The People of America's Oil and Natural Gas Indusry

Fracking Safety: Already On It

Mark Green

Mark Green
Posted July 1, 2011

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson says the natural gas industry needs to be out front on hydraulic fracturing regulations. With all due respect, that's already happening.

Fracking has been used to free oil and natural gas trapped in subterranean rock formations for six decades - safely. Recall that none other than Administrator Jackson told a congressional committee in May she knew of no instances of water contamination caused by hydraulic fracturing.

That's because the industry members who're producing this important energy source are committed to best practices and guidelines, developed from field experience and in cooperation with API.

For example, in Texas, where the Barnett Shale and Eagle Ford plays are producing clean-burning natural gas - more than 4 billion cubic feet a day in the Barnett - the Maguire Energy Institute's Bernard L. Weinstein writes fracking is being done with relatively few problems:

"Accidents related to shale gas extraction have been extremely rare in the Barnett, with only a handful of surface water contamination incidents in the completion of more than 14,000 wells. In those cases, responsible companies have provided clean water and compensation to affected families. What's more, careful studies by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Ground Water Protection Council haven't revealed a single case of ground water contamination from shale gas drilling itself."

Worth repeating: In completing more than 14,000 wells, there have been only a handful of cases of tainted surface water - basically, underscoring Jackson's assessment.

In Pennsylvania, Scott Perry, the director of the state Department of Environmental Protection's Bureau of Oil and Gas Management, says reports that fracking threatens groundwater are simply unfounded. Speaking to a recent conference of utilities regulators, Perry said:

"I've yet to see a single impact of fracking actually directly communicating with fresh groundwater resources. Again and again and again, I never see a single incidence of fracking causing this direct communication that we keep hearing about."

The fact is states like Texas and Pennsylvania are deeply invested in regulating hydraulic fracturing. With the support of industry, Pennsylvania increased well permit fees in 2009, allowing Perry's department to add enforcement staff. A 2010 state fracking review found:

"Hydraulic fracturing has been used in Pennsylvania since the 1950s. Since the 1980s, nearly all wells drilled in Pennsylvania have been fractured. Although thousands of wells have been fractured in Pennsylvania, DEP has not identified any instances where groundwater has been contaminated by hydraulic fracturing."

Those states and others also are reaping economic benefits. Weinstein notes studies that show the Barnett supports more than 100,000 jobs and has added $6 billion to the property tax base in North Texas. Unemployment around Eagle Ford is half the state average and sales tax receipts have leapt 70 percent. He writes:

"The experience of Texas has shown that oil and gas extraction from shale formations can be accomplished with minimal environmental degradation while generating huge economic and fiscal benefits."

According to a recent Manhattan Institute study the same growth awaits New York, which is considering lifting most of a statewide moratorium on fracking: as many as 18,000 jobs and $11.4 billion in economic activity by 2020.

Developing our natural gas resources safely - in tandem with effective state and local regulation - means energy, jobs, economic growth and revenues to public treasuries, a dynamic combination.

Additional Resources:

Fracking chemical disclosure registry

ExxonMobil's natural gas primer


Mark Green joined API after a career in newspaper journalism, including 16 years as national editorial writer for The Oklahoman in the paper’s Washington bureau. Mark also was a reporter, copy editor and sports editor. He earned his journalism degree from the University of Oklahoma and master’s in journalism and public affairs from American University. He and his wife Pamela live in Occoquan, Va., where they enjoy their four grandchildren.