Greens Beg President Obama to Ignore the Facts on HF
If a fact-free letter requesting a ban on American energy production falls on the President’s desk, does it make a difference? We’re about to find out.
An assortment of “green” groups, writing allegedly on “behalf of Americans who live in every US state and territory,” have written directly to the President to “employ any legal means to put a halt to hydraulic fracturing.” Signers include political heavyweights like Kids for Saving Earth, the anti-energy website DeSmogBlog, and a group that opposes the construction of a cement plant in North Carolina.
We at EID recognize that the President is very busy this week, especially with Friday’s news about the first downgrade to the country’s credit rating in U.S. history. To help him and everyone else out, we read through every last detail of the letter so no one else has to. We also decided to add something that was painfully absent: facts.
CLAIM 1: Hydraulic fracturing is a “dangerous method of natural gas exploration” that should be banned “until and unless the environmental and health impacts of this process are well understood and the public is adequately protected.”
REALITY: Unsurprisingly, the first whopper comes in the very first paragraph. Despite repeated claims to the contrary in this letter, hydraulic fracturing is actually a well-known procedure that has been used over one million times since the 1940s. Its health impacts — or, rather, the lack thereof — have been studied vigorously by federal officials inside the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy, as well as by state regulators with the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission and the Ground Water Protection Council. In 1995, then-EPA administrator Carol Browner (who later became President Obama’s “energy czar” and is now with the left-leaning Center for American Progress) wrote a letterconfirming that, after repeated tests in Alabama, there was no connection between hydraulic fracturing and water contamination.
CLAIM 2: “Despite its obvious hazards, regulation necessary to ensure that fracking does not endanger our nation’s water supply has not kept pace with its rapid and increasing use by the oil and gas industry.”
REALITY: Hydraulic fracturing is tightly regulated by the states and has been for decades, and state regulators consistently affirm that stringent regulations already in place guarantee safety. In addition to state regulations, simple geology protects drinking water supplies in a well that is hydraulically fractured. The water table is usually a few hundred feet below the surface, whereas the location where fracturing actually takes place is several thousand feet below that. Separating the fracturing site and the water table is often more than a mile of water tight rock. In order to reach potable water, fracturing fluids would not only have to defy gravity, but also navigate upwards through layer after layer of impenetrable rock. This is why Colorado’s Democratic governor John Hickenlooper, who has a background in petroleum geology, recently said it was “inconceivable” that fracturing would contaminate water because ”hydraulic fracturing doesn’t connect to the groundwater.”
CLAIM 3: “To date, fracking has resulted in over 1,000 documented cases of groundwater contamination across the county [sic], either through the leaking of fracking fluids and methane into groundwater, or by above ground spills of contaminated and often radioactive wastewater from fracking operations.”
REALITY: The reference for the “1,000 documented cases” claim is an article by ProPublica from three years ago. That article, of course, directly contradicts the science-based conclusions of numerous regulators and experts, including the Association of American State Geologists, whose president said in 2009: “There have been no documented cases of drinking water contamination that has resulted from hydraulic fracturing.”
In addition, Scott Kell, President of the Ground Water Protection Council, testified before Congress in 2009 and specifically took on the “1,000 documented cases” claim. Here’s what he said:
“In recent months, the states have become aware of press reports and websites alleging that six states have documented over one thousand incidents of ground water contamination resulting from the practice of hydraulic fracturing. Such reports are not accurate.” (GWPC testimony to Congress,June 4, 2009)
(The IOGCC actually maintains a comprehensive list of state regulators and officials directly rebutting the claim about groundwater contamination.)
Even the greens’ favorite EPA administrator, Lisa Jackson, said recently that hydraulic fracturing doesn’t affect water. This follows a 2004 study by the EPA that found no connection between fracturing and water contamination.
As for methane concentrations in groundwater, this occurs in one of two ways: (1) poor well casing, which is an issue that is completely unrelated to hydraulic fracturing, and/or (2) naturally-occurring methane, which is more often than not the real culprit.
In fact, in the signature scene in the movie Gasland, a man in Colorado lights his tap on fire, something that the producer Josh Fox attributes to methane in the water due to hydraulic fracturing. Colorado regulators, however, investigated the incident and determined conclusively that the methane wasunrelated to any drilling activity. How is this the case? Water tables often sit above rock layers that have quantities of methane. Over time, because methane is lighter than air, it seeps upward and into the water. Even a recent study from researchers at Duke University – widely reported as “proving” the connection between gas production and methane contamination — found quantities of methane in Pennsylvania water wells where no natural gas drilling was taking place.
CLAIM 4: “EPA has convened an effort to study the impacts of fracking on drinking water. The first phase will end by 2012, but this study will take several years to complete. By this time, even more of the nation’s drinking water may become contaminated by fracking.”
REALITY: Claiming that “even more” water will be contamined presupposes that existing water supplies have been contaminated, a claim that is 100% untrue. If we sound like a broken record, it’s only because this tired claim about drinking water contamination is repeated over and over and over. But for the sake of consistency, here we go again: Hydraulic fracturing has been used more than one million times without a single confirmed case of drinking water contamination. The fact that their ace in the hole here is a tautology – water “may” become contaminated in the future — speaks volumes about the overall lack of credibility.
CLAIM 5: “Even if we fully understood all of the environmental and public health impacts of fracking, federal regulations do not currently manage, mitigate, and reduce these impacts. The lack of federal protections, combined with the current level and predicted increase of this activity, pose extreme and unnecessary risks to public health and the environment.”
REALITY: Making baseless claims is much easier than entering search terms into Google, a point confirmed by the fact that existing federal regulations already apply to hydraulic fracturing. In addition to adhering to these federal laws, stringent state regulations also apply to hydraulic fracturing. Instead of studying environmental justice and poetry in college, the authors of this letter would have been more informed about why this is the case had they taken a single geology or physical geography course. The rock formations underlying Wyoming differ from those in Pennsylvania, and Michigan’s geology is considerably different from Louisiana’s. Thus, an EPA-based, one-size-fits-all federal approach would actually increase risks by removing the flexibility of state regulators to apply tight standards that align with reality instead of ideology. The fact that there are no confirmed cases of drinking water contamination from hydraulic fracturing is proof that the lack of federal regulation does not “pose extreme and unnecessary risks.” The truth is actually the exact opposite.
CLAIM 6: “Because [hydraulic fracturing] is poisoning people, we ask that you take the steps to stop it.”
REALITY: Perhaps fittingly, there is no evidence to back up the claim that hydraulic fracturing is “poisoning people,” likely because what’s written on a unicorn’s back or along the rim of the leprechaun’s pot of gold isn’t typically admissible as evidence. Unfortunately, this is typical of the types of claims against hydraulic fracturing: hyperbole without evidence. Just for fun, though, let’s reiterate a few important facts, not the least of which is that 99.5% of the mixture is water and sand. The remaining 0.5% of hydraulic fracturing fluids is a mixture of ingredients often found in cleaners under the kitchen sink. Other components include guar gum and citric acid, which are commonly found in ice cream and fruit juices, respectively. Many of the chemicals are used to prevent bacteria growth inside the drill pipe, growth that would otherwise contribute to rust and, ultimately, loss of structural integrity.
Many of these ingredients remain in the water tight formations thousands of feet below the surface, but others that return to the surface are safely contained, processed, and then disposed of in accordance with all applicable regulations. Much of the water used is now also being recycled, especially in Pennsylvania where many areas are reusing about 80% of the water used in hydraulic fracturing.
A final observation about the letter: the groups always place quotes around the word “natural” when they refer to natural gas. Given the lack of scientific basis for most if not all of the claims contained in their request, it’s perhaps fitting that they would suggest natural gas — which develops underground, ahem,naturally – is not actually natural.