Industry Pushes Back Hard Against Anti-Fracking: ‘Use Facts Not Slogans’By My Opinion @ 10:00 AM July 02, 2012
From Dave Quast
Re “22 Reasons That Fracking Should Be Outlawed”
[Editor’s Note: At 7 o’clock this evening in Council Chambers, the City Council will consider two separate subjects, whether to ask the state to place a moratorium on fracking and whether to pursue a hometown ban on fracking.]
Letter-writers should stick to the facts on hydraulic fracturing.
Regulators and concerned citizens are currently engaged in a discussion about the role that local oil and gas development can play in California’s energy future. No one is more supportive of having an open, fact-based dialogue to ensure that reasonable decisions are made than the men and women of the California oil and gas industry.
It is critically important that any discussion that moves forward be based on rigorous, peer-reviewed science and a close examination of the history of safety that technologies such as hydraulic fracturing have demonstrated in our state for the better part of 60 years.
Unfortunately, a recent opinion piece from a local activist – who demanded a total ban on the use of hydraulic fracturing technologies – was full of distortions and baseless allegations designed to scare the public (e.g. “land-locked inferno”), rather than inform the debate. Since debate is so important for the future of our state, these claims deserve a detailed response.
First, there is nothing experimental or new about hydraulic fracturing. A process first developed in the 1940s, it has been used 1.2 million times since then, including here in California. Horizontal drilling isn’t new, either, having been widely used since the 1980s. More recently, hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling have been used together in shale formations thousands of feet underground, creating a renaissance in domestic energy production and one of the few bright spots for the struggling U.S. economy. It’s also an environmental success story. Oil imports from countries with lower environmental standards have fallen, and carbon emissions from power plants are lower because of abundant natural gas supplies.
The safety of these techniques is a matter of extensive record. Federal and state regulators have repeatedly said that there is no evidence of hydraulic fracturing fluids ever reaching groundwater sources, which usually are less than a few hundred feet deep. Indeed, reason No. 17 in the opinion piece – “this unconventional type of well activity contaminates aquifers with waste products and/or well casing leaks” – is simply wrong.
In 1995, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, under President Clinton, concluded there was “no evidence” that hydraulic fracturing “has resulted in any contamination or endangerment of underground sources of drinking water.” Carol Browner, who led the EPA during the Clinton Administration and later served as President Obama’s chief climate-change and energy adviser, said five years of testing by the agency “failed to show any chemicals that would indicate the presence of fracturing fluids.”
The current EPA Administrator, Lisa Jackson, told Congress in 2011 that she was not aware “of any proven case where the fracking process itself affected water.” Harold Fitch, the oil and gas director at the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, told U.S. lawmakers “we don’t have one instance of groundwater contamination resulting from the practice.” And an exhaustive study on shale-gas development by the University of Texas at Austin similarly concluded: “No evidence of chemicals from hydraulic fracturing fluid has been found in aquifers as a result of fracturing operations.”
The Groundwater Protection Council – a multi-state body representing the state agencies that protect and regulate the nation’s groundwater sources and whose members include California’s State Water Resources Control Board – calculated the odds of the hydraulic fracturing process contaminating groundwater, and found it was as low as 1 in 200 million. For purposes of comparison, that is 20,000 times lower than the odds of a person being struck by lightning during his lifetime, according to estimates from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Furthermore, the New York State Dept. of Environmental Conservation recently completed its own studies on the potential for hydraulic fracturing fluid to migrate into groundwater. The DEC concluded “there is no likelihood of significant adverse impacts from the underground migration of fracturing fluids.”
The findings of the GWPC and the New York DEC are consistent with the broad scientific consensus on this subject. Here is how Stanford University geophysicist Mark Zoback, an advisor on shale-gas development to U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu, describes the settled scientific view:
“There have been fears that hydraulic fracturing fluid injected at depth could reach up into drinking water aquifers. But the injection is typically done at depths of around 6,000 to 7,000 feet and drinking water is usually pumped from shallow aquifers, no more than one or two hundred feet below the surface. Fracturing fluids have not contaminated any water supply, and with that much distance to an aquifer, it is very unlikely they could.”
It is worth noting that in California’s Monterey Shale, the target formations are between 8,000 and 14,000 feet deep – 1.5 to 2.5 miles below ground.
In California, whether hydraulic fracturing is used or not, the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources mandates that oil and gas wells are designed to “seal off fluids and segregate them for the protection of all oil, gas, and fresh water zones.” Before a well can be drilled in California, oil and gas producers must submit an extensive permit application and have their plans reviewed by state engineers.
These are just a few examples of government officials and independent experts attesting to the fact that hydraulic fracturing is a safe, well-understood and well-regulated technology.
The National Academy of Sciences recently completed a study into seismicity and energy production, including hydraulic fracturing and the permanent storage of oil and gas wastewater in deep disposal wells. The study concluded hydraulic fracturing “does not pose a high risk for inducing felt seismic events.” It found only one confirmed case in the world of “induced seismicity” from the fracturing process – a 2.3 magnitude disturbance in Blackpool, England, that was barely large enough to be felt at the surface.
The U.S. Geological Survey and the U.S. Interior Dept. have complained about the way its research on this topic has been reported by the news media. USGS geophysicist Bill Ellsworth has said that he was “greatly surprised to see how words were being used in the press in ways that were inappropriate.” Deputy Interior Secretary David Hayes put it more diplomatically, saying the accuracy of news reports about the USGS research “varied greatly.” Even so, Hayes issued a 1,000-word statement to set the record straight, and remind the news media that “studies do not suggest that hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as ‘fracking,’ causes the increased rate of earthquakes.”
As the author of the opinion piece almost correctly noted, fracturing a horizontal shale well in some parts of the country can take up to two to four million gallons of water, although the volume can vary greatly, depending on local geological conditions. While that sounds like a large number, in reality, the total amount of water used by oil and gas companies in shale production is “small by comparison to some other uses of water, such as agriculture, electric power generation, and municipalities,” according to the GWPC. In addition to using a relatively small amount of water, hydraulic fracturing uses it very efficiently in terms of the amount of energy that’s produced over the decades-long lifespan of the well. According to Harvard University, shale gas production uses between 0.6 and 1.8 gallons of water for every million British thermal units of energy. For corn-based ethanol, it’s more than 1,000 gallons for each million BTU. So, in reality, there is nothing “vast” about the amount of water used to release the energy that’s trapped in deep shale formations. The news is even better for California, though. That’s because the composition of the state’s shale formations requires only a fraction of the water – less than 10 percent – that would be used in other states such as Pennsylvania and Texas, according to the California Independent Petroleum Association.
Water makes up about 95 percent of hydraulic fracturing fluid. The next largest ingredient is sand, at about 4.5 percent. The sand is carried into the fractures in the shale rock and keeps them open after the water recedes. With the fractures propped open, the gas and oil can flow out of the shale rock and into the well. The remaining 0.5% of the fluid consists of additives that make sure the well and its casing perform properly to keep gas, oil and the fracturing fluid itself completely isolated from any shallow ground water sources. For instance, those additives prevent corrosion and eliminate bacterial growth inside the well. Despite the best efforts of activist groups to scare the public about the composition of fracturing fluids, it’s important to remember that the tiny percentage of additives are substances commonly found in everyday household and industrial products.
It is, in any case, critical to remember that regardless of their ingredients, there has never been a case of fracturing fluids migrating from thousands of feet below the ground into shallow groundwater supplies.
Energy production from deep shale formations already supports more than one million jobs across the United States and has dramatically cut back on the nation’s oil imports. In California, we can create thousands of new jobs, produce more homegrown energy and cut back on imported oil by responsibly developing the state’s Monterey Shale. Because so much is at stake for our state, this debate must proceed based on facts rather than sloganeering and fear-inducing inflammatory language that has, unfortunately, been used by some participants in this critical discussion.
We would urge all of those rightly concerned with the safety of their air, water and communities to read and to scrutinize the extensive scientific (rather than HBO or internet-based) literature available on hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling – literature that is growing every day, especially here in California – and to draw their conclusions based on a sober assessment of the scientific consensus. The future of our state is worth the time and effort it takes to find the facts.
Dave Quast is California Director, Energy in Depth (energyindepth.org), a research, education and public outreach campaign of the Independent Petroleum Assn. of America, an organization that represents the companies that develop 95 percent of the nation’s oil and gas wells. EID was established in 2009 to support a fact-based debate about the promise and potential of responsible developing America’s onshore energy resources, especially oil and natural gas from shale and other “tight” reservoirs.