Insist on facts in fracking
Published on -2/20/2014, 9:55 AM
Fear has become a principal means of directing public opinion away from the facts, and in the case of hydraulic fracturing, it is occurring with a well-known and historically acceptable process associated with recovering oil and natural gas from the earth.
Fear of the unknown is primal and instinctive and is part of all mankind. I cannot, and will not, criticize the fear of those who are afraid of what they do not know. Rather, I applaud those who raise relevant questions and want answers concerning activities they do not understand. My criticism is reserved for those who exploit and pander to fear by repeatedly citing unproven anecdotes to advance their preconceived political agendas.
So, what are the facts associated with hydraulic fracturing?
Fact: Hydraulic fracturing (fracking) is not new. For more than 66 years, America's energy producers have relied upon the technique known as fracking to enhance the production of oil and natural gas. Fracking is a process consisting of pumping a mixture of water and sand under pressure into isolated zones to enhance the natural fractures that exist in subsurface rock formations.
Fact: Hydraulic fracturing does not cause earthquakes. Generally, the world's strongest earthquakes occur along the large fault lines, although smaller faults are found many places. Oil and gas production often is found in geologically folded and faulted areas with a long history of seismic activity due to numerous natural faults. While the fracking process causes microseismic events, in contrast to earthquakes, those events are similar to the seismic impact of an apple falling from a tree. The National Research Council released a study in 2012 that concluded hydraulic fracturing does not pose a high risk for seismic events. In addition, the National Academy of Sciences released a study in 2012 that stated seismicity risk from hydraulic fracturing is negligible. These two studies confirmed what all of us who are interested in the facts already knew: There is no legitimate reason to believe hydraulic fracturing causes earthquakes.
Fact: Hydraulic fracturing never has caused groundwater contamination. Using water under pressure to fracture rock is not new. Hydraulic fracturing has been used in this country since 1947. More than 57,000 wells in Kansas and 1.2 million wells in the U.S. have been fracked by the oil and gas industry without a single verified or documented instance of harm to groundwater. During the course of its history, fracking has not only been used by the oil and gas industry, but also to access things such as water and geothermal energy. As a matter of fact, it even has been used by the EPA to clean up super-fund sites.
Fact: Hydraulic fracturing fluids are 98 percent water and 2 percent chemicals. In the case of hydraulic fracturing, the word "chemicals" is used by fearmongers to imply poisoning, death and disease. Toxicity is not synonymous with the use of chemicals. Peanut butter, jelly and other common food stuffs all become toxic at a certain dose, so it is not the presence of a chemical substance that creates the concern. It is, and always will be, the dosage.
Fact: The chemicals used in the case of hydraulic fracturing involve simple compounds at low concentrations. Hydraulic fracturing uses water with biocides to control bacteria -- the same chemicals used in rural wells, municipal water treatment systems and the sterilization of medical instruments. Compounds are added to the water to reduce friction -- the same compounds used in water-treatment facilities throughout the country. Scale inhibitors are used to reduce gunk that forms in the well -- the same materials used in household cleaners. Corrosion is treated with oxygen scavengers -- the same materials used in cosmetics. Hydrochloric acid is used to keep the equipment clean -- the same material used in swimming pools. Stabilizers are used to control migration of fluids -- primarily the same salts used to flavor food or to melt ice in the winter.
Hydraulic fracturing effectively has been regulated by state governments and oversight agencies since its inception. At both the federal and state level, all of the laws, regulations and permits that apply to oil and natural gas exploration and production activities also apply to hydraulic fracturing. These include all laws and regulations related to well design, location, spacing, operation and abandonment as well as environmental activities and discharges, including water management and disposal, air emissions, underground injection, and worker health and safety.
The extraction of oil and natural gas is not a risk-free process. In fact, it requires effective regulation, which currently exists in Kansas and many other states.
Real facts always should debunk the anecdotal nonsense some might try to pass as fact. Hydraulic fracturing is a proven technology the oil and gas industry has demonstrated time and again can be used safely. Neither politics, nor fearmongering, nor unproven anecdotes can conceal or deny the substantial economic development benefits society has derived from hydraulic fracturing without any environmental degradation. Let's not be afraid of hydraulic fracturing.
Edward Cross is president of the Kansas Independent Oil & Gas Association.