Fracking and Florida: The Facts
For years, anti-industry activists have attempted to turn hydraulic fracturing — a routine well completion technique that has been safely used in the United States for almost 70 years — into a controversial issue. They are now targeting Floridians with their misinformation campaign. But while Florida has a long history of responsible energy development, there is currently no shale development – and no fracking – happening in the state.
Hydraulic fracturing is frequently – often intentionally – mischaracterized, not least because “fracking” sounds like a word you wouldn’t say in polite company. (Some activists even admit that they use this scary-sounding word as a substitute for “everything that happens in the oil and gas development process,” a process they want to ban.)
Because this issue is getting more attention, thanks in part to the thoroughly discredited film “Gasland,” it is a good idea to look at what hydraulic fracturing actually is, and then to correct the misinformation that anti-fracking activists are trying to import into the Sunshine State.
What is fracking?
Hydraulic fracturing is a technology used to enhance the flow of energy from a well. It is not a “drilling technique;” fracturing can begin only when the drilling is done and the rig and derrick are removed. Fracking is thus a well “completion” technique. Once fracking is complete, a well can produce hydrocarbons for years, even decades.
Fracking is used in many geologic formations as well as in other types of wells and in geothermal energy production. Today, however, it is most commonly associated with developing oil and gas in “tight” (impermeable) shale reservoirs.
Typically during the fracking process, a mixture of 99.5 percent water and sand is combined with additives (these additives control the growth of bacteria in the wellbore, preventing corrosion) and pumped under pressure to create small fissures in the shale rock thousands of feet underground. With the assistance of the sand that “props” these fissures open, oil or natural gas can then flow from the non-permeable formations into a wellbore. The whole process takes from a few hours to a few days.
Energy In Depth produced a short video that provides a good overview of the process.
A well-understood 70 year-old technology
Fracking technology is neither “new” or “extreme,” as activists often claim. In fact, it has been in regular use in the United States since Harry Truman was in the White House. According to FracFocus.org (which is run by the Ground Water Protection Council (GWPC) and the Interstate Oil & Gas Compact Commission (IOGCC) – Florida is a member of both):
“Hydraulic fracturing is not new. The first commercial application of hydraulic fracturing as a well treatment technology designed to stimulate the production of oil or gas likely occurred in either the Hugoton field of Kansas in 1946 or near Duncan Oklahoma in 1949. In the ensuing sixty plus years, the use of hydraulic fracturing has developed into a routine technology that is frequently used in the completion of gas wells, particularly those involved in what’s called “unconventional production,” such as production from so-called “tight shale” reservoirs. The process has been used on over 1 million producing wells. As the technology continues to develop and improve, operators now fracture as many as 35,000 wells of all types (vertical and horizontal, oil and natural gas) each year.” (Emphasis added)
Fracking technology was developed to liberate hydrocarbons from formations like shale that were too impermeable – or “tight” in industry parlance – to develop using conventional means. The permeability of Florida’s currently producing formations – most prominently Jay Field is located in the Smackover Trend in the northwest Panhandle and the Sunniland Trend, a string of fields located in the Southwest — is the primary reason that fracturing technology has not been used to produce oil and gas from those reservoirs to date. In many places, however, the ability to domestically produce oil or natural gas from shale led to the discovery of significant reserves in such major shale “plays” as the Bakken (N.D.), Marcellus (PA and OH), and the Barnett and Eagle Ford (TX) and helped to create an economic renaissance in these areas.
History of successful regulation
The use of fracking is increasing; the American Petroleum Institute reports that 80 percent of natural gas wells are hydraulically fractured. With this increased use of the technology, is current regulation adequate?
In 2012, the independent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report made crystal clear that oil and gas development – including “unconventional” development – falls under the authority of (at least) eight major federal regulations. From that report:
“As with conventional oil and gas development, requirements from eight federal environmental and public health laws apply to unconventional oil and gas development. For example, the Clean Water Act (CWA) regulates discharges of pollutants into surface waters. Among other things, CWA requires oil and gas well site operators to obtain permits for discharges of produced water – which includes fluids used for hydraulic fracturing, as well as water that occurs naturally in oil-or gas-bearing formations – to surface waters. In addition, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) governs the management and disposal of hazardous wastes, among other things.”
The report then cites specific federal environmental and public health laws that govern the development of oil and gas, including:
- Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) (for disposal wells)
- Clean Water Act (CWA)
- Clean Air Act (CAA)
- Resources Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA)
- Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA)
- Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA)
- Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA)
- Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA)
In addition to these federal regulations, of course, operators also have to comply with a tapestry of state and local laws. Activists sometimes talk about a “Halliburton Loophole” to the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), acting as if fracking was made “exempt” from regulation under the EPA’s Underground Injection Control (UIC) program, which regulates wastewater disposal from a variety of processes, including fracking. However, SDWA has never regulated the hydraulic fracturing process itself. Those who speak of a “loophole” are referring to a bipartisan energy bill that simply reaffirmed existing law and allowed the states to regulate the hydraulic fracturing process, as they always have.
In Florida, oil and gas is regulated primarily by the Department of Environmental Protection, and many regional and local entities regulate oil and gas development as well. No oil or gas well can be drilled in Florida without a permit from Florida’s DEP.
“Climate-friendly, environmentally safe and economically stimulating”
While these regulations are extensive, do they ensure that the process is safe? The good news is that there is an overwhelming scientific consensus that hydraulic fracturing is a fundamentally safe process with manageable risks. It has been extensively studied, and scientists and regulators routinely confirm that any environmental impacts are rare and very unlikely to ever occur.
President Obama’s Secretary of Energy, Ernest Moniz (Ph.D., Stanford) said of fracking for natural gas that it is “climate-friendly, environmentally safe and economically stimulating.” Moreover, Secretary Moniz has also said: “I still have not seen any evidence of fracking per se contaminating groundwater.” This has been the consistent view of other Obama-appointed regulators including Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy as well as Democratic and Republican-appointed environmental regulators around the United States.
A climate success story
It is worth noting here that fracking has contributed to the fight against climate change by producing significant environmental benefits. In fact that the United States leads the world in reducing carbon emissions, thanks to the increased use of natural gas in our power plants.
Also coinciding with the rapid increase in shale development as sharp reductions in other emissions, including methane, another greenhouse gas. As well, fracking often happens in wells that are horizontally drilled wells, something that vastly reduces impacts on the ecosystem.
An economic renaissance
This is all very good news, because the shale revolution has produced huge economic benefits throughout the United States. The average annual wage in the oil and gas industry was $107,200 in 2012, double the national average, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. IHS predicts that employment attributed to upstream unconventional oil and natural gas activity will support more than 3.5 million jobs by 2035.
(An interesting data point: In North Dakota, where fracking has allowed the development of the Bakken Shale, citizens and legislators were shocked in 2013 that General Fund revenue beat state forecasts…by $1.6 Billion. North Dakota continues to have the lowest unemployment rate in the country.)
Fracking is helping to turn around economically challenged areas in places as different as Pennsylvania and California (and, contrary to activist claims that fracking causes earthquakes, regulators confirm that quake-prone California has had no felt seismic activity from either fracking or produced water injection).
Another ancillary benefit of fracking? Property values increase in regions with the most oil and gas production!
We could go on and on. Those seeking more information, including direct links to the latest scientific studies on the many issues surrounding shale development, as well as fact sheets, infographics, videos and more, should visit EnergyInDepth.org.