Appalachian Basin

Maryland Activists Get the Facts Wrong on Hydraulic Fracturing

Maryland currently has a de facto moratorium on hydraulic fracturing until the state’s Departments of Environment and Natural Resources complete lengthy health risk assessments. But that hasn’t stopped anti-fracking activists from throwing around inflammatory (and often dubious) phrases such as “dangerous” fracking or “fracked gas,” in addition to organizing protests against the Cove Point liquefied natural gas export facility. The activists see Cove Point as some sort of abstract symbol for “more fracking,” although local labor unions see it as a real opportunity for more jobs.

Notably, two anti-shale activist groups – Chesapeake Climate Action Network and Citizen Shale – commissioned their own “report” on the the risks of shale development for Maryland.  Before we go any further, let’s remember that  Chesapeake Climate Action Network writes on its website that Maryland needs to be protected from the “widespread harm already linked to fracking in neighboring states – including contaminated drinking water, air pollution, earthquakes, adverse health impacts, and worsening climate change.” Citizen Shale echoes this, saying, “If Cove Point is permitted, western Maryland should expect to face renewed pressure for drilling, as natural gas prices are predicted to rise to world levels.”

Against that ideologically weighted backdrop, it comes as no surprise that the report they commissioned finds that hydraulic fracturing poses a “high risk” in just about every category.  It’s also not surprising that these groups, in their rush to attack shale development, were forced to commission a firm (Ricardo-AEA) that is not even based in the United States, much less in Maryland, to complete an assessment that is specific to the state of Maryland.

Let’s have a look at some of the more egregious claims in the activists’ report:

Claim #1: High risk for groundwater contamination:If fractures extend beyond the target formation and reach aquifers, or if the casing around a wellbore is inadequate in extent or fails under the pressure exerted during hydraulic fracturing, contaminants could potentially migrate into drinking water supplies.”

FACT: Considering that America’s top regulators have said on numerous occasions that they have never seen a confirmed case of groundwater contamination from hydraulic fracturing, it’s a mystery how anyone could claim a risk that is even close to “high.”

Former EPA administrator Lisa Jackson put it best when she said: “In no case have we made a definitive determination that the fracking process has caused chemicals to enter groundwater.”

Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz recently said: “I still have not seen any evidence of fracking per se contaminating groundwater.”

When Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell was asked in testimony before Congress if she was aware of any confirmed cases of water contamination from fracking, she replied, “None that I’m aware of.”  Before that, Ken Kopocis, President Obama’s nominee to be Assistant Administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Water (EPA), was also asked that question in testimony before Congress.  He replied, “No I am not.”

State regulators from Alabama to Alaska have also said there is no evidence of the fracking process contaminating groundwater. Reports by the U.S. Geological Survey, the U.S. Government Accountability Office, the Ground Water Protection Council, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, have shown that hydraulic fracturing does not pose a significant risk to groundwater. In fact, two peer-reviewed studies found that groundwater contamination from hydraulic fracturing is “not physically plausible.”

Claim #2: High risk for water resources: A proportion (25% to 100%) of the water used in hydraulic fracturing is not recovered, and consequently this water is lost permanently to re-use, which differs from some other water uses in which water can be recovered and processed for re-use.”

FACT: This is a claim that anti-fracking activists have been trying to make for years – but the facts keep getting in the way.

As data from the World Resources Institute clearly shows, oil and gas producers offer virtually the lowest risk for water use of any industry.  Agriculture, car washes, golf courses, and even activities such as residential lawn watering use billions of gallons more water than oil and gas producers.  In Colorado, oil and gas development accounts for 0.1 percent of the state’s total water demand; in Pennsylvania it’s less than 0.2 percent; in Texas it’s less than one percent.  In fact, a recent report from the University of Texas found that since hydraulic fracturing is allowing Texas to move away from more water intensive energy resources, it is actually helping to shield the state from water shortages.

Further, the water used in hydraulic fracturing is not “lost permanently to re-use” as the Maryland report claims.  Recycling of flowback water is rapidly becoming standard operating procedure.  As the AP recently reported, companies like Water Rescue Services, which runs recycling services in West Texas, “is now 90 percent toward its goal of not using any freshwater for fracturing.”  And according to the Pennsylvania DEP, producers in the Marcellus are now recycling 90 percent of their flowback water.

Claim #3: High risk for air emissions: Bamberger and Oswald (2012 PR) identified incidents in which livestock was exposed to emissions of airborne pollutants associated with compressor station malfunction, pipeline leaks, and well flaring […] McKenzie et al. (2012 PR) calculated a small increase in cancer risk due to increased benzene exposure within half a mile of gas wells in a tight gas resources in Colorado.”

FACT: Both studies have been thoroughly debunked.  The Bamberger and Oswald study, which argues that farm animals are at risk from fracking, has been so discredited that even anti-fracking activists have, for the most part, left it in the dust.  While the full debunk of the study can be found here, the short version is that Bamberger and Oswald did not produce a scientific assessment – and even admitted as much in their research.  As Dr. Ian Rae, a professor at the University of Melbourne in Australia and a Co-chair of the Chemicals Technical Options Committee for the U.N. Environment Programme, explained, “It certainly does not qualify as a scientific paper but is, rather, an advocacy piece that does not involve deep…analysis of the data gathered to support its case.”

As for the claim about benzene in Colorado, EID has the full story on that report here, but it’s important to recall that the researchers used out-of-date emissions data and inflated exposure times by as much as 900 percent.  Further, the Colorado Department of Public health installed air quality monitors near a well site in response to similar allegations from local activists. They found that there were no concentrations above thresholds that would threaten public health.  County health officials also renounced the CSPH paper before it was even published.  A subsequent paper by the same researchers was immediately rebuked by Dr. Larry Wolk of the Colorado Department of Public Health, who said that the public could “easily be misled” by their work.

State regulatory agencies in Colorado, Texas, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia have all studied these emissions from well pads and concluded that they are below public health thresholds, and that available technologies are being used to minimize emissions. In fact, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection found that increased use of natural gas has actually prevented the release of 500 million tons of air pollutants.  If that’s not enough, the American Lung Association recently gave an “A” grade for air quality to several North Dakota counties that are among the largest producers of Bakken Shale oil.

Claim #4: High risk to land and biodiversity: Perhaps more significantly than the area loss is the increase in forest fragmentationThe risks to biodiversity arise due to accidental releases and habitat loss (up to 1.2% of habitat may be lost, with a further 2.9% of habitat indirectly affected).”

FACT: Hydraulic fracturing has safely occurred in forests and coexisted with sensitive habitats for decades.  Just ask Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, who was tasked by President Obama to protect endangered species and natural resources as the head of the U.S. Department of the Interior.  As she said recently, “fracking has been done safely for decades.” She also added that “by using directional drilling and fracking, we have an opportunity to have a softer footprint on the land.”

As for development in forests, The U.S. Forest Service’s mission is to ensure preservation as well as sound economic development. Both the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service have said that our national forests “are managed for a broad range of multiple uses, from wilderness protection, to recreation, to forest management to oil and gas exploration.”

Development in forests is also overseen by state regulatory bodies.  As we’ve noted before, the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) is safely managing oil and gas development in the state’s forests.  Since 2008, DCNR has approved 211 well pads and 842 shale gas wells on state forest land, and has worked hand in hand with companies to ensure the process is done by the book.

Claim #5: High risk for traffic and noise: “Increased traffic on public roadways. This could affect traffic flows and congestion; Road safety impacts; Damage to roads, bridges and other infrastructure. This could lead to decreased road quality and increased costs associated with maintenance for roads not designed to sustain the level of traffic experienced.”

FACT: Yes, hydraulic fracturing involves moving materials by trucks – and that’s true of virtually every industry or business. When the economy booms, infrastructure gets updated (and often upgraded).  But that’s only half of the story.

Not only do enormous tax revenues from oil and gas development get funneled into road and highway improvements, but several companies have actually invested more in local roads than state governments.  In Pennsylvania, Chesapeake Energy invested more than $300 million between 2010 and 2012 in roads in northeastern Pennsylvania.  In Ohio, oil and gas companies participate in agreements with municipalities in which the industry invests directly in road and highway maintenance.  Ohio is also getting a boost from oil and gas companies for its conservation efforts.  The Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District has made over $77 million to improve Ohio’s watersheds thanks to leases signed with Utica Shale developers.

Shale development is also creating thousands of good-paying jobs in states that welcome it.  In the Eagle Ford Shale in Texas alone, development is supporting more than 86,000 jobs and contributing $3.3 billion in salaries and benefits for Texas families. Manufacturing jobs are coming back to our shores in droves, thanks to affordable and abundant supplies of natural gas.  Chemical manufacturers, who use natural gas as a feedstock for their projects are seeing $100 billion in investments, which translate into thousands of jobs.  According to a study by IHS CERA, the full shale value chain will support 3.3 million jobs by 2020 and add nearly half a trillion dollars to the U.S. gross domestic product.

Equally as important is that our shale revolution is keeping energy prices low, boosting the prospects for low-income families.  One study has shown that shale gas development has been three times more effective in helping low income families than the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), a federal program that provides financial assistance to families that cannot afford their energy bills.

With a 6.1 percent unemployment rate, the best way to boost jobs in Maryland is not to deny economic opportunities that people need. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what anti-fracking groups like Chesapeake Climate Action Network and Citizen Shale are determined to do.

Meanwhile, it’s up to Maryland to decide if they want to listen to activists making claims on ideology (not the facts), or allow development that has brought cleaner air, thousands of jobs, and massive economic benefits to the states that welcome it.

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