By Carl Graham
So what’s all the fuss about fracking? Its most vocal opponents charge that fracking will burn your water, pollute your air, and cause the very ground to shift beneath you. The oil and gas industry, and many of those who benefit by the thousands of jobs it creates, obviously disagree. So who’s right?
Well, not being a scientist, I have to base my opinions on information I get from trusted sources, as do most of fracking’s detractors. And based on that information, my conclusion is this: Just as the Keystone pipeline opposition isn’t about pipelines, coal terminal alarmism isn’t about coal terminals, and tar sands obstructionism isn’t about tar sands; most of the fuss about fracking has little to do with the actual process and more to do with getting rid of fossil fuels.
Let’s start with a simple, verifiable fact: In its 60-plus-year history, there has been no peer-reviewed academic (i.e., not sponsored by industry or interest groups) study demonstrating harmful impacts of fracking on water supplies. That’s zero, zip, nada. Former EPA administrator Lisa Jackson – hardly a fossil fuel advocate – told Congress that there have been “no proven cases where the fracking process itself has affected water.”
Sure, there are plenty of “studies” with lots of anecdotes purporting to prove that fracking is either the savior of mankind or, alternatively, its inevitable downfall. Most of these tend to be a tad self-serving. As the old proverb says, a lie will go ’round the world while the truth is pulling its boots on.
But what have those who are actually responsible for public safety said about fracking? Dimock, Penn., and Pavillion, Wyo., have been under the fracking microscope for years and are good indicators.
Residents in Dimock reported dirty water that was famously ignitable at times. But both state regulators and the EPA’s report on Dimock’s famously flammable tap water said claims relating those problems to fracking were unfounded, and the water posed “no immediate health concerns.” A recent report cited one EPA scientist who thought further study was needed (if only global warming alarmists would give similar credence to the thousands of skeptical scientists they regularly belittle), but the EPA has not changed its findings or recommendations so far.
It should come as no shock that methane gets into water wells in areas where there are also gas wells. That’s where the gas is. Relating the two is a common but dangerous trick that tries to confuse coincidence and causation. It’s just like my being cranky on days that end in “Y” doesn’t necessarily mean the letter “Y” makes me cranky.
In the Wyoming case, the EPA came out with a draft report claiming that fracking contaminated ground water there. But the report was subsequently disclaimed after state regulators raised significant questions about its methodology. The EPA tested wells where hydrocarbons were already present, and that were far deeper than drinking water wells. Potential contamination could have come from “legacy pits,” or even the testing process itself. And it ignored the fact that organic chemicals were present in local water supplies long before fracking was employed.
In truth, fracking solutions are typically more than 99 percent water and sand. If you’re worried about the remaining 1 percent, you can look up individual well ingredients yourself at www.fracfocus.org. As for groundwater or aquifer contamination, what little has been related to drilling has thus far been explained by faulty well casings or sloppy procedures, unacceptable but highly fixable shortcomings that have nothing to do with the fracking process itself.
So why all the fuss if study after study fails to find harm? It’s a fuss because for the zealots, this argument is about fossil fuels and not fracking. Just like the Keystone pipeline, coal terminals, tar sands, and so many other battles, this is about shutting down the fossil fuel industry; and facts are the first casualty in what is essentially a highly coordinated, well-financed public relations campaign.
It’s also counterproductive. Cleaner, cheaper natural gas is rapidly replacing coal in the nation’s energy grid, already accounting for about 25 percent of power production. It’s largely responsible for a decrease (yes, a decrease) in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions over the past 10 years. That would not be possible without fracking. If you care about global warming and affordable electricity for Utah’s working people, you should be a fracking fan.
And finally, fracking’s good for Utah. It brings in jobs, prosperity, and tax revenues. The economic benefits are measurable and immediate. And the smiling faces of mothers and fathers in eastern Utah watching their kids put on their boots and go to high-paying jobs close to home are a welcome change.