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 allowing energy companies to 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 was paid to private landowners by energy companies in Texas alone.
The energy and economic boom is largely the result of hydraulic fracturing – popularly known as “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 Pennsylvania – are also benefiting from fracking.
Despite the benefits, there is some misinformation about fracking out there, and it’s time to debunk some 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 are often about 300 feet below the surface. Last year, an exhaustive University of Texas study done by the 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 documentary, Gasland, shows landowners in Colorado lighting their water taps on fire and blaming fracked wells nearby. But Colorado regulators had already determined the actual cause was naturally occurring biogenic methane, unrelated to fracking. In fact, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission 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 involve trucks, heavy equipment, and facilities to store waste and other by-products. However, any impact on the surface is easily remedied, and waste products are carefully disposed of. Increasingly, waste products are recycled for use in other wells or converted to deicing agents and distilled water.
Fears have also been raised about surface spills involving fracking fluids. Not only are such spills rare, but 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.
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 United States, and nearly all were moderate to small. The council 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 a million times. During that time, fracking has been regulated at the state level and has an unimpeachable safety record. A study in 2004 by the Environmental Protection Agency confirmed fracking was safe. “States are stepping up and doing a good job ,” said Lisa Jackson, President Obama’s first EPA administrator.
Even one of the nation’s largest environmental groups says federal regulation of fracking isn’t necessary. Scott Anderson, of the Environmental Defense Fund, said in 2010: “The states actually have a lot of knowledge and experience in regulating well construction and operation. We think that states have every reason to be able to tackle this issue and do it well.”
New energy sources are required to meet America’s needs and to reduce dependence on foreign oil. And fracking will lead to an estimated $2 trillion in U.S. capital investments through 2035. This resource boom will be a rich source of jobs. In 2011 alone, the oil and gas industry supported 9.6 million jobs.
Every community in America stands to gain from fracking, and, despite what detractors say, there’s almost no downside.
Chris Faulkner is the CEO of Breitling Oil & Gas. E-mail him at Chris@breitlingoilandgas.com