Fracking Dodges a Bullet

fracking_wellby James A. Bacon

Environmentalists have pointed out numerous potential problems with fracking, the use of high-pressure water and chemicals to extract oil and gas from shale rock formations. The process consumes large quantities of water, it injects toxic chemicals underground, and it might even cause earthquakes. But the most alarming charge is that fracking poses a risk to public health by contaminating drinking water.  As the United States organizes its energy policy around the extraction of oil and gas by fracking — and as Virginia re-orients its electricity portfolio to natural gas, much of it obtained through fracking — it is prudent to investigate these concerns.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has done just that, recently releasing a draft report resulting from a five-year study. During that time between 25,000 and 30,000 wells were drilled and fracked annually. Between 2000 and 2013, more than nine million people lived within a mile of a fracked well. While the EPA identified multiple mechanisms by which fracking theoretically might pollute drinking water, it found that the actual impact to be limited.

We did not find evidence that these mechanisms have led to widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources in the United States. Of the potential mechanisms identified in this report, we found specific instances where one or more mechanisms led to impacts on drinking water resources, including contamination of drinking water wells. The number of identified cases, however, was small compared to the number of hydraulically fractured wells.

The EPA conceded that the study had limitations, however, and the paucity of negative impacts might reflect a lack of data rather than the lack of actual harm.

In an assessment of the EPA study, McGuire Woods attorneys Bernadette M. Rappold and Jonathon T. Blank write:

What is clear is that the agency appears not to have found a wake of horrors in hydraulic fracturing’s path. That may reduce, for now, the repeated calls for more vigorous regulation of hydraulic fracturing, but is unlikely quell the protests of environmentalists who claim that this industrial process, which is responsible for an overall reduction in the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions, requires stricter oversight.


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  1. larryg Avatar

    WAIT! is this the same agency that’s been called lying sons of guns on Climate change and engaging in an unconscionable war on coal and other draconian rules?

    Lord – it sounds like the ideologues had an OFF day!

  2. larryg Avatar

    ” The Three Seismic Shifts That Are Shaking Up the World of Energy
    There’s no denying the huge changes that are underway

    1) The rise and rise of U.S. oil production

    While there are signs shale production will fall back slightly this year because of the slump in oil prices it’s marginal compared with the longer-term trend. Energy independence is getting closer: U.S. energy production met almost 90 percent of consumption last year, the most since the Reagan administration.

    2) China’s energy slowdown

    3) The global solar boom

    Renewable energy is now a force to be reckoned with. Last year non-fossil fuels, including nuclear, accounted for more of the increase in global energy consumption than oil, gas and coal combined. Particularly notable are record installations of solar panels.

    The combination of slower energy demand growth and more renewable power meant global emissions expanded just 0.5 percent in 2014, the slowest pace since the financial crisis. increasing just 0.5 percent.

  3. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    Wait! You mean you are buying into an EPA DRAFT report? The Clean Power Plan is a DRAFT EPA report but you have trashed all over it. I guess when a draft goes along with what you want it to, that’s just fine.

    There have been some coveats to the EPA report on fracking that the EPA acknowledges. Three years may not be enough time to really know if groundwater has been contaminated. Some experts say that too many wells aren’t properly sealed and methane leaks. You don’t mention the noise associated with diesel generators and the fact that shale oila nd gas wells require lots of water. There have been plenty of fires, too.

    Fracking is actually in a slump right now. Low oil and gas prices mean it’s not worth it to invest $12 million in a fracking well.It’s been this ay for maybe a year and a half an no one knows when it will start up again in earnest.

    There always seems to be a time lag between what’s on the blogosphere and what’s going on in reality.

  4. Here’s my thought on credibility the EPA report…. If the EPA under the Obama administration, as politicized as it is, reports that it can find little evidence of fracking polluting drinking water, then it’s a pretty safe bet that there’s little evidence of fracking polluting drinking water. Not hard to understand, guys.

    1. LifeOnTheFallLine Avatar

      Of course, the natural gas boom has been a huge feather in Obama’s cap that he touts not infrequently. If the EPA is as politicized as you claim then maybe they’re trying to politically give cover to their boss by fudging a study that would undermine that.

    2. larryg Avatar

      If the EPA is a politicized as you say they are – why wouldn’t the EPA just “study” it forever like Keystone and never deliver any positive analysis and let the opponents continue to fear-monger?

      truth is the anti EPA folks are not really interested in the truth when it comes to what they oppose but all in favor of it when it’s for something they like.

  5. Peter said, “You don’t mention the noise associated with diesel generators and the fact that shale oil and gas wells require lots of water. ”

    In point of fact, I wrote: “The process consumes large quantities of water.”

    So, you’re left with the fact that I didn’t mention that diesel generators make a lot of noise. So, what are we supposed to make of that? Do we ban fracking because it’s noisy? Or do we implement the same kind of noise controls we would impose for any kind of industrial activity?

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