Finding the best information available on the processes and opportunities surrounding the North American energy boom can be difficult at times. This is especially true when critics employ sensational claims to oppose shale development. Case in point -- the Nov. 2 article by Brook Johnson, "Fracking: Dangerous and Destructive." Johnson's piece follows the schematic of many of the anti-development messages -- fear and misleading information. Johnson didn't stray too far off the beaten path by asserting that continued shale development will destroy the environment, water aquifers and personal health. The facts, however, tell a different story, let's get started.
Being at the forefront of the energy boom, the people in this community deserve to have factual information at their disposal. Environmental groups have long asserted that, as a result of shale development, the effects of methane leakage outweigh the benefits of clean-burning natural gas. A recent collaborative study between the University of Texas and the Environmental Defense Fund put that scare tactic to rest. The study found that methane leaks from shale gas operations were 50 times lower than previously estimated by the Environmental Protection Agency. This rate is well below the threshold required for shale development to maintain its environmental benefits. Furthermore, the findings provided insight into the areas where methane leaks have occurred. This means that industry experts and regulators can use the findings as a roadmap to enhance standard processes as well as continue to cut down on emissions.
Along that same tack, horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing have led to an abundance as well as an increased use of natural gas. The use of cleaner-burning fuels have reduced energy-related carbon dioxide emissions to the lowest levels in the United States since 1994. It's also worth mentioning: the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, and the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection –have all released reports confirming no credible threat to air quality from shale development. The American Lung Association, meanwhile, gave several counties in the Bakken Shale-- high marks for air quality.
In last week's Saturday edition, Johnson touted the findings of Environment America's report--a recent but certainly not the last study that industry experts, regulators and academics will find concerning and unsubstantiated. Johnson proclaimed that with the release of this report, now "we have the numbers to back it up." The first of many red flags here is that although Johnson framed it as such, the group's October report is in no way the first environmental assessment of shale development. The oil and gas industry is rigorously regulated and hydraulic fracturing has been in their toolbox for over half a century. The notion that in the decades-long course of this practice that not one environmental impact study has been conducted is outrageous and does not give credit to the communities where shale development has become a part of daily life. Anti-shale proponents tend to ignore that the industry simply cannot function without the highest levels of environmental knowledge. The truth is, as the United States continues to experience an oil and gas boom, regulators at all levels have been diligent in making sure production does not come before best practices.
The report found and Johnson noted that "fracking" produced 280 billion gallons of wastewater in 2012; however, numbers without context are misleading. Recycling and reuse of flowback or wastewater is becoming standard operating procedure. The amount of water used in shale development is also blown out of proportion. In Colorado, oil and gas development accounts for less than one-tenth of one percent of the state's total water demand.
Perhaps the most frightening tactic used by opponents is the claim that shale development is contaminating the drinking water of nearby communities and is therefore a threat to public health. Here are some folks who disagree: The current U.S. Energy Secretary , Ernest Moniz has said, "To my knowledge, I still have not seen any evidence of hydraulic fracturing contaminating groundwater." This statement is echoed by Former EPA chief Lisa Jackson during her testimony before Congress in May of 2011. Add the U.S. Geological Survey, the U.S. Government Accountability Office, the Ground Water Protection Council, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to list of respected individuals and organizations who agree that shale development does not pose a credible risk to groundwater.
Safe development of shale while maintaining the highest environmental and public safety standards requires factual debate. The University of Texas – Environmental Defense Fund Study serves as an example of academia and environmental advocacy coming together with industry to promote best practices and accurately inform citizens. It's important that the pool of discussion is not diluted by unqualified statements, especially those meant to create fear. When searching for answers, make sure your information truly has the numbers to "back it up."