For Most Californians, “Science Matters”

We recently participated in a panel on hydraulic fracturing hosted by the California Science Center. The title of the panel series: “Science Matters.” Check out the video here. (The first half-hour is a presentation on hydraulic fracturing; the discussion starts at the 24:00 mark.)

“Science matters” was certainly an appropriate title for the panel, considering that opponents continually deny the overwhelming scientific evidence that hydraulic fracturing is safe.  Need an example?  Well, there’s Conrad Volz, who in a recent outburst admitted: “I don’t care about the science; I don’t’ want it. It’s not about science!”

Following in that vein, Kassie Siegel from the Center for Biological Diversity (whose executive director admitted that the “key to our success” is ignoring science) made a number of claims during the panel that were wholly unrelated to reality.

Perhaps the most telling moment happened toward the end when someone asked: “If you were presented with sound scientific evidence that contradicted your current opinion, would you change it?”

While EID’s Dave Quast said, “of course,” Ms. Siegel and other activists on the panel were silent. This is as good a demonstration as any of the difference between science on one hand and ideology and political agenda on the other. (Unfortunately, that portion of the event is not in the video.)

Let’s have a look at some of the other claims made by CBD during the panel discussion:

CBD’s Kassie Siegel: “People are getting sick from the air pollution that always accompanies the drilling and the fracking. Are we really going to add more air pollution to the L.A. basin or anywhere else in California? … [W]e have a right to not have poison in our air and water.”

FACT: Americans are breathing cleaner air today largely thanks to hydraulic fracturing and the increased use of natural gas. The Breakthrough Institute (an Oakland-based environmental think-tank) recently found that, in Pennsylvania, emissions of every kind have been dramatically reduced because of the state’s increased use of natural gas.  In fact, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, over 500 million tons of emissions have been removed from the Commonwealth’s air thanks to natural gas, an increasing share of which is coming from shale.

Meanwhile, Governor Jerry Brown, the California Department of Conservation, dozens of state regulators, independent researchers from MIT and Stanford, the U.S. Geological Survey, and the U.S. Department of Energy have all found that hydraulic fracturing does not pose a credible threat to air or groundwater.

President Obama’s former Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) chief, said last year that in “no case have we made a definitive determination that the fracking process has caused chemicals to enter groundwater.” His current Secretary of Energy (who received his Ph.D. from Stanford) recently bolstered this claim saying, “To my knowledge I still have not seen any evidence of fracking per se contaminating groundwater.” Just a few weeks ago when Ken Kopocis – President Obama’s nominee to be Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Water – was asked in testimony before Congress if he was aware of any confirmed case of groundwater contamination from fracking, he replied: “No, I am not.” Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell also reinforced the safety of fracking, saying that it is “essential” and that it “can be done safely and responsibly.”

Close to home, a highly anticipated yearlong study was recently completed on air pollution and 13 other potential environmental impacts of hydraulic fracturing at the Inglewood Oil Field near Los Angeles, the largest urban oil field in the nation. The study found no adverse impacts on either air or groundwater from hydraulic fracturing.

CBD’s Kassie Siegel: “In addition to all the environmental damage that comes with an oil boom, it also undercuts our renewable energy industry and this transition that we need to make to reduce our greenhouse gas pollution and to address the climate crisis.”

FACT: Anyone interested in expanding renewable energy should be an avid supporter of natural gas, and by extension hydraulic fracturing. Why? Because renewables need natural gas to provide base load power when the wind isn’t blowing and the sun isn’t shining; they are partners – friends not foe! For example, a report released in June by the Texas Clean Energy Coalition found that natural gas and renewables “are complementary, not competing resources.” A report from Citi Research says that “shale and renewables could be the making of each other.”

Even the renewables industry recognizes the importance of natural gas. Rhone Resch, CEO of Solar Energy Industries Association, also agrees, saying earlier this year: “Natural gas and renewables complement each other very nicely.”

As for oil specifically, the last time we checked, the cars and trucks we see on the highways all across our state don’t run on windmills or solar panels. As Gov. Brown recently said: “We have 30 million vehicles in California. That’s a lot of oil. So I think we have room to supply our need even as we reduce oil consumption.”

CBD’s Kassie Siegel: “And actually, natural gas is not more climate friendly than coal … the studies that are being done now to actually measure methane emissions are finding shockingly high rates of methane.”

FACT: No, they aren’t. EPA’s latest Greenhouse Gas Inventory actually showed a dramatic decline in methane emissions from natural gas systems since 1990. Over that same period, natural gas production increased by nearly 40 percent.

And EPA’s estimates are still too high. The agency assumes that if a company is not required to utilize “green completions” or flaring, then companies are just venting methane into the air (absurd – and dangerous).  EPA also assumes that the flowback periods for green-completed wells are identical to wells that flare the gas, which means that EPA is calculating durations of emissions that are more than double what they actually are.

The International Energy Agency recently found that the United States was the only country in the world to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions (by 3.8 percent!), even while worldwide emissions went up by 1.4 percent.  How did we manage that?  As IEA put it:

“The decline in energy-related CO2 emissions in the United States in recent years has been one of the bright spots in the global picture. One of the key reasons has been the increased availability of natural gas, linked to the shale gas revolution.”

We couldn’t possibly have been the only country in the world to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, while significantly increasing natural gas production, if Ms. Siegel’s claims about methane were true.  Not for nothing, the studies Ms. Siegel is citing have been either categorically debunked or have explicit limitations that make an industry-wide extrapolation (which is what Ms. Siegel did) entirely inappropriate.

CBD’s Kassie Siegel: “Here’s what our state regulators have proposed for California: that if an oil and gas company claims that the identity of the chemicals they’re using are a trade secret, then the state agency won’t even collect the information.”

FACT: Actually, the industry supports full disclosure. There are, of course, different ways to do that, and different states have different approaches. One of those options is the use of Frac Focus, which the Obama administration has praised as a tool that “provides transparency to the American people.” How that disclosure system ultimately works out will be determined as the state moves forward with updated regulations on hydraulic fracturing. But the bottom line is that Ms. Siegel’s characterization – and gross oversimplification – is not an accurate reflection of reality.

Science matters, and the science tells us overwhelmingly that hydraulic fracturing is safe. So what’s next for California?  As Dave pointed out in the debate, according to a recent L.A. Times poll, most Californians want hydraulic fracturing to continue in California (it’s been used here safely for decades, remember), and they want the process to be regulated. That’s what the industry wants, too. Only 30 percent of the people in the same survey said they want a complete ban on hydraulic fracturing. It’s well known (and, among those who actually care about science, well established) that this is a fundamentally safe technology that can be regulated to enhance that safety. This is in the best tradition of California: robust economic activity and strong environmental regulations coexisting.

Shale development in our state could create millions of much-needed jobs, grow the economy, clean our air and lower greenhouse gas emissions. That’s the path forward that a clear majority of Californians want, and its viability is supported by the weight of scientific and regulatory consensus.

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