.”

While F&WW touts the support of celebrities like Ruffalo and Yoko Ono, they admit in the report that America’s top regulators and policy makers are not exactly on their side.

Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz stated that he’s “not seen any evidence of fracking per se contaminating groundwater” and the Department of Interior Secretary Sally Jewell has said that hydraulic fracturing is a “technique [that] has been around for decades,” and can result in “a softer footprint on the land.” Even the Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy, has relayed that “There’s nothing inherently dangerous in fracking that sound engineering practices can’t accomplish.”

State governors from California to Maryland are espousing the benefits from domestic energy development and even President Obama has professed that “we should strengthen our position as the top natural gas producer … [I]t not only can provide safe, cheap power, but it can also help reduce our carbon emissions.”

All of these pronouncements are part of F&WW’s preamble to their roundup of fracking grievances; a laundry list we have debunked many times in the past.  So, we will once again relay the facts.

F&WW Claim: The unregulated disposal of this waste is causing earthquakes.

FACT: First, disposal wells are regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency, which has said these wells are a “safe and inexpensive” method of disposing of industrial waste.

While some scientists have linked seismic activity to disposal wells, numerous studies have found that the risk for seismicity associated with injection wells extremely low – nowhere near what F&WW would like you to believe.  According to the National Research Council,

“Injection for disposal of wastewater derived from energy technologies into the subsurface does pose some risk for induced seismicity, but very few events have been documented over the past several decades relative to the large number of disposal wells in operation.”

Bill Ellsworth of the U.S. Geological Survey explained that this is a risk that is manageable: “in many of these cases, it’s been fixed by either shutting down the offending well or reducing the volume that’s being produced. So there are really straight-forward fixes to the problem when earthquakes begin to occur.”

F&WW Claim: Fracking utilizes over 100 dangerous chemicals known to cause life-threatening illnesses, including cancer.

FACT: One would expect regulatory agencies to study the public health impacts of chemicals, and they have again and again, from the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) continued monitoring of the occurrence of cancer, and finding no statistical significance,  to environmental agencies in Colorado, Pennsylvania and West Virginia taking direct air measurements to assess potential harms to human health.  The studies continue to point to the fact that there’s no credible threat to human health or the environment.

F&WW Claim: Fracking wells release large amounts of methane gas, which is known to trap 87 times more heat than carbon in the atmosphere and contributes greatly to global warming.

FACT: A landmark peer-reviewed study from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences refutes anti-fracking activists’ accusations of ramped methane leaks, stating: “This work reports direct measurements of methane emissions at 190 onshore natural gas sites in the United States. The measurements indicate that well completion emissions are lower than previously estimated.”

The Environmental Protection Agency has also been monitoring methane releases, and this year’s assessment shows industries emissions of methane (CH4) have been decreasing drastically.  EPA notes that “emissions have decreased by 17.0 percent since 1990. The decrease in CH4 emissions is largely due to the decrease in emissions from production and distribution. The decrease in production emissions is due to increased voluntary reductions.”

The EPA also credited hydraulic fracturing and natural gas for the large decline in greenhouse emissions.  From that same assessment: “U.S. emissions decreased by 3.4 percent from 2011 to 2012. Recent trends can be attributed to multiple factors including reduced emissions from electricity generation,” due to the increased use of natural gas.  These actions have lowered US CO2 emissions to 1994 levels.

F&WW Claim: Fracking presents a broad number of consequences for people living in areas where it is occurring, including damage to public roads, declines in property value, increased crime and an increased demand on emergency services.

FACT:  This is a clever art of war technique, representing the jobs and economic prosperity from domestic energy development as a detriment to the communities that benefit most.  We have chronicled the values from newfound jobs and energy in Ohio, Texas, Colorado, Maryland, Michigan, Illinois, North Dakota and Pennsylvania.

The numbers are staggering. The Permian Basin’s oil and gas industry sustains 444,000 jobs in Texas alone.  The tally of jobs is unmistakable with the Associated Press stating that unions are taking notice and, “Nationally, the Bureau of Labor Statistics says total employment in the nation’s oil and gas industry rose from about 120,000 in early 2004 to about 208,000 last month.”

F&WW Claim: Contaminating water wells with methane and other flammable gases from fracking puts families’ health, safety and property at high risk.

FACT: F&WW is clearly still clinging desperately to the coattails of the debunked Gasland movie.  Most famously, images of faucets lit aflame have captured the public’s attention, but as we have outlined before, state regulators found this was not due to fracking.  Further, the Department of Energy just released what the AP called a “landmark study” in which the researchers injected tracers into hydraulic fracturing fluid – and after twelve months of monitoring they found no signs of migration into groundwater.

The stark conclusion of F&WW’s report is unambiguous: “We simply require urgent political action, strong political leadership and rapid cultural change to reorient our economy around needing less energy.”  But with America’s top environmental regulators, Democrats across the country, Obama administration officials, climate and energy experts, and President Obama himself continuing to tout the environmental and economic benefits of hydraulic fracturing and natural gas, F&WW’s “urgent case” looks more like a desperate measure.

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