The People of America's Oil and Natural Gas Indusry

Safe Fracking Benefits America

Mark Green

Mark Green
Posted September 3, 2014

Following up on last week’s rebuttal of a truth-challenged attack on hydraulic fracturing in a USA Today op-ed, in which we detail how federal and state regulation, combined with industry standards are protecting the environment, water supplies and communities.

The op-ed by the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Amy Mall opens by posing a false choice for Americans: economic and energy security from development using fracking or safety. It continues:

… a controversial new extraction technology known as "fracking" — combined with unprecedented exemptions for the industry from bedrock federal environmental and public health laws — has fueled a recent explosion in domestic oil and gas development. And safeguards have not kept pace.

Fracking isn’t new. Earlier this year the U.S. marked the 65th anniversary of the first commercial use of hydraulic fracturing. Fracking pre-dates McDonald’s, diet soft drinks, credit cards and more – even Barbie. It’s a fact, and saying otherwise is dishonest.

Again, we’ve discussed the role of federal and state regulatory regimes and industry’s commitment to safe, responsible operations. Here’s what others, people in positions to know the subject, have said about fracking:

“Fracking as a technique has been around for decades. … I have performed the procedure myself very safely.”Interior Secretary Sally Jewell

“From my opinion and from what I’ve seen … I believe hydraulic fracturing is, in fact, safe. … We know that, from everything we’ve seen, there’s not a single case where hydraulic fracturing has created an environmental problem for anyone.”Former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar

“I was personally involved with 50 or 60 (fracked) wells. There have been tens and thousands of wells in Colorado … and we can’t find anywhere in Colorado a single example of the process of fracing that has polluted groundwater.”Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper

The Mall op-ed continues:

As a result, today's fracking boom has come with enormous costs to our economy in the way of environmental cleanup, health impacts, community burdens, lost property values and decreased quality of life.

Actually, hydraulic fracturing is delivering enormous benefits to the United States in terms of jobs, economic growth, increased energy security, an improved trading posture in the world and more. Evidence abounds:

An IHS report, accounting for all the value chains supplied by unconventional oil and natural gas reserves (developed with fracking and horizontal drilling), supported 2.1 million jobs in 2012 and could reach 3.3 million by 2020 and nearly 3.9 million by 2025. IHS said unconventional energy would add more than $468 billion in annual contributions to U.S. GDP by 2020 and that additional household disposable income from lower energy costs would increase from $1,200 in 2012 to $2,700 in 2020 and $3,500 by 2025. Annual tax revenues generated for federal and state governments from unconventional activity would grow from $75 billion in 2012 to more than $125 billion in 2020 and $138 billion by 2025, IHS said.

A separate analysis by IHS showed that electricity and natural gas cost savings from shale energy is saving billions of dollars for the nation’s school districts and state and local governments – enough to employ more than 14,200 teachers and nearly 11,000 government workers.

Property values? An editorial in the Greeley (Colo.) Tribune notes that assessed values in Weld County jumped $2 billion since last year, largely because of dynamic growth in oil and natural gas development from shale using hydraulic fracturing. The editorial:

Based on preliminary numbers, the oil and gas industry’s share of Weld’s tax base has risen 47 percent this year. It now accounts for 63 percent of the total $9.1 billion in assessed valuation. The industry has helped assessed values jump 28 percent from last year. Since 2010, the county’s assessed valuation has almost doubled from $4.7 billion. Oil and gas’ assessed valuation was at $1.6 billion in 2010. It has since grown to $5.74 billion, based on the preliminary numbers. In fact, Weld’s assessed value ranks second in the state only to Denver County…. (T)he revenue means the county’s coffers are flush with cash.

More from the Mall op-ed:

Indeed, the oil and gas industry has been running roughshod in communities across the USA.

Actually, industry is continually improving its engagement with communities – mindful that the social license to operate is essential, granted by the people who live near where operations are occurring. An approach of listening and being responsive to communities is reflected in an API-published guideline:

Oil and gas operators acknowledge the challenges associated with industry activities, which can include challenges important to a community. Principles of integrity, transparency and consideration for community concerns underpin responsible operations. Conscientious operators are committed to helping communities achieve positive and long-lasting benefits.

On a practical level, industry has included among its hydraulic fracturing standards specific practices operators can use to be responsive to community concerns, including public awareness programs, soil remediation, waste management and more.

Back to Mall:

Fracking-related activities have been linked to everything from man-made earthquakes to drinking water contamination. …

The National Research Council:

Injection for disposal of wastewater derived from energy technologies into the subsurface does pose some risk for induced seismicity, but very few events have been documented over the past several decades relative to the large number of disposal wells in operation.

Stanford University geophysicist Mark Zoback, in congressional testimony:

“It is important to note that the extremely small microseismic events occur during hydraulic fracturing operations. These microseismic events affect a very small volume of rock and release, on average, about the same amount of energy as a gallon of milk falling off a kitchen counter.”

More facts on hydraulic fracturing and seismicity, here.

As for drinking water contamination from fracking, the Washington Examiner reported last year:

Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz told reporters … that the process of natural gas extraction called fracking was safe and should be used, provided it was properly regulated. “I still have not seen any evidence of fracking per se contaminating groundwater,” he said …

Back to Mall:

Pollution from oil and gas development has been linked to birth defects, respiratory and neurological problems, and even cancer. …

Concerning birth defects, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment reported earlier this year:

An investigation … of 22 reported anomalies in unborn children in Garfield County found no common underlying cause. Dr. Larry Wolk, department executive director and chief medical officer, said, “Our investigation looked at each reported case and concluded they are not linked to any common risk factors.” Department epidemiologists looked at more than a dozen factors including each mother’s place of conception and current address; drinking water source (municipal and well); proximity to active oil and gas wells; proximity to each other; the age, health, and family history of the mothers; the mother’s use of medications, supplements, tobacco, alcohol, caffeine and other substances; each mother’s prior pregnancies and deliveries; and ethnicity. While there were different risk factors identified for individual cases, no pattern emerged to suggest a common risk factor for the reported anomalies. (bold-face added)

Likewise, state health officials in Texas found no evidence of a cancer cluster in an area where residents were concerned about nearby natural gas drilling. The Dallas Morning News reported:

In response to residents' concerns about health effects of natural gas drilling, the health department conducted an analysis of cancer cases. Some residents were concerned after tests found cancer-causing benzene in the air around some drilling sites. … “We found nothing in the data to indicate the community is at higher risk for these types of cancers,” Eric Miller, a state health department epidemiologist, said in a written statement.

One more time, back to Mall:

And companies are dumping climate pollution into our atmosphere.

Facts: U.S. energy-related emissions of carbon dioxide are at their lowest levels since 1994, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, thanks to increased use of natural gas. And EPA’s most recent greenhouse gas inventory found that while natural gas production grew 37 percent from 1990 to 2012, methane emissions from natural gas systems fell 17 percent. Emissions from field production in recent years have fallen even more, declining more than 40 percent from 2006 to 2012, EPA said.

While the Mall op-ed relies on vague generalities, it’s rebutted by detailed reports and studies. Safe and responsible hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling have launched a U.S. energy revolution that is making our country stronger economically, Americans more individually prosperous and our nation more energy secure.

Still to come: Let’s talk about jobs.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mark Green joined API after a career in newspaper journalism, including 16 years as national editorial writer for The Oklahoman in the paper’s Washington bureau. Mark also was a reporter, copy editor and sports editor. He earned his journalism degree from the University of Oklahoma and master’s in journalism and public affairs from American University. He and his wife Pamela live in Occoquan, Va., where they enjoy their four grandchildren.