The No Good, Very Bad Week for the Anti-Fracking Movement

In the last five days America’s top energy authorities have all given their resounding approval to continued U.S. shale development. This is by no means the first time any of these parties have recognized the environmental and economic benefits of shale, but this week’s concentration of actions in support of shale provided a monumental rebuke to the extreme environmental activists who have been engaged in a political campaign to “ban fracking now.”

Energy Secretary Debunks Anti-Fracking Talking Point on Renewables

In a recent interview, U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz disputed the notion that the surge in U.S. natural gas production runs contrary to renewable electricity sources:

“[W]e should not forget that over the past four to five years, during the shale gas boom, we have seen wind, solar and thermal double in the United States and we expect another doubling in the next five or so years.”

This statement from Moniz is a far cry from many of the claims activist groups make regarding natural gas’ role in America’s energy future. Food & Water Watch, a deep pocketed anti-fracking group, believes that anything short of a full out ban on hydraulic fracturing is harmful to renewables. F&WW Executive Director Wenonah Hauter believes that because natural gas is so cheap and abundant, it’s taken investment away from renewables: “[I]nstead of creating a ‘bridge’ to renewables, what shale gas has done is allow us to substitute one dirty fuel (coal) for another (fracked gas)…” 

Perhaps Hauter should visit the Lone Star State. Texas is the nation’s largest oil and gas producer, and it’s where more “fracking” occurs than anywhere else on Earth. As it happens, Texas is also the country’s largest wind producer, and it’s even setting records. If we took Hauter for her word, how could the largest “fracking state” also be the largest wind power producing state?

In fact, Hauter is so far off base on this one that it’s not just the head of the U.S. Department of Energy who disagrees; even renewable industry advocates disagree with her! The Wind Energy Foundation says wind and gas will grow together:

“While these two sectors can be seen as naturally competitive in seeking to fulfill new generation requirements, they have a unique opportunity to work together. As both wind and gas grow across the electricity markets, the mutual benefits of their relationship have become increasingly clear, leading to hope for more cooperation between the two sectors.”

DOE Refutes Activists’ Claims on Climate

A report this week from the Department of Energy (DOE) found that U.S. shale gas has a clear greenhouse gas advantage, even if a surplus amount were sent to our trading partners in Europe and Asia. This comes as no surprise, given that the increased use of natural gas has driven carbon dioxide emissions down to 1994 levels and even a metropolis like New York City is experiencing its cleanest air quality in decades.

The DOE report and others dwarf the groundless claims of activists that claim that permitting the export of natural gas will increase GHG emissions. For example, the Sierra Club disregards the clear environmental benefits of shale: “Exporting natural gas would increase fracking and carbon emissions, put sensitive ecological areas at risk, and do nothing to address our country’s energy challenges.”

The Sierra Club has made news for flip-flopping on natural gas, and statements like the above demonstrate the depth of its credibility. Natural gas is clean burning fuel and its increased use has led to significant carbon emissions reductions. EPA administrator Gina McCarthy has said:

“The pollution that I’m looking at is traditional pollutants as well as carbon. And natural gas has been a game changer with our ability to really move forward with pollution reductions that have been very hard to get our arms around for many decades.”

White House Touts Environmental, Economic Benefits of Shale

A report from the White House this week underscored shale development as key to the U.S. economy as well as our environment. From the report:

“The increases in oil and natural gas production alone contributed more than 0.2 percentage point to real GDP growth in both 2012 and 2013, and employment in these sectors increased by 133,000 between 2010 and 2013…. These figures do not account for all the economic spillovers, so the overall impact on the economy of this growth in oil and gas production is even greater.”

The report also highlighted the environmental benefits of natural gas, noting that “nearly half of the CO2 emissions reductions from 2005 to 2013” were a result of new fuel options for electricity, chief among them affordable supplies of natural gas.

Shale opponents rarely recognize that the U.S. energy revolution has revitalized the economy and helped put Americans back to work; however, they are unwavering in that natural gas usage is worsening climate change.

For example, co-founder Bill McKibben continues to claim that methane leakage from natural gas production offset its environmental benefits:

“When methane escapes from these fracking operations unburned, that CH4 is a far more potent greenhouse gas than CO2 – and the early science makes it look like lots and lots of methane escapes from these fracking operations.”

Opponents of shale development have often pushed unfounded claims that fugitive methane leaks offset the environmental benefits of shale. This is simply not the case. A 2011 analysis from the U.S. Department of Energy concluded that methane leakage was approximately 1.7 percent; this figure is in line with a report from the University of Texas and the Environmental Defense Fund, where the authors found a leakage rate of only about 1.5 percent. Consistent with these studies, the Sierra Club, in partnership with Carnegie Mellon University, found a methane leakage rate of only about two percent.

As such, it’s no surprise that the White House this week would once again rebuff one of the anti-fracking crowd’s favorite talking points.

Facts Once Again Debunk the ‘Flaming Hose’

A Texas regulatory report released this week debunked, for the second time, claims regarding methane in private water wells in Parker County, Texas. The Texas Railroad Commission conducted an analysis of nine wells in that area – site of the infamous “flaming hose” in Gasland Part II, and also the site of a baseless EPA endangerment order – and found that many of the private water wells had unfortunately been drilled into naturally occurring gas bearing areas. As such, the methane was not a result of natural gas production – and certainly not due to “fracking.” From the report:

“The occurrence of natural gas in the complainants’ water wells may be attributed to natural migration of gas from the shallow Strawn Formation, exacerbated by water well construction practices whereby some water wells have penetrated ‘red beds’ in the transition interval between the aquifer and the Strawn Formation. Contribution of natural gas to the aquifer by the nearby Barnett Shale gas production wells is not indicated by the physical evidence…”

Gasland filmmaker Josh Fox used the “flaming hose” from Parker County as the emblematic scene in Gasland Part II, all to advance his argument that shale development is unsafe. It has also been a key rallying cry from activists who have campaigned for the EPA to “re-open” its investigation of water complaints in the area.

California Rejects Fracking Moratorium

For the second year in a row, the California State Senate rejected a bill that was intended to place a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing. This vote should not come as a shock; just last year under Governor Jerry Brown’s leadership, a largely Democratic legislature rejected a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing and instead passed the most sweeping resource-development regulations in the nation.

Anti-energy campaigners have been pressuring Governor Brown and the legislature to “ban fracking,” and the moratorium legislation was clearly their best hope. But even in California, the anti-fracking agenda is too extreme.

California’s leaders made their decision this week with the aide of numerous studies finding that hydraulic fracturing is a fundamentally safe technology as well as a boon to the economy. As EID previously pointed out, this was truly a victory for common sense in the Golden State.

Week in Review

Fear tactics and misleading studies certainly catch headlines, but they can also easily be overshadowed by mountains of facts. This week, leading experts, lawmakers and regulatory bodies provided yet another set of proof points as to why the anti-fracking agenda is too extreme for America: it’s just not guided by the facts.

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