NRDC Report Could Have Used Some Crayons
A recent Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC) blog post titled “Fracking Chemical Disclosure in Ohio: New report points to problems” makes it pretty clear that anti-natural gas advocates coordinate their messaging and strategies. Just over a week removed from an Associated Press investigation that found top anti-gas activists routinely distort and misrepresent science, NRDC released a position paper that unilaterally declared Ohio’s natural gas regulations are deficient. This declaration was made, mind you, seemingly in spite of the fact that groups like STRONGER, which include representation from environmental organizations like Earthworks, have declared Ohio’s previous regulations were, in fact, “well managed” and “meeting its program objectives.” Objectives that include safeguarding drinking water, protecting health, air, and land.
Under those rules, and more stringent regulations passed this year, Utica Shale wells developed in Ohio have been completed with almost no impact on the environment. Of course, none of this seems to matter to NRDC as they are busy adding policy and reality to things anti-natural gas advocates like to distort.
Although the whole article is rife with inaccuracies, there are some points that really miss the mark in terms of even a basic understanding of the law, of course some might expect that from a 668 word opinion piece that doesn’t provide a link, or site a single source, of the law its so quick to admonish. With that, let’s take a closer look at some of the more egregious claims made by the author.
Claim: “the new legislation does not go nearly far enough to make meaningful information available to the public about the chemicals that are being pumped under their feet – and potentially into their drinking water.”
- There has never been a proven case of groundwater contamination from the hydraulic fracturing process in its entire 60 year history
- “Historically, since we have been tracking since 1983, we’ve done over 1,000 groundwater investigations in Ohio and there is not one incident in Ohio that hydraulic fracturing has caused ground water contamination.” (ODNR’s Tom Tomastik, as quoted by WYTV, June 9, 2011)
- U.S. EPA confirms: “I am not aware of any proven case where the fracking process itself affected water.” (EPA administrator Lisa Jackson, testimony before Congress, May 2011)
- SB 315 established disclosure to be made available to www.fracfocus.org as well as through a database maintained through the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.
- Ohio’s disclosure law mirrors Texas and Colorado’s disclosure rules which are heralded as the top disclosure states in the nation. It’s worth mentioning that Colorado’s rules were praised by Earthjustice, a well known environmental group
Claim: “Thus, under these provisions, other members of the general public – including journalists and public health researchers – would not be able to challenge the company’s trade secrecy claims or get access to the information.”
- Trade secrets are not unique to the oil and gas industry. Xerox toner, Coca-Cola, WD 40, Big Mac sauce and many others are all protected by trade secrets.
- If trade secrets could not be kept, motivation to invest millions of dollars in research and development to come up with the best and most effective completion process would be lost? By taking away trade secrets in hydraulic fracturing you are essentially stifling innovation.
- Even Halliburton’s clean suite products invoke trade secret status and those products are made entirely from ingredients sourced from the food industry.
Claim: “Every other industry in Ohio has to hand over basic health and safety information to the state rather than just posting it on an industry-approved website.”
- The Material Safety Data Sheets the author is referring to are, in fact, provided by natural gas operators to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources where they are kept on file.
- The website Frac focus is managed by the Ground Water Protection Council and Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission. This public resource tool the author is so quick to belittle has actually been praised by senior officials in President Obama’s White House. Heather Zichal, deputy assistant to the president for energy and climate change praised FracFocus at a June luncheon of the Natural Gas Roundtable stating. “As an administration, we believe that FracFocus is an important tool that provides transparency to the American people.”
- Ohio Department of Natural Resources also has a database which the solutions have been disclosed since the passage of SB 165 in 2010
Claim: “Disclosure of fracking chemicals needs to be mandated at the federal level, by closing the so-called “Halliburton loophole” in the Safe Drinking Water Act that exempts fracking from basic reporting requirements for chemicals being injected through underground sources of drinking water.”
- Hydraulic fracturing has never in its nearly 65-year history been regulated by the EPA under the Safe Drinking Water Act. It has always been regulated by the states. Oil and gas development in Ohio is regulated by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources
- As stated in Ohio Revised Code 1509.221– To implement the goals of the Safe Drinking Water Act, the chief shall not issue a permit under this section, unless the chief concludes that the applicant has demonstrated that the drilling, injection of a substance, and extraction of minerals or energy will not result in the presence of any contaminant in underground water that supplies or can reasonably be expected to supply any public water system, such that the presence of the contaminant may result in the system’s not complying with any national primary drinking water regulation or may otherwise adversely affect the health of persons.
- Fmr. Clinton EPA administrator Carol Browner explains: “EPA does not regulate – and does not believe it is legally required to regulate – the hydraulic fracturing of methane gas production wells under its UIC program [under the Safe Drinking Water Act].” (Browner letter to David Ludder, Esq., May 5, 1995). How could it be a “loophole” if even EPA itself admits it never regulated the process in the first place?
- Language adopted in the 2005 act simply reaffirmed the fact that states have always taken the lead in regulating hydraulic fracturing. And it should be noted, the 2005 energy bill in which the author is referring to passed with overwhelming bipartisan support — with 74 “yea” votes in the U.S. Senate, including votes from the Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, then a senator from Colorado; and then-Senator Barack Obama.
As you can see, the latest NRDC blog is short on facts and does nothing but propagate falsehoods to drum up misguided fear on an industry that has a proven track record of safety in its operations in Ohio, and elsewhere for that matter. Given the author couldn’t even cite the legislation he was criticizing, let alone find quotes of like-minded organizations or Obama administration officials that run directly counter to his misguided assertions, we think he might benefit from taking some research advice from one very special 10th grader whose work was featured on EID Ohio just a few weeks ago.