By the Numbers: Counting Down the Ways Environment America’s Report Comes Up Short

Estranged from science, on the wrong side of history, and undercut at every turn by experts like former Energy Secretary and Nobel Prize winner Steven Chu, who says that “hydraulic fracturing is safe,” professional activists bent on preventing responsible energy development from taking place continue to issue reports and papers whose sole focus is on scoring misleading headlines in the press.

To wit: this week, the anti-fracking group Environment America (EA) doubled down on what has heretofore been a failed strategy to deny landowners the right to develop their mineral resources, releasing a report to the media that purports to quantify (“for the first time ever”) the “devastating” impacts associated with oil and gas development in the United States.

As EA’s John Rumpler put it in the press release he blasted out to reporters this morning:

“The numbers don’t lie — fracking has taken a dirty and destructive toll on our environment. If this dirty drilling continues unchecked, these numbers will only get worse.”

Mr. Rumpler is right on one thing (and probably only one thing): The numbers do not lie. But Environment America did its best to try to make them as confusing and meaningless as possible, while ignoring all the numbers that actually matter.

Let’s take a closer look.

Environment America: “Nationally, fracking released 450,000 tons of pollutants into the air that can have immediate health impacts” (p. 3).

REALITY: The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection found that over 500,000 tons of air emissions have been eliminated from the state’s air thanks in large part to the increased use of natural gas. So even if Environment America’s numbers were accurate (and they’re actually not), more emissions were actually removed from the atmosphere last year than were added to it. Naturally, Environment America is silent on this side of the ledger.

It’s also worth noting: the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, and the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection – agencies in charge of ensuring public health – have all released reports confirming no credible threat to air quality from shale development. The American Lung Association, meanwhile, gave eight North Dakota counties — including several that are leading the state in Bakken Shale production — high marks for air quality.

Also, a new peer-reviewed analysis of the Barnett Shale determined that emissions from shale development have not reached levels anywhere close to those that would be expected to produce negative health impacts.

EA: “Completion of fracking wells produced global warming pollution of 100 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent from 2005 to 2012, equal to emissions from 28 coal-fired power plants in a year” (p. 24).

REALITY: Natural gas actually reduced CO2 by 300 million to 500 million tons – since just 2007, according to a report from the (sane) environmental group Breakthrough Institute.  As that report explains, “Gas deserves most of the credit for declining U.S. emissions” and the reductions from the United States equal “about the same amount of total annual CO2 emissions in Australia, Brazil, France, or Spain.”

The Paris-based International Energy Agency (IEA) also looked into the matter of CO2 and found that even as global emissions increased by 1.4 percent, emissions from the United States dropped by 200 million tons, or 3.8 percent. As IEA put it, the drop in U.S. emissions is one of the “bright spots in the global picture. One of the key reasons has been the increased availability of natural gas, linked to the shale gas revolution.

EA: “Fracking operations have used at least 250 billion gallons of water since 2005” (p. 5).

REALITY: Here’s some perspective for you that was left out of the EA report: over that same period, car washes used over 600 billion gallons of water. Far more water is used for agriculture, irrigation, and other industrial uses than is consumed by oil and gas development – in fact, it’s not even close. In Colorado, where water supplies can be constrained, oil and gas development accounts for less than one-tenth of one percent of the state’s total water demand.

Further, producers are reusing and recycling the wastewater that comes from onshore operations.  As Reuters recently reported, “oil and gas companies are increasingly treating and reusing flowback water from wells, which unlike freshwater is very high in salt, with good results.” For members of the Marcellus Shale Coalition (which represent companies responsible for 96 percent of all Marcellus production), recycling and reuse are standard operating practices.

To its credit (kind of), Environment America admits that the prevalence of recycling may lead to some “double-counting of water used” in its report. So that 250 billion gallons number, already small compared to other sources, is likely far smaller.

EA: There are “more than 1,000 cases” of groundwater contamination (p. 9).

REALITY: This would be a serious charge, if true. Thankfully, it’s not – a fact confirmed once again earlier this summer by none other than current U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, a former MIT professor. According to Secretary Moniz: “To my knowledge, I still have not seen any evidence” of hydraulic fracturing contaminating groundwater.

Ken Kopocis, President Obama’s nominee to be Assistant Administrator for the U.S. EPA’s Office of Water, was asked recently in testimony before Congress if he was aware of any cases of groundwater contamination from hydraulic fracturing. His answer? “No I am not.”

Lisa Jackson, President Obama’s former EPA chief, said: “In no case have we made a definitive determination that the [fracturing] process has caused chemicals to enter groundwater.” This comment follows her previous testimony before Congress, when she explained that she is “not aware of any proven case where [hydraulic fracturing] itself has affected water.”

The U.S. Geological Survey, the U.S. Government Accountability Office, the Ground Water Protection Council, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and dozens of state regulators have shown that hydraulic fracturing does not pose a credible risk to groundwater.  Most recently, two peer-reviewed studies found that water contamination from hydraulic fracturing is “not physically plausible.”

EA: The “fracking oil and gas rush disrupts local communities and imposes a wide range of immediate costs on them” (p. 16)

REALITY: A report by IHS CERA found that, in 2012, the shale value chain supported 2.1 million jobs, $75 billion in federal and state tax revenues, and added $283 billion to the U.S. gross domestic product (GDP). By 2020, these numbers will rise to 3.3 million jobs, over $125 billion in federal and state tax revenue, and more than $468 billion in annual GDP contributions.  Not only that, but American families saved an average of $1,200 per household in 2012 thanks to shale development, and that savings could grow to $3,500 per year by 2025.

As the Wall Street Journal recently reported, the decrease in energy prices resulting from shale gas development has actually been a life saver, especially for low-income households across the country. A recent report from Mercator Energy estimates that shale gas development has been three times more effective in helping working-class families heat their home than the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), a federal program that provides financial assistance to families that cannot afford their energy bills.

Say Anything

Of course, it’s one thing to cherry-pick the data and present it in a misleading way to the public, all while willfully ignoring testimony from scientists, academics, regulators and even the Obama administration (not exactly a redoubt of oil and gas enthusiasts) confirming the safety of the fracturing process. But it’s another thing entirely to flat-out make stuff up, or re-define the terms of reality in a way that more tidily conforms to your particular world view. Unfortunately, that’s exactly the trick Environment America plays over and over again in its paper. Take this example, from the report:

 “In this report, when we refer to the impacts of ‘fracking,’ we include impacts resulting from all of the activities needed to bring a shale gas or oil well into production using high-volume hydraulic fracturing (fracturing operations that use at least 100,000 gallons of water), to operate that well, and to deliver the gas or oil produced from that well to market. The oil and gas industry often uses a more restrictive definition of ‘fracking’ that includes only the actual moment in the extraction process when rock is fractured—a definition that obscures the broad changes to environmental, health and community conditions that result from the use of fracking in oil and gas extraction” (p. 6)

Unable to defame hydraulic fracturing based on actual, objective terms, Environment America decides here to invent its own definition of the process – essentially erecting a strawman of its own creation and then dutifully tearing it down as if its definition of the process were actually valid.

Nonetheless, the expansive definition highlights just how dangerous the organization’s call for a ban on hydraulic fracturing truly is: Considered in a literal sense, Environment America is calling for a complete ban on U.S. oil and gas production, period. That means putting millions of Americans out of work and reversing the positive trends of reductions in air emissions and greenhouse gases. It means higher energy prices for American families. It means increased reliance on OPEC, even as the United States has within its sight the ability to be the world’s largest oil and gas producer. And it means decreased tax revenues to federal, state, and local governments.

Thankfully, and despite the best efforts of professional activists, the shale revolution shows no signs of slowing down – delivering millions of jobs, billions in revenue and tens of billions in energy savings to communities across the country. And it’s just getting started.

Meanwhile, absent any ability to draw on science to make their case, the best these groups can hope for is the opportunity to convert more Park Foundation cash into papers and reports that are read by no one, and acted upon by fewer still.

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