F&WW Needs to Update Its Talking Points

Earlier this week, some poor soul from Food & Water Watch (F&WW) appeared on morning drive-time radio, with program director Emily Wurth stopping by to talk about shale and hydraulic fracturing on Tim Farley’s “Morning Briefing” show on Sirius radio.

Just by way of reminder: Food & Water Watch is the same outfit that came out last week declaring that it had secured new documents that would “reveal” that Ohio Gov. John Kasich was misleading residents on hydraulic fracturing.  But EID noticed something strange: F&WW had redacted certain parts of these documents before they handed them over to reporters.

Curious to see what F&WW had blocked out, EID submitted its own FOIA request for the documents that F&WW obtained. Turns out, the sections that F&WW had redacted were the ones explaining the safety of hydraulic fracturing – specifically:

  • “There has never been an instance of groundwater contamination related to the injection of oil‐field waste”; and
  • “To date, there have been no proven cases of groundwater contamination linked to injection or hydraulic fracturing, and we at ODNR work every day to keep it that way.”

This is also the group that went so far as to manufacture signatures for its “California Chefs Against Fracking” petition. So let’s just say that “redacting” the facts is part of their game.

Against that backdrop, let’s have a closer look at what Ms. Wurth had to say about hydraulic fracturing on the radio this week:

Wurth: “We see each day is that there is growing evidence that there are serious problems with drilling and fracking for gas both with regard to water and air pollution but also in regard to the high methane emissions related to drilling and fracking.

FACT: The list of top regulators and experts who have confirmed that hydraulic fracturing poses no credible threat to drinking water is as long as it is well-known. Former U.S. EPA administrator Lisa Jackson said, “In no case have we made a definitive determination that [hydraulic fracturing] has caused chemicals to enter groundwater.” On air quality, the current EPA admin. Gina McCarthy has credited natural gas as the key to reductions in air pollution and carbon emissions nationwide.  As she said,

“The pollution that I’m looking at is traditional pollutants as well as carbon. And natural gas has been a game changer with our ability to really move forward with pollution reductions that have been very hard to get our arms around for many decades.”

As for Ms. Wurth’s claims about methane emissions, the EPA reports that methane leakages from natural gas development continue to decline dramatically, even as production continues set new records. Furthermore, in September 2013, the Environmental Defense Fund and the University of Texas co-authored a study that found methane emissions from shale development have a leakage rate of only 1.5 percent—comfortably below the ceiling for natural gas to continue its climate benefits as the cleanest-burning fossil fuel.

Wurth: “Exporting [liquefied natural gas] LNG will not be better…for climate change. President Obama has put out his Climate Action Plan and seems concerned with that. (Emphasis added)

FACT: Actually President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, first released a little over a year ago, explicitly cites natural gas as a critical tool for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Here are two key excerpts that illustrate this:

“In fact, last year, carbon emissions from the energy sector fell to the lowest level in two decades. At the same time, while there is more work to do, we are more energy secure than at any time in recent history. In 2012, America’s net oil imports fell to the lowest level in 20 years and we have become the world’s leading producer of natural gas – the cleanest-burning fossil fuel.”

“Burning natural gas is about one-half as carbon-intensive as coal, which can make it a critical ‘bridge fuel’ for many countries as the world transitions to even cleaner sources of energy.”

When the president introduced this plan, he stated: “We should strengthen our position as the top natural gas producer because, in the medium term at least, it not only can provide safe, cheap power, but it can also help reduce our carbon emissions.”

Also, on Ms. Wurth’s point about LNG exports, the U.S. Department of Energy just released a report finding that shale development will not increase greenhouse gas emissions, even if exports were sent to Asia or Europe.  From that report:

“[T]he use of U.S. LNG exports for power production in European and Asian markets will not increase GHG emissions, on a life cycle perspective…”

Wurth: In Texas as well, it takes millions of gallons of water for each fracking well. That’s adding up to billions of gallons of freshwater being used across the country for this and there are local areas where this is influencing water supply…”

FACT: As with any complicated issue, context on water use is crucial.  Across the United States, shale development consumes only 0.3 percent of total U.S. freshwater consumption. In some instances, hydraulic fracturing is even enhancing individual states’ water supply. A report from the University of Texas, found that shale development is helping Texas buffer against water shortages, as hydraulic fracturing is allowing the state to move away from using water-intensive energy resources.

Water usage rates will only continue to decrease as oil and gas operators continue to innovate. In the highly-productive Marcellus Shale, the Pennsylvania DEP reports that operators are now recycling more than 90 percent of their flowback water.

Wurth: “[W]e’re seeing an increase in earthquake activity in regions of the country where there’s a lot of disposal of the wastewater that comes from drilling and fracking.”

FACT: Some scientists have linked wastewater injection to minor seismic events, but it’s important to note that the risk is nowhere near what F&WW have been propagating. Bill Ellsworth of the U.S. Geological Survey brings some needed expert analysis into the discussion:

“What we’ve found is there is a link between disposal of waste water and earthquakes. And in many of these cases, it’s been fixed by either shutting down the offending well or reducing the volume that’s being produced. So there are really straight-forward fixes to the problem when earthquakes begin to occur.”

The Natural Research Council also said in 2013 report,

“Injection for disposal of wastewater derived from energy technologies into the subsurface does pose some risk for induced seismicity, but very few events have been documented over the past several decades relative to the large number of disposal wells in operation.”

Redacting the facts

If there’s one thing that Food & Water Watch is really good at, it’s staying on-message – even when the facts, science and testimony of regulators and experts point to conclusions that objectively contradict most of what they’re saying. Of course, to them, ignorance is bliss. And even when one does encounter an inconvenient fact or message, best just to redact it away.

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