Setting the Record Straight on LNG Exports, Health, and Hydraulic Fracturing

This week, a group called Physicians, Scientists and Engineers for Healthy Energy (PSEHE) organized a petition to urge the United States to block natural gas exports. Their reasoning?  Exports of natural gas would increase the use of hydraulic fracturing and thus, they claim, the public’s exposure to adverse health effects. We’re here to set the record straight.

For starters, PSEHE is funded by the Park Foundation – an organization that is behind nearly every anti-natural gas initiative to date. As EID’s Marcellus team has explained time and again, the foundation has funded everyone from Josh Fox’s Gasland to Earth Justice, Earthworks, and the Catskill Mountainkeeper’s education and outreach program to “stop unsafe gas drilling”. Not exactly unbiased.

Secondly, the health concerns that make up the backbone of this petition have been debunked time and again. The petition notes “exposure to polluted air, water, and soil” as the primary concerns. Yet in reality, there is a bounty of hard evidence to the contrary.

Air Pollution claims: In Pennsylvania, where Marcellus shale development has catalyzed the state’s energy outlook and economy, the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has found that there are no emissions from Marcellus shale activities that reach levels harmful to human health. As the report highlights:

“Results of the limited ambient air sampling initiative in the northeast region did not identify concentrations of any compound that would likely trigger air related health issues associated with Marcellus Shale drilling activities.”

And in Texas, a state with a long history of oil and natural gas development, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) has found no connections between oil and gas operations and immediate health concerns:

“There are no immediate health concerns from air quality in the area, and that when they are properly managed and maintained, oil and gas operations do not cause harmful excess air emissions.”

In fact, ozone levels have declined even as production has dramatically increased in the Barnett shale. In the Dallas-Fort Worth area, as total gas production in 2009 increased by 94 percent from 2000 levels, the levels of ground level ozone fell by nearly 15 percent.

Water and soil: Federal and state regulators have noted time and again that there is not a single case of hydraulic fracturing contaminating groundwater in the past 65 years of its use. In May 2011, EPA administrator Lisa Jackson herself told the U.S. Senate that she wasn’t aware “of any proven case where the fracking process itself affected water.” And on the surface, state and federal laws are in place to regulate the handling of materials, setback distances to nearby water weighs, and potential interfacing between materials used throughout the lifecycle of a well and the surrounding area.

After all, a review shows that officials in three presidential administrations — Clinton, Bush and Obama — have testified to the safety of natural gas development and hydraulic fracturing. This is supported by statements made by regulators in more than 16 U.S. states and by countless government and academic studies. Even respected environmental groups like the Environmental Defense Fund have affirmed that state regulatory agencies are well-equipped to manage natural gas development (although the Park Foundation has funded groups who tried to suggest otherwise).

The effort to stand in the way of natural gas exports is just another attempt from anti-natural gas advocates to put an end to hydraulic fracturing.  Unfortunately for them, the facts surrounding this safe and proven technology are undeniable.

Natural gas exports are just one more way to use our abundant supply of clean-burning natural gas to bring jobs and economic opportunity into our communities. In fact, studies have shown that exports would generate net economic benefits for our economy, including consumers. This means thousands of new jobs and millions of dollars in new tax revenue for the federal, state and local governments—not to mention a rejuvenation of connected industries like steel, turbine manufacturing, and pipefitting.

Without adequate demand, the homegrown benefits of production will be forfeited and our domestic energy supply will ultimately dwindle. That may be welcome news for anti-natural gas activists who don’t want to keep their lights on and would rather use dirtier fuels to heat their homes, but it would be disastrous for the millions of Americans who rely on this secure domestic energy resource – including the nearly two million Americans who have jobs thanks to its responsible development.

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