Sarah Jones wrote last summer about the fracking controversy, the “Halliburton–developed technology of hydraulic fracturing, which is a process of injecting a huge volume of water — they use between 2 and 7 million gallons of water per frack to fracture the rock formation.” The idea is to get at natural gas reserves nobody had been able to get to before.
Without doubt, it is a controversial issue. Environmentalists are up in arms but they don’t want federal regulations, but prefer state regulations to cover the process; the fossil fuel industry, which does the fracking, says “no worries; we got this.” Of course, we’ve seen how they “get things” in the past, with the Exxon Valdez and Deepwater Horizon, among others. “We got this” in these situations is usually followed by “Ooops!” with disastrous, dangerous, and very expensive consequences. The economy suffers, taxpayers suffer, and wildlife suffers. It’s never a pretty picture:
This is all a very big deal because on May 9, a peer-reviewed scientific study done by Duke University linked fracking to drinking water contamination. The study concludes:
Based on our groundwater results and the litigious nature of shale-gas extraction, we believe that long-term, coordinated sampling and monitoring of industry and private homeowners is needed. Compared to other forms of fossil-fuel extraction hydraulic fracturing is relatively poorly regulated at the federal level. Fracturing wastes are not regulated as a hazardous waste under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, fracturing wells are not covered under the Safe Drinking Water Act, and only recently has the Environmental Protection Agency asked fracturing firms to voluntarily report a list of the constituents in the fracturing fluids based on the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act.
They find that “More research is needed on the mechanism of methane contamination, the potential health consequences of methane, and establishment of baseline methane data in other locations” and that “these data should be made available for public analysis, recognizing the privacy concerns that accompany this issue.” They admit that regulation might be required.
And it’s an even bigger deal because as Food&WaterWatch.org reports,
A bill being pushed by Texas oil tycoon and billionaire T. Boone Pickens has been introduced in the House of Representatives. It would funnel $5 billion in subsidies to the natural gas industry while making the United States dependent on dirty shale gas drilling for generations to come. The New Alternative Transportation to Give Americans Solutions Act — or NAT GAS Act — might sound good from the title, but it’s really a big giveaway to the big oil and gas companies.
As we have previously reported here, the oil industry receives billions of dollars each year in subsidies from us, the tax payers. Now an oil tycoon has figured out a way to get more billions from us, the taxpayers. It’s not like the oil companies aren’t making profits. They’re doing very well for themselves with tax breaks and foreign tax shelters and what they’re charging us, the taxpayers. People have a right – almost an obligation at this point – to be suspicious.
As T. Boone Pickens told Jon Stewart early this year, he thinks fracking is safe:
Of course he does: he’s found out how to get richer, after all. I bet he doesn’t drink the local water though.
You will have already been introduced to a film by Josh Fox, called Gasland (2010); you may have read Sarah Jones’ piece about this Haliburton-developed technology here last June, when the film came out.
Bloomberg Businessweek calls the fracking craze “The Great Shale Gas Rush” and like Josh Fox points out that it “poses environmental risks.” And we all know what happens when health concerns conflict with corporate profits.
What’s the problem? Who to believe? If you’re an environmentalist your natural instinct is to cry foul at anything the fossil fuel industry says (and with good reason – they lie often). As Mike Soraghan of Greenwire writes in the New York Times with regards to fracking, “Confused? Many people are, even some in the thick of the debate.” Why is that? “The problem,” he writes, “is that “fracking” means different things to different people.” Despite the words of the Duke study quoted above, Soraghan says that they gave fracking a “clean bill of health” because it hasn’t been proven that water pollution takes place below ground.
But Reuters reported in April of this year that there was “a blowout at a Chesapeake Energy natural gas well spewed thousands of gallons of fracking fluid in northeastern Pennsylvania.” Sounds dangerous to me. I don’t want to be drinking any water in that vicinity, do you?
Soraghan writes that, “to many outsiders, particularly industry critics, fracking and drilling are the same thing.”
Advances in fracturing technology made possible the current shale gas drilling boom, so they have taken to lumping all shale gas production under the banner “fracking,” deeming it a new form of natural gas drilling.
Naturally, the fossil fuel industry says “hogwash.”
“We have no evidence that hydraulic fracturing is causing problems,” says Lee Fuller, vice president of government relations for the Independent Petroleum Association of America. Without evidence of problems, he says there’s no reason to pile on more regulation.
“I think people need to have more faith in the regulatory agencies that are watching it very closely and their ability to respond to issues if they arise,” says Fuller.
It is imperative that we at least make an effort to come to grips with the facts, and that’s not easy. Josh Fox is a vocal critic, but he is not the only one. And this is an issue that concerns people throughout the country. See the map from one of these other critics, Food&WaterWatch.org here
Earthworks says it is a myth that “state regulations addressing casing and other aspects of drilling process such as spills and leaks adequately regulate fracturing products and practices.” The facts are, they say,
Most states’ policies regarding hydraulic fracturing amount to “don’t ask and don’t tell.” At the state level, most oil and gas agencies do not require companies to report the volumes or names of chemicals being injected during hydraulic fracturing, and they have never conducted any sampling to determine the underground or surface fate of hydraulic fracturing chemicals. Without that information, neither states nor the public can begin to eliminate the use of toxic materials, nor adequately evaluate or develop monitoring programs to assess the risks posed by injecting these fluids underground.
The fossil fuel industry has naturally been critical of Fox’s film, Gasland. In response, Fox says, “When they confine their definition to the single moment of the underground fracturing — a part of the process that has never been investigated — they can legally deny the obvious.” It is, he goes on to say, “Very tricky wording, which belies the real truth. Quite deliberately.”
In May, Reuters reported that White House economic adviser Gene Sperling called for “common sense” on the part of the natural gas industry to “ease public worries” about the connection between fracking and water pollution. Meanwhile, The Hill reports, don’t expect federal fracking regulations until after the 2012 elections, wanted or not. Until then we depend upon our states to defend us.
Earthworks provides a list of “myths” and “facts” about fracking here
Top Image from Rainharvest.co.za.
Fracking Diagram from TreeHugger.com