PennEnvironment’s Third Swing and a Miss

PennEnvironment Research and Policy Center – best known for deceiving the public not once but twice with phony and misleading images – recently released a “report” that suggests hydraulic fracturing places enormous financial burdens on taxpayers. In reality, this latest effort by PennEnvironment (whose previous actions have been criticized by its own peers) is merely recycling talking points that have been debunked time and again.

Indeed, for PennEnvironment, the third time is not a charm. Here are just a few examples from its latest report that demonstrate why:

Claim 1: Oil and Gas Is Exempt from Federal Law

PennEnvironment: “Oil and gas production is also exempt from provisions of the federal Superfund law as well as other environmental statutes, and hydraulic fracturing is exempt from the Safe Drinking Water Act.” (p. 20)

FACT: Oil and gas producers have to abide by a whole host of federal laws. Last year, the Government Accountability Office determined that “requirements from eight federal environmental and public health laws apply to unconventional oil and gas development” (more on that here).  Included in that list are Superfund laws, also known as the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), and the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), which has governed wastewater disposal wells for decades. SDWA was not designed to cover hydraulic fracturing, a process that is regulated by states – a regulatory setup, by the way, that even the U.S. EPA has praised.

Claim 2: Fracking Is a Bubble about to Burst

PennEnvironment: “The oil and gas industry is notoriously prone to ‘boom-bust’ cycles – sparking dramatic economic growth in a community one year, only to plunge it into financial difficulty the next.” (p. 15)

FACT: It’s amazing that with all the evidence to the contrary, opponents are still trying to convince the public that shale is a bubble waiting to burst. It’s the 21st century version of ‘Peak Oil’ – a theory to which only the fringe opponents of oil and gas still cling.  Assessments from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, independent experts, and international energy organizations show that natural gas production is rapidly growing and will continue to grow.  The Potential Gas Committee’s latest report revealed the highest estimate of recoverable natural gas in the United States in the organization’s 48-year history – a 110-year supply.

The U.S. Geological Survey, meanwhile, recently doubled its estimate of recoverable oil in North Dakota’s Bakken and Three Forks formations. The previous estimate was itself a 25-fold increased from USGS’s 1995 assessment. Experts have also suggested the Eagle Ford Shale in south Texas could prove to be more productive than the Bakken, and the Monterey Shale in California remains the largest potential source of shale oil in the United States. Meanwhile, the Permian basin in West Texas – which many had considered a field of the past – could prove to be the most productive of all shale oil plays.

Claim 3: Fracking Contaminates Drinking Water

PennEnvironment: “Water contamination has been a common result of oil and gas production – including fracking operations – across the country.” (p. 9)

FACT: Hydraulic fracturing has a 65 year record of safety – a record that has been recognized by numerous high ranking officials in the Obama White House. This includes Lisa Jackson, President Obama’s former Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) chief, who said recently that “In no case have we made a definitive determination that the fracking 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.” Researchers from MIT and Stanford, officials from the Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations, as well as dozens of state regulators, who have been overseeing the process for decades, have consistently affirmed that fact. President Obama’s Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell recently said that hydraulic fracturing is “essential” and that it “can be done safely and responsibly,” while Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said recently that any risks associated with hydraulic fracturing are absolutely “manageable.”

Claim 4: Fracking Makes People Sick

PennEnvironment: “Fracking can make a significant contribution to smog and soot pollution that threatens public health.” (p. 10)

FACT: Actually, hydraulic fracturing (and the natural gas it has unlocked) is one of the primary reasons the United States has slashed air pollution that impacts public health. The Breakthrough Institute recently observed that natural gas in Pennsylvania has “dramatically reduced emissions across the State, emissions of every sort.”  Indeed, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, over 500 million tons of emissions have been removed from the Commonwealth’s air thanks to natural gas.  Further, the International Energy Agency (IEA) found that the United States was the only industrialized country in the world to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (by 3.8 percent in 2012), and these reductions are due primarily to our increased development and use of natural gas.

Claim 5: Fracking Is New and Needs More Study

PennEnvironment: “Financial assurance is particularly important for fracking, due to the relative newness of the technology and its rapid spread across the country. The potential long-term impacts of fracking – including the potential for fracking chemicals, methane and dangerous substances in formation waters to migrate to the water table or the surface over time – are still poorly understood.” (p. 31)

FACT: Hydraulic fracturing it not a new technology – it has been used since the late 1940s and has undergone extensive study, by both government and private research.  Scientific analyses by the U.S. Geological Survey, and the U.S. Department of Energy (in conjunction with the Ground Water Protection Council) – not to mention widely respected research from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology – have found that hydraulic fracturing does not pose a credible threat to groundwater. Research on air emissions from state regulators has also confirmed low and manageable environmental impacts associated with shale development.

In reality, hydraulic fracturing and shale development have been extensively studied. It’s just that opponents don’t like the results.

Claim 6: Fracking Damages Roads

PennEnvironment: “Perhaps the most common form of financial assurance for fracking impacts away from the well site is bonding for road damage […] To ensure that oil and gas companies – rather than taxpayers – pay the cost of repairing roads damaged by fracking, some state and local governments require oil and gas operators to post road bonds.” (p. 23)

FACT: Not only do enormous tax revenues from oil and gas development often go toward improving roads and highways – but several companies have actually invested more in local roads than state governments!  For instance, Chesapeake Energy invested more than $300 million between 2010 and June 2012 to improve roads in northeastern Pennsylvania.  In Ohio, oil and gas companies participate in the Road Usage Maintenance Agreements (RUMAs), which are agreements between municipalities and oil and gas companies where the industry invests directly in repairing or maintaining roads.  We’ve addressed RUMA in Ohio before here, but just to recap: the idea behind a RUMA is to leave it better than you found it, which is exactly what companies have done by investing millions of dollars in infrastructure improvements. These industry-funded projects, by the way, also create new jobs in communities and generate even more revenue for local governments.

Comments

  1. Bill says:

    I especially like their point #2 about the boom and bust cycle. First, what does that really have to do with the environment? Secondly, the last I knew this was still a country based on free enterprise and the entrepreneurial spirit. Are they advocating that the government should plan our economy instead of allowing businesses to decide how much or how little to base their plans on gas drilling? There’s a word for planned economies like this; one need look no further than the former Soviet Union – failed Communist states. We don’t need that here!

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