Note inclusion of the word “could,” as in … “The Curiosity Rover could awaken an ancient warlike people on Mars who will swoop down and destroy the Earth.” A scary possibility, but the Environmental Protection Agency, whose job it is to know such things, hasn’t seen it. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson told a congressional hearing in May 2011:
"I'm not aware of any proven case where the fracking process itself has affected water.”
And Jackson again, to Fox News in April this year:
“In no case have we made a definitive determination that the fracking process has caused chemical contamination of groundwater.”
This is just incorrect. The common misconception is that oil and gas operations are not subject to robust regulation and enforcement, when the fact is the industry is heavily regulated through both federal and state regulations. States have the lead in regulating drilling operations on private and state lands and have effectively done so for decades. Oklahoma Corporation Commissioner Dana Murphy, in congressional testimony last year:
"My fundamental point would be to encourage that the states are the appropriate bodies to regulate the oil and gas drilling industry. Protection of water and the environment and the beneficial development of the nation's resources of oil and gas are not mutually exclusive goals. Oklahoma is proof of that."
And Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Michael Krancer:
“Simply put, because of our long history of oil and gas development and comprehensive regulatory structure, Pennsylvania does not need federal intervention to ensure an appropriate balance between resource development and environmental protection is struck.”
And here’s EPA’s Lisa Jackson again, in an interview last fall:
"The vast majority of oil and gas production is regulated at the state level. There are issues of whether or not the federal government can add to protection and also peace of mind for citizens by looking at large issues like air pollution impacts, which can be regional. ... So it's not to say that there isn't a federal role, but you can't start to talk about a federal role without acknowledging the very strong state role."
In addition, the following federal statutes apply:
- Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act
- Safe Drinking Water Act
- Clean Water Act
- Clean Air Act
- National Environmental Policy Act
- The Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act
As well as others. Moving on to the hydraulic fracturing process, here’s DCS’s visual:
First, some perspective on those items on the left. The typical fracking fluid is a mixture of 99.5 percent water and sand. Chemicals account for the remaining one-half of 1 percent. As for the items on the right, they are among ingredients used in fracking that also are found in products common in our daily lives – including cooking sterno (methanol); lubricants, dyes and detergents (benzene); paints and cleaning products (2-butoxyethanol) and mothballs (naphthalene).
OK, how about the casings (those black lines on their chart). A typical shale well is drilled and fractured thousands of feet below the surface, often more than a mile. And ground water? A couple of hundred feet below the surface, with thousands of feet of rock layers between. As for that dark cloud of leaking gas in the graphic, casing failures are hardly common. Comprehensive studies found that over 25 years in Ohio there was a failure rate of 0.03 percent, and over 15 years in Texas the failure rate was 0.01 percent, and even then many of the problems occurred before technological and regulatory improvements that have been put in place over the past 10 years.
Lastly, the DCS graphic gives us this:
Wow, those fracking cracks are really close to water sources, aren’t they? Very alarming – until you realize that this graphic should have a label that says, “Really, really not to scale.” Again, take a look at this infographic to understand the depth of shale operations relative to the location of ground water.
And again, regarding that gas migration up into drinking water, you can re-read the quotes above, but just in case, here’s one more, from John Hanger, formerly Pennsylvania’s chief environmental officer:
"Simply put, fracking for shale gas is happening at such depths that there is next to no danger of polluting groundwater with fluids returning from depth."
We won’t hold our breath waiting for DCS to update its subway posters.