Consider Karnes County, Texas. A few years ago, the community was plagued by poverty. Today, it’s not uncommon for local residents to collect $70 million each month in royalties for letting energy companies drill on their land.
The wealth has increased the county’s tax base almost six-fold in two years. Last year, more than $15 billion in royalty checks were paid to private landowners by energy companies in Texas alone.
The energy and economic boom in the Lone Star State is largely the result of hydraulic fracturing — “fracking” — a process that enables the extraction of previously intractable natural gas and oil reserves.
A solution that is 99.5 percent sand and water with a few trace chemicals is pumped underground at high pressure to break up rock formations. Aside from Texas, many other areas of the country — including large swaths of the Midwest and Northeast, as well as North Dakota — also are benefiting from fracking.
But despite the economic gains, radical environmentalists have bombarded the public with misinformation about fracking. It’s time to debunk some of these false claims.
• Claim 1: Fracking will contaminate the underground water supply.
Subsurface contamination from fracking is almost impossible. Fracking involves the injection of liquid 7,000 to 15,000 feet underground — far deeper than drinking water aquifers, which often are about 300 feet below the surface.
Last year, an exhaustive University of Texas study done by a former head of the U.S. Geological Survey looked into alleged incidents of fracking contamination. “None of the water well claims involve hydraulic fracturing fluid additives, and none of these constituents has been found by chemical testing of water wells,” the study concluded.
A popular, Oscar-nominated documentary, “Gasland,” shows landowners in Colorado lighting their water taps on fire and blaming fracked wells nearby. But Colorado regulators already had determined the actual cause was naturally occurring biogenic methane, unrelated to fracking.
In fact, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission felt compelled to put out a press release to “correct several errors” in the film.
• Claim 2: Fracking does lots of damage to the land surrounding a drilling rig.
Drilling operations do involve trucks, heavy equipment and facilities to store waste and other byproducts. But any impact on the surface easily is restored, and waste products are very carefully disposed of.
Increasingly, the waste products are recycled for use in other wells or converted to de-icing agents and distilled water.
Fears also have been raised about surface spills involving fracking fluids. Not only are such spills rare, but also the fracking fluid involved is almost entirely water.
Any harmful chemicals are used at such low concentrations that environmental damage would be negligible. John Hickenlooper, the Democratic governor of Colorado, recently told Congress he’s so confident fracking fluid is safe that he drank some of it. At least one energy company has even developed fracking fluid that is sourced from the food services industry.
• Claim 3: Fracking causes earthquakes.
Last year, Congress asked the National Research Council to study the relationship between fracking and earthquakes. Every year, there are about 14,450 naturally occurring earthquakes worldwide of magnitude 4.0 or greater. According to the National Research Council, just 154 earthquakes over the past 90 years have been the result of manmade activity.
Of those, only 60 were in the U.S., and nearly all were moderate to small.
The council’s report concluded that fracking is extremely unlikely to cause earthquakes.
• Claim 4: Fracking needs to be federally regulated.
Since it was introduced in the 1940s, fracking has been used to extract oil and gas in America more than one million times. Over the past 70 years, fracking has only been regulated at the state level and has an unimpeachable safety record.
An Environmental Protection Agency study confirmed fracking was safe and adequately regulated by the states in 2004.
“States are stepping up and doing a good job [regulating fracking],” said former EPA administrator Lisa Jackson, who stepped down from President Barack Obama’s cabinet in January.
Even one of the nation’s largest environmental groups admits that federal regulation of fracking isn’t necessary. “The states actually have a lot of knowledge and experience in regulating well construction and operation,” said Scott Anderson, senior policy advisor for the Environmental Defense Fund, to the Energy and Environment program in 2010.
“We think that states have every reason to be able to tackle this issue and do it well.” It’s worth noting that the Environmental Defense Fund is a strong proponent of the economic and environmental benefits of natural gas and of the use of fracking techniques.
It’s clear that new energy sources are required to meet America’s needs and reduce dependence on foreign oil. It’s further estimated that fracking will lead to $2 trillion in U.S. capital investments through 2035.
This resource boom also is a rich source of jobs. In 2011 alone, the oil and gas industry supported an impressive 9.6 million jobs.
Every community in America stands to gain from fracking, and despite what detractors say, there’s almost no downside.
Faulkner is CEO of Breitling Energy Cos.