The People of America's Oil and Natural Gas Indusry

Fracking Safety and Science

Mark Green

Mark Green
Posted January 20, 2016

Last week we made the point that America’s ongoing energy revolution is the main reason the United States is the world’s leading producer of oil and natural gas – a renaissance that is reducing oil imports and benefiting consumers in the form of lower prices at the pump. The same energy surge also is a leading reason the U.S. is leading the world in reducing carbon pollution.

These points argue for sustaining and growing domestic production – instead of trying to “transition away” from it, as the president said during last week’s State of the Union address. Turning our backs on vast public oil and gas resources – instead of safely developing them – would throw away a generational opportunity to strengthen America’s energy security, lift the economy, help U.S. consumers and aid friends overseas. It’s a shortsighted approach – especially when the U.S. model of increased domestic production, economic growth and emissions reduction is already working.

Safe, responsible hydraulic fracturing is the engine of America’s energy revolution. Without fracking, there’s no game-changing surge in domestic production. We would remain in an era of limited American opportunity stemming from energy scarcity and rising dependence on imports. Instead of gaining more control over its energy future, the United States would still be relying more and more on energy developed by others.

Fracking has been used commercially for more than 65 years, and today incorporates the latest science and technology for safety and efficiency. EPA’s landmark, five-year, $31 million study – “Assessment of the Potential Impacts of Hydraulic Fracturing for Oil and Gas on Drinking Water Resources” – came to this conclusion about fracking and water supply safety:

“We did not find evidence that these mechanisms have led to widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources in the United States.”

EPA’s study was exhaustive and represents the most complete compilation of scientific data on this issue – including more than 950 sources of information, published papers, technical reports, contributions from stakeholders and peer-reviewed EPA scientific reports.

It’s a significant resource base that builds firm footing for the study’s conclusion that’s critically important because, according to the Energy Department, at least 2 million oil and natural gas wells have been hydraulically fractured in this country, including up to 95 percent of new wells that account for more than 43 percent of U.S. oil production and 67 percent of its natural gas production.

The science is sound. Still, some call for review of specific U.S. case studies. But they, too, have been thoroughly researched. These include cases in Pennsylvania, Texas and Wyoming. Each of these we’ve addressed before, but let’s review.

Dimock, Pa. – EPA announced in 2012 that based on its scientific analysis of samples taken from private water wells there was no cause for additional EPA action:

“Our goal was to provide the Dimock community with complete and reliable information about the presence of contaminants in their drinking water and to determine whether further action was warranted to protect public health,” said EPA Regional Administrator Shawn M. Garvin. “The sampling and an evaluation of the particular circumstances at each home did not indicate levels of contaminants that would give EPA reason to take further action. Throughout EPA's work in Dimock, the Agency has used the best available scientific data to provide clarity to Dimock residents and address their concerns about the safety of their drinking water.”

Parker County, Texas – The Railroad Commission of Texas investigated water well complaints in the Barnett Shale region. It’s 2014 report noted:

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…

Pavillion, Wyo. – EPA worked with the state’s Department of Environmental Quality, which released a draft final report in December based on evaluation of 13 water wells, concluding that:

Based on the evaluation of hydraulic fracturing history and methods used in the Pavillion Gas Field, it is unlikely that fracturing has caused any impacts to the water-supply wells.

EPA’s assessment underscores the safety of advanced hydraulic fracturing and modern horizontal drilling. The study is scientifically sound. Writing in December to Edward Hanlon of EPA’s Science Advisory Board staff office, API Upstream Group Director Erik Milito said the study’s conclusion is sound as well:

There exists no drinking water contamination in the Marcellus, the Utica, the Barnett, the Permian, the Eagle Ford, the Woodford, the Fayetteville, the Haynesville, the Bakken, the Denver-Julesburg, the Piceance, the Raton, or any other shale formation where oil and gas resources are being developed through hydraulic fracturing. There are no examples of systemic operational issues that result in contamination in any of these formations, let alone many examples of widespread contamination in any formation. … The industry drills and hydraulically fractures thousands of oil and natural gas each year and there is simply no evidence of widespread or systemic contamination. There are reasons no such widespread or systemic contamination exists: namely the widespread and systemic application of proven engineering technologies and industry risk management practices, coupled with a complex web of federal and state regulatory regimes.

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.