If frackophobes are to be believed, natural-gas fracking is the most frightful environmental nightmare since Japan’s Fukushima nuclear-power plant melted down amid an earthquake and tsunami in March 2011.
In Promised Land, Matt Damon’s new anti-fracking film funded by the United Arab Emirates, one character demonstrates this production technique’s “dangers” by drenching a toy farm with household chemicals and then setting it ablaze.
In the pro-fracking film FrackNation, one Pennsylvania homeowner absurdly claims that fracking polluted his well water with weapons-grade uranium. (For details, watch AXS-TV on Tuesday, January 22, at 9 p.m. EST.) FrackNation also is in limited theatrical release at the Quad Cinemas in New York City and at Laemmle’s Playhouse 7 in Pasadena, Calif.
In an agitprop poster from the group New Yorkers Against Fracking, the Statue of Liberty furiously topples natural-gas drilling towers with her torch as energy-company big rigs flee in horror.
These warnings might be believable if fracking regulators seemed even slightly worried. Instead, federal and state environmental officials appear positively serene about hydraulic fracturing, a decades-old technology that uses sand and chemically treated water to shatter shale deposits 5,000 to 8,000 feet below the water table and liberate natural gas from the ruptured rocks.
“In no case have we made a definitive determination that the fracking process has caused chemicals to enter groundwater,” Environmental Protection Agency administrator Lisa Jackson stated last April. In May 2011, she told the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform: “I’m not aware of any proven case where the fracking process itself has affected water.”
The EPA tested drinking water in Dimock, Pa., which ecologists claim fracking has tainted. “EPA has determined that there are not levels of contaminants present that would require additional action by the Agency,” it concluded last July. Regional administrator Shawn M. Garvin added: “The Agency has used the best available scientific data to provide clarity to Dimock residents and address their concerns about the safety of their drinking water.”
“A study that examined the water quality of 127 shallow domestic wells in the Fayetteville Shale natural-gas production area of Arkansas found no groundwater contamination associated with gas production,” the U.S. Geological Survey announced Wednesday. “Methane is the primary component of natural gas,” the report observed. “What methane was found in the water, taken from domestic wells, was either naturally occurring, or could not be attributed to natural gas production activities.” USGS director Marcia McNutt elaborated: “This new study is important in terms of finding no significant effects on groundwater quality from shale gas development within the area of sampling.”
“Significant adverse impacts on human health are not expected from routine HVHF,” or high-volume hydraulic fracturing, according to a February 2012 preliminary report from New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation. Governor Andrew Cuomo (D., N.Y.) has pondered this issue since 2010 and promises further contemplation, including another draft of what DEC now calls an “outdated summary.”
“New York would be crazy not to lift the moratorium” against fracking, former governor Ed Rendell (D., Pa.) told the New York Post in November. The former chairman of the Democratic National Committee continued: “I told Governor Cuomo I would come to testify before any legislative committee. . . . It’s a good thing to do.”
“I do find it stunningly hypocritical to buy gas that comes from fracking wells somewhere [else] in the U.S. and then say fracking is bad,” John Hanger, Rendell’s former secretary of environmental protection, remarked in the Post. “If you’re saying no to gas, you’re saying yes to more coal and oil.” Hanger, a Keystone State Democratic gubernatorial contender, lately lauded the benefits of gas fracking:
Using more natural gas has slashed US carbon emissions and toxic air pollution — lead, mercury, arsenic, soot — in the nation’s air by displacing large amounts of coal and oil. That cleaner air saves thousands of lives every year. And no nation in the world has cut its carbon emissions more than the US since 2006. Indeed, thanks in substantial part to shale gas, US carbon emissions are back to 1995 levels and fell about another 4 percent in 2012.
“We have never had any cases of groundwater contamination from hydraulic fracturing,” Elizabeth Ames Jones said in 2011. The then-chairman of the Texas Railroad Commission, which supervises natural gas, added: “It is geologically impossible for fracturing fluid to reach an aquifer a thousand feet above.”
“We have drilled 3,500 wells in Arkansas and explored every complaint of a compromised well,” Lawrence Bengal, director of the state’s Oil and Gas Commission, noted in 2011. “We have found no fracturing fluid in any of those well complaints.”
While California last month unveiled new disclosure and monitoring rules for fracking, Tim Kustic, the Golden State’s oil-and-gas supervisor, told the San Jose Mercury News: “There is no evidence of harm from fracking in groundwater in California at this point in time. And it has been going on for many years.”
“We’ve used hydraulic fracturing for some 60 years in Oklahoma, and we have no confirmed cases where it is responsible for drinking water contamination — nor do any of the other natural gas–producing states,” Bob Anthony, chairman of the state’s public-utilities commission, wrote in August 2010.
“In the 41 years that I have supervised oil and gas exploration, production, and development in South Dakota, no documented case of water-well or aquifer damage by the fracking of oil or gas wells, has been brought to my attention,” said the Department of Environment’s Fred Steece. “Nor am I aware of any such cases before my time.” Steece commented in a June 2009 New York DEC document that cites regulators from 15 states who identified zero examples of fracking-related water pollution.
“Facts matter,” says Robert Bryce, a Manhattan Institute senior fellow and author of four books on energy. “Over the past six decades, the fracturing process has been used more than 1 million times on American oil and gas wells. If it were as dangerous as the anti-drilling/anti-hydraulic fracturing crowd claims, then hundreds, perhaps thousands, of water wells would have been contaminated by now. That hasn’t happened.” Adds Bryce, who also appears in FrackNation: “The simple truth is that the shale revolution is the best possible news for the U.S. economy, and it’s coming at a time when good economic news is desperately needed.”
The officials quoted here are neither gas-company executives nor petro-publicists. These are public servants who oversee this industry, and many work or have worked for red-tape-loving Democrats. Nonetheless, they are unafraid of fracking. Clearly, frackophobes have nothing to offer but fear itself.
— New York commentator Deroy Murdock is a Fox News contributor, a nationally syndicated columnist with the Scripps Howard News Service, and a media fellow with the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution, and Peace at Stanford University.