Opinion is a flitting thing,
But Truth, outlasts the Sun —
If then we cannot own them both —
Possess the oldest one.
What do President Barack Obama, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn, and California Governor Jerry Brown, and former North Carolina Governor Bev Perdue all have in common?
They’re all liberal Democrats. But what might surprise you to learn is that they’re all enthusiastic advocates of fracking.
This past June, our own governor, Pat McCrory, signed historic legislation that will turn the key on energy production here in North Carolina by ending a decades-old ban on fracking.
“North Carolina has been sitting on the sidelines for too long,” said Governor McCrory when he signed the legislation into law. “We have watched and waited as other states moved forward with energy exploration, and it is finally our turn. This legislation will spur economic development at all levels of our economy, not just the energy sector. And the expansion of our energy sector will not come at a cost to our precious environment. This legislation has the safeguards to protect the high quality of life we cherish.”
North Carolinians agree. A 2013 Harris Interactive poll showed that 79 percent of North Carolina voters favor increased production of domestic sources of oil and natural gas, including a majority who support fracking.1 And a July 2014 Harris Poll found that 77 percent support increased production of America’s oil and natural gas resources, including 92 percent of Republicans, 80 percent of Independents and 66 percent of Democrats.2
And advancing energy exploration figures to be an important voting issue come November, a new Harris Poll indicates. 70 percent (or more) of likely voters in several key states said that they were more likely to favor candidates who support increasing oil and natural gas production and energy infrastructure.
But perhaps no other single issue is more misunderstood (especially where the practice is unfamiliar to people) than is fracking. It’s no wonder. A seemingly relentless, one-sided and highly effective propaganda campaign designed to stop fracking (that’s being waged by a legion of activist groups and Hollywood stars) has been going now for the last five years. People are understandably concerned about what they’re hearing, and in some cases seeing, on TV and in the movies.
Activists and community organizers have blamed fracking for everything from cancer to traffic accidents to drug use to an increase in violence against women — and yes, even syphilis. Just the word “fracking” sounds a little scary. But as you’ll see, their arguments are based on emotion — not on science. And there’s far more to the story than the likes of songstress Yoko Ono, actor Matt Damon, the Raging Grannies or even 30-second political ads would have you believe.
Let’s drill below the surface and look at the facts. This is not a short article — but we hope you’ll take the time to read it in its entirety and decide for yourself that, at the very least, there’s another side to the fracking story.
What Is Fracking?
Fracking (shorthand for hydraulic fracturing) is a high-tech way of extracting natural gas from shale deposits buried very deep within the earth — usually at depths of between 5,000 and 8,000 feet below the surface (that’s the equivalent distance of more than five Empire State Buildings). It involves seven basic steps: 1) vertical drilling, 2) horizontal drilling, 3) cracking apart (fracturing) the shale rock, 4) high-pressure injection of fluid (mostly sand and water) to open fissures in the rock (that’s the hydraulic part), 5) removal of the fluid, 6) release of natural gas to the surface, and 7) the containment of the natural gas and the disposal or recycling of the fracking fluid.
Fracking was first pioneered back in 1947, and over the years, the process has been used successfully in nearly two million wells here in the United States and nearly 3 million more wells worldwide. In 2010, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, there were nearly a half a million natural gas wells in 33 states, and according to the U.S. Department of Energy, about 13,000 new wells are drilled each year. Fracking has unlocked vast reserves of energy, and shale gas now accounts for about 40 percent of total U.S. natural gas production.3 This cutting-edge technology (including subterraneous 3-D imaging) makes it possible to extract natural gas which was previously unreachable using conventional methods.
Today, 46 percent of all natural gas in the U.S. comes from unconventional sources like shale rock and 90 percent of all natural gas wells drilled in America (about 35,000 a year) require fracking.4
How Is It Done?
The fracking process begins with an impermeable steel-encased well that is drilled straight down to a depth of 1 to 2 miles or more, with the average depth of a deep shale gas well being about 7,500 feet — that’s 1.5 times deeper than the deepest part of the Grand Canyon and more than 25 football fields laid out goal post to goal post.5 The typical private water well goes down only about 300 – 500 feet. (Article continues after the graphic.)
On its approach to the deep layer of rock where natural gas is trapped, the well curves about 90 degrees and travels horizontally along the layer of rock, often extending a mile or more out at right angles from the vertical well bore. The technique allows for multiple wells from a single pad and the extended reach of these horizontal wells creates maximum contact with the gas-bearing shale, creating greater economies of scale. A single fracking operation has a footprint about the size of a football field or two.
By the way, if you’re wondering why we included that ridiculously large fracking diagram, it was to make a point. Our diagram above is to scale; nearly all the diagrams passed out by activists and used by the media are not. Their diagrams show fracking directly underneath the water table and producing dramatic explosions under people’s homes. At best, these false representations are misleading. At worst, they are deceptive and rendered in a way that’s designed to frighten people. Here’s one example from an anti-fracking activist group and here’s another (apparently designed for children) that was circulated by an activist group in Asheville, where protesting things is a civic pastime. Propaganda at its simplest and most effective.
Anyway, after the fracking well is fully drilled and the vertical hole is encased in multiple layers of impenetrable pressure-tested steel and cement casings, millions of gallons of water and sand (mixed with a small amount (0.5%) of chemical additives, mostly comprised of friction reducers — what amounts to dish detergent) are injected under very high pressure into the deep shale formations to create small cracks, or fractures, in the rock (usually less than 1/16” wide, but extending several hundred feet away from the well) allowing the natural gas to rise to the surface.
Once the trapped natural gas is freed, the water is pumped back up to the surface and then the well is flushed. The water that’s returned to the surface is a mixture of what was initially injected and “pore water” which has been trapped in the rocks for millions of years. The pore water is usually a brine with significant amounts of dissolved solids.6
The fracking fluid (again, 99.5% water and sand) is then removed and treated at tightly-regulated facilities and reused or disposed of properly. The trace amount of any chemicals that might remain behind are heavily diluted by water and sand, and more than a mile of solid rock separates the fluid from groundwater and the drinking supply. The newly created fissures are held open by the sand granules, allowing the natural gas to flow into the pipe and be collected at the surface.
The drilling process takes about two to three months and the fracturing process itself lasts just a few days. Once these things are done, the well is considered complete and the site is ready to produce natural gas. When the rigging comes down and the high pressure pumps and other heavy equipment are removed, the footprint is reduced so all that remains on the property is the wellhead (basically a heavy-duty valve — see photo), a few storage tanks, and a metering system to monitor production. The same small site can go on to produce natural gas for 20 to 40 years.
“The surface impact of hydrofracking is phenomenally lower than anything you can do,” said Dr. Joseph Martin, a highly-respected environmental studies professor at Philadelphia’s Drexel University. “As far as the impact of the surface on the ground, you can’t beat it. There’s nothing like it.”
An average well can now access more than 60 times more below-ground area than was possible previously. Today, six to eight horizontal wells drilled from a single pad can access the same amount of natural gas as 16 vertical wells drilled from separate locations. Half as many wells are needed to produce the same amount of energy as 20 years ago.7 And the technology, of course, is always improving.
Support and Controversy
President Obama has always been and continues to be an enthusiastic champion of fracking. Recognizing the tremendous economic and strategic advantages of hydraulic fracturing, he has dramatically sped up new oil and gas permits in the last few years and has called for increased U.S. natural gas exports to Europe. “We have a supply of natural gas that can last America nearly 100 years,” said the president in his 2012 State of the Union address. “And my administration will take every possible action to safely develop this energy.”
Forcefully rejecting the fear tactics and sensationalism often employed by anti-development activists, the president has said that fracking “helped drive our carbon pollution to its lowest levels in nearly 20 years … these critics seem to think that when we ask our businesses to innovate and reduce pollution and lead, they can’t or they won’t do it … don’t tell folks that we have to choose between the health of our children or the health of our economy. The bottom line is natural gas is creating jobs. It’s lowering many families’ heat and power bills.”
“As a Democrat, I understand the worries of those who question natural gas development. I have shared some of their concerns. But I would ask that folks do as I did: Step back and look at the facts. See the bigger picture. We must push for natural gas development with appropriate oversight and regulation. But most importantly, we must push forward. The benefits, the environment, our citizens and our energy security are just too great to ignore.”
—Governor Ed Rendell (New York Daily News, March 27, 2013)
In fact, the overwhelming benefits of shale gas production are “shaping a new kind of Democrat in national politics … even at the risk of alienating environmental groups, a core of the party’s base,” reports The Wall Street Journal. “The trend comes as oil-and-gas production moves beyond America’s traditionally energy-rich states, a development that also is increasing U.S. geopolitical influence abroad.”
But some anti-fracking activist groups reject the use of all fossil fuels (oil, coal and natural gas) entirely, advocating instead for big-government mandates and taxpayer subsidies to force an immediate, wholesale switch to wind and solar. Here in North Carolina, coal-fired power plants are a favorite target of professional activist groups like GreenPeace, The Sierra Club, Yogis Beyond Coal, and a host of others too numerous to mention. And, it seems, hardly a day goes by that some activist isn’t chaining himself to a fence and getting arrested in Charlotte, Cliffside, Wilmington, Greenville, and (of course) Asheville in attempt to shut these power plants down.
But according to the Institute for Energy Research, solar energy currently provides just two-tenths of one percent (0.2%) of the total energy consumed in the United States and wind power provides just 1.4 percent. By contrast, Natural Gas currently provides 27.3%, Petroleum 36.5%, Coal 18.3%, Nuclear 8.5%, Hydroelectric 2.8%, Biomass Fuels 4.6%, and Geothermal 0.4%.
Given the numbers, expecting to replace our nation’s use of fossil fuels right away with solar and wind energy is simply not realistic or affordable.
These short-sighted activists also don’t seem to realize the devastating effects to a local economy that can occur when they succeed in shutting down a coal-fired power plant without a practical way to replace the needed energy, which must come from somewhere. Hundreds (and indirectly thousands) of jobs would be lost, other businesses would be affected, families would be displaced, and consumer energy costs would skyrocket — costs that are directly borne by families, with the poor being hardest-hit.
We’re all looking forward to the day when we can rely on clean, renewable forms of energy. But we’re not there yet — and realistically, we won’t be anytime soon. Natural gas can be the “bridge fuel” to that greener future — and it can buy us the time we need to get there. President Obama’s Secretary of Energy, Ernest Moniz, had this to say: “The way I look at it is that this natural gas boom is a boon … gas as kind of a bridge to a very low carbon future … it affords us a little bit more time to develop the technologies, to lower the costs of the alternative technologies, to get the market penetration of these new technologies.”
According to the Energy Department, the U.S. has 25 trillion cubic meters of recoverable shale gas.8 This untapped natural gas, combined with the United States’ other energy resources (as President Obama has pointed out) could provide more than 100 years’ worth of domestic energy. To put that in perspective, because of fracking technology, America now has more accessible natural gas than Saudi Arabia has oil.
Younger people also understand that the technology is not there yet on wind and solar. “Both wind and solar provide intermittent energy and cannot replace the steady, reliable energy that we get from coal and natural gas,” said author Katie Kieffer. “Tech-dependent Millennials are not very interested in living through a blackout.”
Currently, green energy (wind and solar) is largely subsidized by taxpayers and is therefore a drain on tax revenues, whereas fracking stands on its own and brings in substantial state and federal tax revenues — while also significantly lowering the price for consumers. Alex Epstein, an expert in energy and industrial policy with the Center for Industrial Progress, puts it bluntly: “The real reason why activists demand clean energy policy is simple: the ‘clean energy’ sources they favor — especially solar and wind — are at present too expensive and unreliable to replace carbon-based fuels on a large scale. The only way activists can hope to have them adopted is to shove them down our throats.”
“The bottom line is natural gas is … the transition fuel that can power our economy with less carbon pollution, even as our businesses work to develop and then deploy more of the even cleaner technology for the energy economy of the future,” said President Obama.
But these activist groups strongly object to President Obama’s position on fracking: “When it comes to natural gas, the president is taking the wrong path,” said the Sierra Club’s Deb Nardon. Robert Howarth, an activist and university professor, said that he was “extremely disappointed in the president’s position.”
When GreenPeace and the Sierra Club’s anti-fracking stance is too radical for President Obama (and so many other leading Democrats), it should make you wonder: might there be more to all this than meets the eye? What is the mainstream position on fracking?
That was then, this is now
Believe it or not, activists didn’t always oppose fracking. Ronald Bailey, in a May 2011 article, points out that environmental activists initially welcomed fracking and and the benefits that natural gas brings. In an August 2009 paper, prominent liberals Timothy Wirth and John Podesta, writing for the Center For American Progress, praised natural gas as “the cleanest fossil fuel — it produces less than half as much carbon pollution as coal. Recent technology advancements make affordable the development of unconventional natural gas resources” and called for the increase in its production using fracking. “This creates an unprecedented opportunity to use gas as a bridge fuel to a 21st-century energy economy that relies on efficiency, renewable sources, and low-carbon fossil fuels such as natural gas,” Wirth and Podesta continued. The same year, Bailey points out, “environmentalist Robert Kennedy, Jr., head of the Waterkeeper Alliance, declared in the Financial Times, ‘In the short term, natural gas is an obvious bridge fuel to the ‘new’ energy economy.’”
Some liberal bastions, such as Asheville, have even turned to natural gas to help fuel their green agendas in the form of compressed natural gas (CNG) powered vehicles. CNG is made by compressing natural gas to less than one percent of the volume it occupies at standard atmospheric pressure.9
“Alternative fuels can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and decrease the amount of foreign oil we need to import,” says a policy paper by that city’s government. “For example, CNG vehicles emit on average 23% less greenhouse gas emissions than gasoline powered vehicles, and can be sourced from regional suppliers. Compressed natural gas also costs an average of $1 less per gallon, which saves on fuel costs.”
So what accounts for the flip-flop by these vocal anti-fracking activists?
A July 2014 editorial in the Las Vegas Review explains: “Less than a decade ago, the environmental left was all for natural gas — when it was more difficult to obtain and the price to do so was high. They just wanted to get rid of coal. But once technology made fracking far more practical, the environmental lobby soured on natural gas. Matt Ridley, in a 2011 essay for the London-based Global Warming Policy Foundation called “The Shale Gas Shock” wrote: ‘As it became apparent that shale gas was a competitive threat to renewable energy as well as to coal, the green movement has turned against shale.’”
That last statement explains it all. Fracking has frustrated activists because natural gas offers a clean alternative to coal, thereby removing the pressure to accede to extremist demands that society make an immediate switch to wind and solar — so they desperately try to find any way they can to demonize fracking. In the end, it seems, it’s all about politics.
Enter Gasland. The 2010 film, by 37-year-old theater director Josh Fox, has done more to scare people than The Blair Witch Project could have ever hoped to — and the resulting movie is about as real.
All the fear that the perception of fracking has caused can be traced directly back to this “documentary” film. It’s not the first time that propaganda films have been used to negatively shape public opinion, of course; given the leanings of Hollywood, it won’t be the last.
The film (and its sequel, Gasland II) have now been thoroughly discredited — including by such diverse sources as The American Interest Magazine, TownHall, the über-liberal blog Daily Kos (read part 1, part 2, and part 3), the New York Times, and Colorado’s Department of Natural Resources (the official state oil and gas regulatory agency, at the time presided over by Democratic Governor Bill Ritter) to name but just a few. When an environmentalist with the credentials of Alex Sagady calls you a “science denier” in the Daily Kos, it may not be your faucet that’s on fire.
“Environmentalists who oppose the development of shale gas and fracking are making a tragic mistake,” said University of California-Berkeley physics professor Dr. Richard Muller in his 2013 report Why Every Serious Environmentalist Should Favour Fracking. In addition to firmly establishing the environmental benefits of natural gas, the report also addresses a number of anti-fracking activists’ objections to responsible shale development, concluding that they are just not credible: “These concerns are either largely false or can be addressed by appropriate regulation.”10
[Editor’s Note: If you’re interested in a very entertaining, well-documented, and sometimes hilarious rebuttal to Gasland, we suggest watching FrackNation, a 2013 documentary by journalists Phelim McAleer and Ann McElhinney. It’s available for streaming and DVD rental on Netflix. Another short film (30 minutes or so) well worth checking out which completely debunks the sly Mr. Fox is TruthLand by Shelly DePue, a teacher from rural northeast Pennsylvania. Click here to watch the full HD version of TruthLand.]
Follow the Money
While we’re talking cinema, Matt Damon’s 2012 anti-fracking film Promised Land rates a mention here. It doesn’t pretend to be a documentary, but it does go to great lengths to paint fracking companies as a bunch of villainous thugs. So we have to ask: who is paying for all this?
According to a new report by the Capital Research center entitled The Environmental Movement vs. the Marcellus Shale, the anti-fracking movement uses its ideological allies in Hollywood and a vast network of well-funded, full-time activists to push its “progressive” agenda. And in the case of Mr. Damon’s film, CNN discovered that the movie’s chief financier was a public relations company wholly owned by the government of the United Arab Emirates; the UAE is an OPEC member and the world’s third-largest oil exporter. The name of the company is Abu Dhabi Media and the budget for Promised Land was $15 million. (For what it’s worth, according to the Venezuelan Ministry of People’s Power for Foreign Affairs, a representative of Hugo Chavez’s government was a “production assistant” on Mr. Fox’s Gasland film. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, Venezuela — a founding member of OPEC — consistently ranks as one of the top suppliers of crude oil to the United States.)
The eye-opening report goes on to shed light on the web of nonprofits that spend hundreds of millions of dollars every election year and which escape scrutiny by not identifying themselves as lobbyists. “…environmental organizations can sidestep legal requirements to report political spending — and thereby conceal their true role in the controversy over fracking,” the report goes on to say.
It’s a separate discussion and well worth the read if you’re interested. Here in North Carolina, one shady nonprofit has already spent nearly $2,000,000 just this year alone targeting the outcome of just a handful of state-level political races with over-the-top TV ads and a heavy direct-mail campaign. For context, that’s more than the entire campaign budgets of a majority of the candidates for the General Assembly combined.
Although tax-exempt organizations are prohibited by state and federal laws from engaging in political activity, efforts such as these are afforded the guise and cover of “voter education” because of their nonprofit status. And although the ads were roundly drubbed by the fact checkers at WRAL (the CBS affiliate in Raleigh), their online article just doesn’t begin to have the penetrating effect that television does.
It’s tough to compete against all of that in the court of public opinion. Admittedly, the industry hasn’t done a very good job promoting the benefits of fracking — and all we have is this little website.
Natural gas exploration is critical to the national security of the United States. Natural gas helps contribute to a more energy-independent America; almost all of the natural gas we use today in the U.S. comes from right here in the United States, meaning that the supply of natural gas is not dependent on unstable foreign countries and is therefore far less subject to geopolitical turmoil and market interruptions.11
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the United States consumes 20 million barrels of oil every day, and the U.S. economy has become “dangerously dependent” on foreign oil: 57% of all oil consumed in the U.S. is imported and 70% of all oil consumed in the U.S. is used for transportation.12
Dependence on foreign oil is one of the most serious threats to our national security: making America energy independent will not only keep energy costs low, but it will help limit American military actions in the Middle East and other world hot spots.13 And with the recent escalation of bloodshed and international tensions in so many parts of the world, our long-sought goal of energy independence takes on even more significance and urgency.
“No single issue is as fundamental to our future as energy” said President Obama. “America’s dependence on oil is one of the most serious threats that our nation has faced. It bankrolls dictators, pays for nuclear proliferation, and funds both sides of our struggle against terrorism. It puts the American people at the mercy of shifting gas prices, stifles innovation and sets back our ability to compete.”
There is no question that other nations have in interest in the politics of fracking. The Guardian reports that Anders Rasmussen, Secretary-General of the North American Treaty Organization (NATO), said in June that Russia is engaged in promoting the anti-fracking agenda to protect its interests: “I have met with allies who can report that Russia, as part of their sophisticated information and disinformation operations, engaged actively with so-called non-government organizations — environmental organizations working against shale gas.”
“As far as infiltrating various green groups,” said Robert Adelman of New American Magazine, “Russia’s disinformation campaigns (motivated not only by a fervent desire to have a larger say in world affairs, but also by the fear of becoming irrelevant in the future) will continue to play a role in not only the debate over fracking, but other areas as well.”
Middle East oil interests see fracking as a direct threat to the endless money that’s been generated because of our reliance on foreign oil. A December 2012 story from the American Interest Magazine laid out the threat to Middle East oil that fracking has become: “The U.S. shale gas boom, drastically cutting the cost of gas, is shaking the foundations of the Saudi Arabian economic model — and more is coming. The highly profitable $100 billion Gulf petrochemical industry is taking a hit as its biggest customer — the United States — is importing less and relying instead on domestic production.”
The economic benefits to individual states from this advanced form of energy exploration have been staggering: in some parts of the country (most notably in states like North Dakota, Texas, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Louisiana) it has led to massive expansions of economic activity. The economic impacts of fracking are indisputable: while natural gas prices in the European Union have doubled since 2000, natural gas prices here in the United States have fallen by about 75 percent in just the past few years. “Without it,” says The Washington Post, “companies would be lining up to import natural gas, not export it as many now want to do.”
Annually, subsidies for solar and wind production cost taxpayers around $60 billion (not to mention the billions lost on failed alternative energy investment boondoggles like Solyndra), whereas American taxpayers are saving at least $100 billion from accessing cheaper natural gas through fracking.
The Economist predicts that by 2020 the fracking revolution will have added 2 to 4 percent to American gross domestic product ($380 – $690 billion) and created more than twice as many jobs as car makers provide today.14 GDP in the United States is about $16 trillion, and car makers employ about 800,000 people. “The windfall to all U.S. natural gas consumers — industrial and residential — was closer to $110 billion,” reported The Wall Street Journal. “This is greater than the annual income of all of the residents in 14 states in 2011.”
“Extracting natural resources can produce significant economic benefits for state and local economies. From manufacturing to the wellhead, the industry contributes to job creation, capital expenditures, gross domestic product (GDP) and tax revenues, and it creates savings through lower natural gas and electric power prices … The study indicates that shale gas production contributed $18.6 billion in federal, state and local government taxes and federal royalty revenues in 2010. It also projects that savings from lower natural gas prices will equate to an annual average of $926 per year in disposable household income between 2012 and 2015. It is clear that the shale gas industry has tremendous economic potential for federal, state and local economies.”
—National Conference of State Legislatures, June 2012
In its 2012 report “The Arithmetic of Shale Gas,” the Energy Study Group of Yale University’s Climate & Energy Institute concluded that the benefits of continued shale gas development are enormous and dramatically outweigh even worst-case scenarios for the cost of any possible pollution.15
A May 2014 report by the Common Sense Policy Roundtable (CSPR) praised the job-multiplier effects of fracking, saying “a small handful of industries are true pro-active job-creators. Many other sectors of the economy, such as real estate and retail, then create jobs in response to the resulting enhanced population and expanded disposable income. There is simply no other industry with such a prolific and wide-spread positive effect on the economy of Colorado and the country. Additionally, expanded discoveries keep energy costs down, benefiting all of us. Further, most products that we use on a daily basis have a petroleum base in their composition. One would be hard-pressed to find any more important industry in the country.”
“Fracking generated $29.5 billion in economic activity in Colorado in 2012, creating 111,000 direct jobs with an average wage of $74,811” —Time Magazine, July 13, 2014
Thanks to increases in natural gas production because of fracking, the U.S. became the world’s largest natural gas producer in 2010 and is now one of the top energy producers in the world.16 “The shale boom is playing a key role in the U.S. recovery,” said Francisco Blanch, head of global commodities research at Bank of America Merrill Lynch. “If the U.S. didn’t have this energy supply, prices at the pump would be completely unaffordable.”
Experts have attempted to quantify the economic benefits for North Carolina as well; a Duke University report has concluded that fracking boosts state and local revenues through the increase in fees and taxes. And according to an April 2013 study entitled “The Economic Potential from Developing North Carolina’s On-shore and Off-Shore Energy Resources” by NC State’s Dr. Michael Walden, there will be many benefits of fracking to North Carolina, including:
- Close to 500 jobs created from infrastructure development (over a seven-year build-up of facilities);
- $80 million in new annual income created in North Carolina (over a seven-year build-up of facilities);
- Close to 1,500 jobs created from production activities (over a 20-year production period); and
- Over $150 million in new annual income in North Carolina (over a 20-year recovery period).17
“It’s jobs. It’s a fuel source produced in this country, and it’s something that can help America and North Carolina be globally competitive,” asserted former Governor Perdue on a trip to Pennsylvania to visit fracking sites back in 2012.
Fracking helps the poor
One of the biggest benefits from fracking is often overlooked: fracking has reduced energy costs for low-income families. How? Through lower utility bills from the fall in natural gas prices due to the increased supply from fracking. A recent analysis by Mercator (using data from the Department of Energy) found that the savings for low-income Americans last year from cheaper energy was approximately $10 billion — or about three times the entire value of the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP).
The Wall Street Journal points out that “Mercator’s most notable finding is that the income group helped the most by this bonanza is the poor because energy is a big component of their family budgets … poor households spend four times more of their income on home energy (10.4%) than do non-poor households (2.6%) … To put it another way, fracking is a much more effective antipoverty program than is LIHEAP. In 2012, LIHEAP provided roughly $3.5 billion to about nine million low-income households to subsidize their home-heating costs. New drilling technologies saved poor households almost three times more. Low gas prices benefit nearly all poor households, while LIHEAP helps fewer than one in four.”
Every form of energy production carries with it challenges and risks — even solar. Unlike wind farms and coal-fired power plants, hydraulic fracturing poses no danger to fish, birds, and other wildlife in the area, nor to their habitats. Mr. Epstein adds that “while environmentalists are happy to wax enthusiastic about solar and wind in the abstract” they often sing a different tune when the project sits in their own back yard.
“Environmentalist Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is the biggest opponent of Cape Wind, a windmill project off the Nantucket coast,” he continued. “And note that environmentalists were the first to object to a giant solar project in the middle of the Mojave Desert in California.”
Fracking is, in reality, largely environmentally benign and even offers a number of significant advantages over other forms of energy production. “Anti-fracking forces respond to such good news by finding new ways to scare the public,” said The Los Angeles Times. “That’s why you hear more and more allegations about air quality, water use and earthquakes.”
Natural Gas Reduces Pollution
Fracking reduces pollution and has already accelerated the decarbonization of the world economy. Natural gas is not only far cheaper than the energy that’s derived from wind, solar, and biofuels, but according to the Environmental Protection Agency, natural gas has also proven far more effective at reducing greenhouse gases.
A few months ago, the Council of Europe, an international organization of 47 member nations that’s looking to follow America’s lead on reducing its carbon footprint, learned that fracking “has succeeded where Kyoto (The Kyoto Protocol) and carbon taxes have failed. Due to the shale boom in the US, the use of clean burning natural gas has replaced much more polluting coal by ten percent. In 2012, the shift to gas has managed to reduce CO₂ emissions by about 300 megatonnes (Mt). Compare this to the fact that all the wind turbines and solar panels in the world reduce CO₂ emissions, at a maximum, by 275 Mt. In other words, the U.S. shale gas revolution has by itself reduced global emissions more than all the well-intentioned solar and wind in the world.”
“The United States already is reducing its energy-related emissions of carbon dioxide. Last year EIA reported U.S. energy-related emissions in 2012 were at their lowest level since 1994. A major reason is increased use of natural gas, made abundant by surging shale development with advanced hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling.” —Energy Tomorrow, July 22, 2014
Natural gas is the cleanest of all the fossil fuels — producing about 50 percent less CO₂ than coal, according to a new study by scientists at the Joint Institute for Strategic Energy Analysis and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. In fact, combustion byproducts of natural gas are mostly CO₂ and water vapor, the same compounds people exhale when breathing. And thanks to fracking, this year the United States experienced the lowest level of carbon dioxide in twenty years.
The exploration, production and consumption of natural gas not only helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but also reduces deadly pollution known as PM2.5 (basically soot) that is currently killing over three million people each year, primarily in the developing world.18
Frequently Asked Questions
Is Fracking Safe?
The volume of scientific opinion backing up the safety of fracking — which somehow goes unreported in the press — is quite staggering: a December 2013 letter signed by twenty-one scientists from some of the leading universities in the country (including Cornell, Penn State, The University of California at Berkeley, Syracuse, Texas Tech and Texas A&M) praised the use of fracking: “In our research, we have found nothing to suggest that shale development poses risks that are unknown or cannot be managed and mitigated with available technologies, best practices and smart regulation,” reads the letter.19
The letter goes on to quote Gina McCarthy, current administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), who said that “there’s nothing inherently dangerous in fracking that sound engineering practices can’t accomplish” and President Obama’s own Secretary of Energy, Dr. Ernest Moniz (who also holds a Ph.D. from Stanford University), who said that “the issues in terms of the environmental footprint of hydraulic fracturing are manageable” and Steven Chu (President Obama’s former Secretary of Energy and Nobel Prize-winning physicist with a Ph.D. from Cal-Berkeley) who believes that shale development “is something you can do in a safe way.”
And in a report issued last year by the U.S. Department of the Interior, the federal government has acknowledged that fracking is environmentally safe.
This sentiment was repeated in president Obama’s 2014 State of the Union Address this year when he praised fracking technology and called natural gas a “bridge fuel that can power our economy with less of the carbon pollution that causes climate change.”
The EPA, the Ground Water Protection Council (GWPC) and the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission (an interstate body of environmental regulators) have all studied fracking and found the process to be non-threatening to the environment and public health, calling it “safe and effective.”
Former Governor Beverly Perdue agrees: “From what I saw, fracking can be done safely if you regulate it and put fees in place to have inspectors on the ground,” she said. Those regulations will be in place before fracking begins in North Carolina and every aspect of the process is carefully monitored by as many as 35 people on site and will be very well-regulated by multiple federal, state and local laws.
Doesn’t Fracking Pose a Threat to Drinking Water?
No. Despite what you might have heard, there is no evidence at all that the fracking process has ever caused groundwater contamination. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson even testified before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform to this very fact, saying that she was “not aware of any proven case where the fracturing process itself has affected water.” In fact, to date, after 65 years of fracking in the United States, there have been no confirmed cases of groundwater contamination from the process. The EPA also concluded that fracking does not create pathways for fluids to travel between rock formations to affect the water supply.20
The researchers from Yale went even further, finding no evidence of groundwater contamination due to fracking. Even when they looked for reports (no matter how minor) of groundwater contamination from the accidental surface spill of fracking fluid, they came up wanting: a 2011 report for the Secretary of Energy found that of the many hundreds of thousands of wells that have been drilled, only 19 times that water had ever been accidentally spilled — and only one of these included any groundwater contamination, which was stopped and cleaned up immediately.
Last year, the U.S. Department of Energy released results from a landmark federal study on hydraulic fracturing which found no evidence that chemicals from the hydraulic fracturing process contaminated drinking water aquifers in the Marcellus Shale of Pennsylvania, the area that the study covered.21 The Oklahoma Corporations Commission, which regulates the 100,000 oil and gas wells that have been fracked in Oklahoma had zero documented instances of groundwater contamination.22
Dr. Delaney Leigh, an engineer and avid environmentalist who has worked at hundreds of fracking sites all over the U.S. and Canada, said in her article “The Truth About Fracking,” that “hydraulic fracturing is not contaminating drinking water. These fractures are being created about 6,000 feet below the surface.” The depth of the water table usually falls within the range of just 100 to 500 feet below ground.
“It’s literally impossible to frack up into a groundwater zone,” said Gary Hanson, Director of the Red River Watershed Management Institute in Louisiana, where they have been fracking for decades.
Study after study, including this recent landmark federal report, has repeatedly affirmed that fracking is fundamentally safe and poses absolutely no threat to drinking water. The fact is that in the millions of fracking wells drilled over the last 60 years, there has not been one single case of groundwater contamination tied to the fracking process.
Does Fracking Cause Earthquakes?
Because fracking itself involves the intense pressurization of small amounts of rock nearly two miles underneath the surface of the earth for small amounts of time, the process can result in extremely small microseismic events, usually limited to a minus two or minus three on the Richter Scale. A quake of magnitude 2 is the smallest quake normally felt by people.
“The energy released by one of these tiny microseismic events is equivalent to the energy of a gallon of milk hitting the floor after falling off a kitchen counter,” said Stanford university geophysicist Mark Zoback. “Needless to say, these events pose no danger to the public.”
So yes, “under the right conditions, every time pressure is applied or reduced from an underground rock formation there is at least a small risk of a seismic result,” said the Center for Strategic and International Studies. But “this is (also) true in the case of mining activity, driving piles for bridge or building construction, drilling geothermal wells, or injecting fluids at high pressure in seismically active areas.”
According to a report by the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board Shale Gas Production Subcommittee, tiny “micro earthquakes” can be triggered during shale gas development; however, they are minuscule and pose no public health or safety hazard.23
“The process of hydraulic fracturing a well as presently implemented for shale gas recovery does not pose a high risk for inducing felt seismic events,” concluded the National Research Council (part of the of the National Academy of Sciences) in its 2012 report Induced Seismicity Potential in Energy Technologies.
David Hayes, former deputy secretary of the Interior Department, concluded in a 2012 report that there is no evidence to suggest that hydraulic fracturing is the cause of the increased rate of earthquakes.” And William Ellsworth, a geophysicist with the U.S. Geological Survey who authored a landmark report on seismicity in 2012, said, “We don’t see any connection between fracking and earthquakes of any concern.”24
Wastewater Injection Wells
Although there has been no scientific evidence linking earthquakes and the process of fracking, researchers from Southern Methodist University found evidence in 2013 that the associated process of “wastewater injection” had been shown to increase the frequency of earthquakes in the the Barnett Shale area around Dallas-Fort Worth. Wastewater injection is the practice of pumping used fracking fluid, or flowback, deep into the ground in a separate well drilled for that purpose.
A May 2014 study by researchers at Cornell University concluded that “the recent surge in Central Oklahoma seismicity is attributable to underground injection of wastewater (and not the fracking operations itself) at a small number of exceedingly high-rate wells” and could be driving the increase in minor seismic activity there. Underground wastewater injection — and not fracking operations — can increase pressure on faults, reducing the fault’s natural friction and triggering small seismic events.
Although the EPA allows the practice of wastewater injection, the new law passed by the General Assembly specifically prohibits the use of wastewater injection wells in North Carolina. The flowback wastewater must be captured, stored, transported, treated and discharged in a safe manner at a proper disposal facility. Section 113-395.2 of the law states:
“Disposal of wastes produced in connection with oil and gas exploration, development, and production, and use of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing treatments for that purpose by injection to subsurface or groundwaters of the State by means of wells is prohibited.”
The new law also lays out specific criminal penalties for using wastewater injection wells, and the federal Clean Water Act protects waterways from wastewater disposal.
In any event, the combination of geological factors necessary to create a higher-than-normal seismic event is extremely rare — and such events, even under a worst-case scenarios, are limited to a magnitude 3 on the Richter Scale.
For reference, a magnitude three earthquake is described by the United States Geological Survey as causing “vibrations similar to the passing of a truck.”25 In contrast, geothermal geysers, often touted by environmental activists as a preferred method of harnessing energy, have been responsible for creating over 30,000 seismic events in California in a span of less than three years — more than 300 of which were above magnitude 2, and six of which were of magnitude 4.26
So What About Those Flaming Faucets?
If there’s been one image that’s perhaps done more to scare people about fracking, it’s the infamous and iconic “flaming faucet” first used in Gasland — and which gleeful anti-fracking groups love to show in political TV ads. In case you missed the clip, here it is:
[youtube_sc url=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=87t5Kv7Xxn0″ width=”590″ modestbranding=”1″ autohide=”1″ fs=”1″ border=”1″ hd=”1″]
The problem is that 1) it has nothing to do with fracking, and 2) the phenomenon of flammable water is not new and long predates the technology of fracking. The presence of migrating methane gas in water wells occurs naturally from time to time and has for hundreds of years, as folks with well water know. Notice how the propagandists are careful to never actually say that fracking causes flames from your faucet; they leave that inference up to the viewers. When Josh Fox (the filmmaker of the anti-fracking film Gasland) was asked about this naturally-occurring flaming water, he begrudgingly acknowledged the fact — but brushed it off by saying, “Yes, but it’s not relevant.” Inconvenient truth, indeed.
In fact, scientific data shows that while natural gas drilling by way of fracking has increased, overall methane emissions have actually fallen. A 2012 EPA study discovered “there is more widespread use of emissions control technologies than had been assumed.”
Regarding anti-fracking activists’ claims on flaming faucets and the fraud of Gasland, Cal-Berkeley’s Dr. Muller offered a scathing critique: “The famous ‘flaming faucets’ shown in the movie Gasland (and on YouTube) were not due to fracking, despite what that movie suggests,” he said.27 “The accounts were investigated by state environmental agencies, and in every case traced to methane-saturated ground water produced by shallow bacteria. Indeed, the movie FrackNation includes a clip in which the Gasland producer, writer, and star Josh Fox admits that flaming faucets were common long before fracking was ever tried.”
Not to let the truth get in the way, Mr. Fox continued the deception in his follow-up film Gasland II. In one scene, a Texas man lights the end of a garden hose on fire — the implication, of course, being that fracking had something to do with it. It didn’t. A Texas court ruled that the man had “intentionally attached a garden hose to a gas vent.”
Ask yourself: what makes for a better TV commercial? A flaming faucet — or a boring scientific rebuttal from Colorado’s Department of Natural Resources that you’ll probably never read?
Doesn’t fracking use a lot of water?
Yes. But a new study from the University of Texas argues that fracking for natural gas actually saves water, by making it easier for utilities to switch from thirsty coal plants and concentrated solar arrays to more efficient natural gas power. When water costs are considered in producing electricity from some of the most common methods, natural gas uses about 56% less water than coal, 71% less water than nuclear, and 73% less than concentrating solar.28 And the study estimates that the water saved by switching from coal to natural gas is 25 to 50 times greater than the amount of water used in fracking to extract the shale gas in the first place.29
It’s also important to note that reusing the water in the fracking process is quickly becoming the standard, which of course reduces the volume that ultimately must be treated and disposed of. In Pennsylvania, fracking operations now recycle 90% of their flowback water. One hydrofracking company in Texas made news last year for eliminating its fresh water use entirely by only using recycled and brackish water.
Increasingly, companies are utilizing closed systems and green technologies to reduce the amount of water used in fracking operations through advanced minimization technologies, all of which could result in significantly less wastewater being produced in the first place.
Doesn’t fracking fluid contain dangerous chemicals?
Typically, fracking fluid usually contains a mixture of 99.5 percent water and sand (silica), and 0.5 percent chemical additives, which are used in the drilling process for thickening the water, cleaning, lubrication of the sand, and disinfection.
- Hydrochloric acid (also used in the stomach to digest food)
- Acetic acid (vinegar is roughly 4-8% acetic acid)
- Sodium chloride (common table salt)
- Polyacrylamide (also used in hair gel and cosmetics)
- Ethylene glycol (used in deicing plane wings before takeoff)
- Borate salts (a naturally-occurring mineral used in laundry soap and anti-fungal foot soak products)
- Sodium carbonates (a household chemical similar to baking soda)
- Potassium carbonates (also used in German gingerbread recipes)
- Glutaraldehyde (an antibacterial agent that’s also used to remove plantar warts)
- Guar gum (used as a thickener in toothpaste, a conditioner in shampoos, and an emulsifier in ice cream)
- Citric acid (found in high concentrations in lemons, oranges, and limes)
- Isopropanol (found in many everyday products such as disinfectants and room sprays)
While this is by no means an exhaustive list, virtually every single chemical that’s used in the fracking process is not harmful in small amounts and can be found right in your kitchen — and any single fracturing job only uses a few of the available additives. But long, ominous-sounding chemical names sure make for good TV.
“We are not just pumping massive amounts of harmful chemicals into the earth,” said Dr. Delaney Leigh. “And we’re not rubbing these chemicals on your face or washing your clothes with them. We are pumping very small amounts of them thousands of feet below the surface and then recovering most of them when the well is flowed back.”
The latest development in fracking fluid technology is the creation of an environmentally-friendly formulation sourced from the food industry. CBS San Francisco reports that CleanStim® fracking fluid “was created using chemicals that accomplish the same mechanical tasks of any fracking fluid — widening gaps in rock, lubricating movement, keeping sand particles suspended in fluid, and inhibiting bacteria — but the fluid’s components are all used in the food industry to make everything from soy paste, to fruit juice, cake icing to marshmallows. Since its debut in 2010, it’s been the fluid of choice in hundreds of fracking operations in North America, Australia, and other countries.”
To illustrate the point, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper famously even took a big swig of fracking fluid, which was made entirely of ingredients sourced from the food industry. “You can drink it,” he told the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources in testimony last year. “They’ve invested millions of dollars in what is a benign fluid in every sense.”
But why are the chemicals being kept secret?
They’re not. But under the new law, the specific formulas used by each fracking company are protected as “trade secrets” — in other words, intellectual property. Because “trade secrets” are not protected under federal law (unlike trademarks and patents), state laws are required to protect this kind of intellectual property right.
Lots of companies have their products covered by trade secrets: Coca-Cola, Google AdWords, KFC, WD-40, McDonald’s Special Sauce, Highland Gaelic Ale, The New York Times Best Seller List, Tabasco Sauce, Krispy Kreme Glazed Donuts, Auto-Tune, Dr. Pepper, Old Bay Seasoning, Bush’s Best Baked Beans, and Everlasting Gobstoppers are all protected as unique and legitimate intellectual property to maintain the legitimate intellectual property of trade secrets.
Anti-fracking activists have attempted to make hay over all this by seizing on the word “secret” — no one wants secrets kept from them — but sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.
“Some suggest there’s something nefarious about the fracking fluids used to extract oil and gas,” said Virginia’s PilotNews. “Although some fracking companies keep their fracking-fluid recipes proprietary, the ingredients typically are listed voluntarily at FracFocus.org. The website also provides a listing of hundreds of wells, their exact locations, and the fracking fluids used at each site.”
FracFocus, a website jointly developed by the Ground Water Protection Council and the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission, is being used by a number of states as a means of official state chemical disclosure and is a national registry for chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing. It serves as an online repository where oil and gas well operators can upload information regarding the chemical compositions of hydraulic fracturing fluids used in specific oil and gas production wells.30 Under the proposed fracking rules, North Carolina plans similar requirements for operators in our state.
The new law signed by Governor McCrory simply extends this legal protection to the proprietary formulas used in natural gas production, which necessarily changes from site to site based on geology and other factors. Companies spend lots of time and research and millions of dollars perfecting these formulas, and like any work product of intellectual property, they deserve to be protected from corporate competitors.
Additionally, any information regarding the composition of these proprietary formulas will be disclosed to public agencies and be on file with the office of the State Geologist at the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. Every chemical used must comply with OSHA requirements and fracking companies must provide a Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for everything they use. In the highly unlikely event that this information is necessary to help address an emergency, it will be made immediately available to any necessary personnel. The prohibition against disclosure of these formulas is really intended for state employees, and the new draft rules mandate that here in North Carolina, the specific chemicals used on any given fracking operation be listed on the FracFocus.org website.
“We came up with a common sense law that restricts disclosure of the fracking chemical formula to anyone except DENR and other officials,” said Governor McCrory on July 15. “There are patents to protect. It is a good compromise for public safety and industry investment.”
For more information, please read Columbia Law Review’s “Trade Secrets, Disclosure and Dissent in a Fracturing Energy Revolution.”
Where will fracking occur?
Fracking can only occur where there are deep shale rock formations — and in North Carolina, that’s in just a few places. Spanning just a handful of counties in the central part of the state, the only areas of significant potential for natural gas extraction occupy less than 5 percent of North Carolina’s total land area, which, it should be noted, doesn’t include Buncombe or the other mountain counties: “The state says our mountain counties don’t hold enough natural gas to even continue testing, so for now, that takes fracking off the table,” reports WLOS. (For detailed information on where these basins exist, please read the U.S. Geological Survey’s “Hydrocarbon Source Rocks in the Deep River and Dan River Triassic Basins, North Carolina.”)
Doesn’t fracking destroy the site where it occurs?
Some people assume that a fracking operation turns the landscape into a despoiled industrial wasteland. Not true. Once an operator has completed the drilling and fracking phase and energy production begins, all the equipment is removed from the pad (except for the production well-head; basically a large fire hydrant) and the site is restored to its former condition using the original topsoil and native plants.
The new law requires that fracking companies “reclaim all surface areas affected by its operations no later than two years following completion of the operations.” If the land itself does not belong to the operator, a bond must be provided to the property owner before drilling sufficient to cover any reclamation costs “in an amount no less than one million dollars.”
What Is This I Hear About Forced Pooling?
Pooling draws many landowners together within a common “drilling unit.” A drilling unit is an area that can be effectively accessed by a single well. The purpose of drilling units is to set the optimum spacing and placement of wells, and to give each property owner a fair chance to benefit from development of oil and gas under his or her property.31
Pooling is the grouping of property rights for folks within a common drilling unit and which serves to protect participating landowners, non-participating landowners and the environment. “Forced pooling is to protect the person who has a lot of drilling taking place around them from them not getting anything,” said Representative Chuck McGrady of Henderson County. This video explains the concept:
[youtube_sc url=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-6Hlb0XygS0″ width=”590″ modestbranding=”1″ autohide=”1″ fs=”1″ border=”1″ hd=”1″]
Natural gas reserves exist deep underground and often underlie numerous separately-owned tracts of land. One of the benefits of landowner pooling in a drilling unit is that it protects the environment from over-drilling. The pool allows oil and gas operators to drill at a single point within the entire drilling unit rather than create an unnecessary patchwork of drilling points, each with its own pads and wellheads, pumping stations, access roads and related traffic of trucks and heavy equipment, holding tanks, lined pits, gathering lines and material storage. Many fracking operations take place in rural areas where local infrastructures are ill-suited to bearing industrial use. A single drilling point reduces costs for stakeholders and protects the local environment from disturbance.
In the Final Report of the Compulsory Pooling Study Group, it was recommended that “in the interest of protecting the correlative rights of landowners and minimizing waste, the Study Group recommends that compulsory pooling be allowed where 90% of the owners of the surface acreage of a drilling unit have voluntarily leased or consented to developing their oil and gas rights.” This rule protects participating landowners who want to profit from the development of their mineral rights from being held hostage by a few holdouts who might prevent natural gas extraction from a given drilling unit.
Bill sponsors argue that compulsory pooling protects the rights of landowners who don’t sign leases (an “unleaded participant”) by making sure that they recover their fair share in the profits from natural gas that might be drawn out of a common pool from underneath their property. Unlike surface property rights, there are no fences miles underground and no way to limit the extraction of oil or natural gas to a particular set of property owners.
The royalties received by participating landowners can be substantial and possibly even exceed the value of the surface land itself. Geologist Dr. Hobart M. King gives this example: “A 100 acre property is drilled for natural gas and the royalties will be shared by owners of a 640 acre unit that immediately surround the well. The property owner is to receive a 12.5% royalty based upon the wellhead value of the gas which at the time of production is $8 per thousand cubic feet. Assuming an average well production rate of 2 million cubic feet of gas per day throughout the calendar year the property owner would be paid over $100,000 dollars for one year of gas production.” Not a bad royalty check for being in the right place at the right time.
What federal laws govern the environmental aspects of fracking?
Not all of the laws that regulate shale gas production need to be accounted for by the state legislature. There are a number of federal regulations already in place that provide rules for environmental protection and public safety.
- The Clean Water Act (CWA) – regulates discharges of pollutants to surface water and storm water runoff;
- The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) – regulates specifically the injection of fluid wastes (produced water) under the ground;
- The Clean Air Act (CAA) – sets rules for air emissions from engines, gas processing equipment, tanks and other sources associated with production and drilling activities;
- The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) –requires environmental impact assessments for development of federal lands;
- Occupational Safety and Health Act – administered through OSHA, sets safety standards with which employers must comply to protect their employees. Also requires Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS’s) be maintained and readily available for chemicals used on locations for employee use;
- Emergency Planning & Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) – requires storage of regulated chemicals above certain quantities be reported to local and state emergency responders on an annual basis.
Given the many geologic, environmental and population-density differences among each state, federal laws provide for the delegation of regulatory responsibilities to states with federal oversight. This proven partnership more effectively addresses the regional and state-specific character of drilling activities compared to one-size-fits-all regulation at the federal level.
States have been regulating fracking operations for more than 60 years. With 32 natural-gas producing states already in America, federal agencies simply do not have the resources to administer all the diverse environmental programs for all the drilling sites around the country. By statute, states may adopt their own standards; however, these must be at least as protective as the federal standards and may be even more protective in order to address local conditions, as is the case with the new law in North Carolina.32
What’s the big rush? Aren’t we moving too fast?
Certainly some folks, including some legislators, seem to think so. But the fact is that the General Assembly and the relevant state agencies have been studying the issue now for many years. Former Governor Beverly Perdue stated more than two years ago that she believes drilling could be done safely in North Carolina.
Eventually, it’s time to take action. That’s what leaders do. That said, one of the advantages we’ve had in our deliberate approach is that, as a late-adopter, North Carolina will benefit from other states’ experiences (including both successes and mistakes) in continuing to develop a comprehensive and balanced framework of regulations and best practices.
Alright already. What does this new law do exactly?
Senate Bill 786 — The Energy Modernization Act, the new law that authorizes fracking — lifts a temporary 2012 moratorium on energy exploration and requires that safety regulations be put in place next year by the Mining and Energy Commission (MEC), a 15-member panel of experts that includes scientists, city and county elected officials, environmental advocates, engineers, public health officials, industry representatives, and both the the State Geologist and the Chair of NC State University’s Minerals Research Laboratory Advisory Committee.
The MEC is writing rules for fracking, including regulations for well shafts, chemical disclosure, setbacks from buildings and streams, water testing requirements, and other protections for landowners and home buyers. The Commission, which will have final say over the decisions in the permitting process, has reviewed over 200,000 public comments on the proposed rules from nearly 30,000 individuals and groups. The new law allows DENR to set more stringent requirements for fracking operations than the federal government does. The process has taken more than two years.
“There already has been much public comment and engagement during the Commission’s rulemaking process over the past 20 months,” said Ray Covington, an MEC member. “In addition to more than 24 public meetings by the commission and its committees, there have been dozens of meetings by various study groups and substantial input from stakeholders and the public on proposed rules as they were drafted.”
Other issues the commission may consider are: where specific drilling activities may take place, what the compensation will be, detailed plans for how land will be reclaimed after drilling and production are complete, and adequate bonding to ensure the process will be completed.
Only then can permits for natural gas exploration be issued by the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).
What this all means is that the experts are writing the rules, not the politicians — and that’s a good thing. But, as always, the legislature retains the power to review the rules at any time and revise them as necessary.
Of course, for whatever reasons, not everyone will agree with North Carolina’s decision to advance home-grown energy exploration by way of fracking. But we hope that you will now have a more complete and balanced understanding of this important issue.
The General Assembly and Governor McCrory believe that the new law — the most complete and balanced of its kind in the country — sends a clear message that North Carolina is open for business. We can make real progress while at the same time protecting the environment and the health, safety, and property rights of landowners.
And with the new law, North Carolina will join the vast majority of other states which have already taken the bold step of shale gas exploration. We will learn from their experiences, improve upon their practices, and enjoy the overwhelming economic, environmental, and strategic benefits of this remarkable technology.
- Statement by Gov. Pat McCrory, June 5 2014
- Maritime Executive: “U.S. Should Do More to Develop Oil, Natural Gas“
- Washington Post: “How two small New York towns have shaken up the national fight over fracking“
- Cabot Oil & Gas Corporation: “The Real Facts about Fracture Stimulation“
- American Exploration & Production Council: “The Real Facts about Fracture Stimulation“
- Geology.com, “Hydraulic Fracturing of Oil & Gas Wells Drilled in Shale“
- American Exploration & Production Council: “The Real Facts about Fracture Stimulation“
- National Center for Policy Analysis: “Shale Gas and American Foreign Policy“
- American Recycler News: “Natural gas-powered refuse truck use flourishes in U.S.“
- Energy In Depth: “Report: Environmentalists Opposing Shale Gas Are Making a ‘Tragic Mistake’“
- ALL Consulting, “An Overview of Modern Shale Gas Development in the United States“
- American Energy Independence: “American Fuels“
- Statement by U.S. Rep. Harry Mitchell, Dec. 6 2007
- Oil and Gas Online: “U.S. Fracking Has Cut Carbon More Than The Whole World’s Wind And Solar“
- Forbes Magazine, “The Arithmetic of Shale Gas“
- The Motley Fool, “14 Ways to Profit From the American Energy Boom in 2014“
- Statement by Gov. Pat McCrory, June 5 2014
- Centre for Policy Studies, “Why Every Serious Environmentalist Should Favor Fracking“
- Cybercast News Service: “21 Top Scientists Praise Gov. Jerry Brown’s New Fracking Rules“
- American Exploration & Production Council: “The Real Facts about Fracture Stimulation“
- North Dakota Oil Can: “The truth about fracking? — An oilfield engineer seeks to reassure you“
- Forbes Magazine, “The Arithmetic of Shale Gas“
- Center for Strategic and International Studies: “Fracking and Seismic Activity“
- Energy In Depth: “Debunking Gasland, Part II“
- Energy From Shale: “Does Fracking Cause Earthquakes?“
- Energy In Depth: “Debunking Gasland, Part II“
- Energy In Depth: “Report: Environmentalists Opposing Shale Gas Are Making a ‘Tragic Mistake’”
- American Exploration & Production Council: “The Real Facts about Fracture Stimulation“
- Time Magazine: “Fracking for Natural Gas May Help Us Save Water“
- Environmental Protection Agency: “Analysis of Data Extracted from FracFocus“
- Michigan Dept. of Environmental Quality: “Pooling of Properties for Oil and Gas Production“
- American Exploration & Production Council: “The Real Facts about Fracture Stimulation“