Should the US Use Hydraulic Fracturing (Fracking) to Extract Natural Gas?
General Reference (not clearly pro or con)
The US Department of Energy (DOE) wrote in its Aug. 18, 2011 report "Shale Gas Production Subcommittee 90-Day Report" on shalegas.energy.gov:
"Natural gas is a cornerstone of the U.S. economy, providing a quarter of the country’s total energy. Owing to breakthroughs in technology, production from shale formations has gone from a negligible amount just a few years ago to being almost 30 percent of total U.S. natural gas production. This has brought lower prices, domestic jobs, and the prospect of enhanced national security due to the potential of substantial production growth. But the growth has also brought questions about whether both current and future production can be done in an environmentally sound fashion that meets the needs of public trust.
As with all energy use, shale gas must be produced in a manner that prevents, minimizes and mitigates environmental damage and the risk of accidents and protects public health and safety. Public concern and debate about the production of shale gas has grown as shale gas output has expanded.
The Subcommittee identifies four major areas of concern: (1) Possible pollution of drinking water from methane and chemicals used in fracturing fluids; (2) Air pollution; (3) Community disruption during shale gas production; and (4) Cumulative adverse impacts that intensive shale production can have on communities and ecosystems.
There are serious environmental impacts underlying these concerns and these adverse environmental impacts need to be prevented, reduced and, where possible, eliminated as soon as possible. Absent effective control, public opposition will grow, thus putting continued production at risk. Moreover, with anticipated increase in U.S. hydraulically fractured wells, if effective environmental action is not taken today, the potential environmental consequences will grow to a point that the country will be faced a more serious problem. Effective action requires both strong regulation and a shale gas industry in which all participating companies are committed to continuous improvement.
The rapid expansion of production and rapid change in technology and field practice requires federal and state agencies to adapt and evolve their regulations. Industry’s pursuit of more efficient operations often has environmental as well as economic benefits, including waste minimization, greater gas recovery, less water usage, and a reduced operating footprint. So there are many reasons to be optimistic that continuous improvement of shale gas production in reducing existing and potential undesirable impacts can be a cooperative effort among the public, companies in the industry, and regulators."
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) wrote in its Nov. 3, 2011 publication "Plan to Study the Potential Impacts of Hydraulic Fracturing on Drinking Water Resources" on water.epa.gov:
"Natural gas plays a key role in our nation’s clean energy future. Recent advances in drilling technologies—including horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing—have made vast reserves of natural gas economically recoverable in the US. Responsible development of America’s oil and gas resources offers important economic, energy security, and environmental benefits...
As the use of hydraulic fracturing has increased, so have concerns about its potential environmental and human health impacts. Many concerns about hydraulic fracturing center on potential risks to drinking water resources, although other issues have been raised. In response to public concern, the US Congress directed the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to conduct scientific research to examine the relationship between hydraulic fracturing and drinking water resources.
This study plan represents an important milestone in responding to the direction from Congress. EPA is committed to conducting a study that uses the best available science, independent sources of information, and a transparent, peer-reviewed process that will ensure the validity and accuracy of the results. The Agency will work in consultation with other federal agencies, state and interstate regulatory agencies, industry, non-governmental organizations, and others in the private and public sector in carrying out this study. Stakeholder outreach as the study is being conducted will continue to be a hallmark of our efforts, just as it was during the development of this study plan...
EPA recognizes that the public has raised concerns about hydraulic fracturing that extend beyond the potential impacts on drinking water resources. This includes, for example, air impacts, ecological effects, seismic risks, public safety, and occupational risks. These topics are currently outside the scope of this study plan, but should be examined in the future."
[Editor's Note: On Apr. 17, 2012 the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued new rules(2 MB) allowing them for the first time to reduce and regulate volatile organic compound (VOC) air pollution from wells that utilize fracking to produce natural gas. In its overview of the new rules(354 KB) , the EPA stated: "The VOC emission reductions from wells, combined with reductions from storage tanks and other equipment, are expected to help reduce ground-level ozone in areas where oil and gas production occurs. In addition, the reductions would yield a significant environmental co-benefit by reducing methane emissions from new and modified wells. Methane, the primary constituent of natural gas, is a potent greenhouse gas – more than 20 times as potent as carbon dioxide when emitted directly to the atmosphere. Oil and natural gas production and processing accounts for nearly 40 percent of all U.S. methane emissions, making the industry the nation’s single largest methane source."]
The United States Geological Survey (USGS) wrote in its May 2009 report "Water Resources and Natural Gas Production from the Marcellus Shale" on the USGS website:
"Natural gas is an abundant, domestic energy resource that burns cleanly, and emits the lowest amount of carbon dioxide per calorie of any fossil fuel... [N]atural gas resources in the United States are important components of a national energy program that seeks both greater energy independence and greener sources of energy...
While the technology of drilling directional boreholes, and the use of sophisticated hydraulic fracturing processes to extract gas resources from tight rock have improved over the past few decades, the knowledge of how this extraction might affect water resources has not kept pace. Agencies that manage and protect water resources could benefit from a better understanding of the impacts that drilling and stimulating... wells might have on water supplies, and a clearer idea of the options for wastewater disposal."
Should the US Use Hydraulic Fracturing (Fracking) to Extract Natural Gas?
The Wall Street Journal wrote in its June 25, 2011 editorial "The Facts About Fracking":
"The U.S. is in the midst of an energy revolution, and we don't mean solar panels or wind turbines. A new gusher of natural gas from shale has the potential to transform U.S. energy production—that is, unless politicians, greens and the industry mess it up...
The resulting boom is transforming America's energy landscape. As recently as 2000, shale gas was 1% of America's gas supplies; today it is 25%. Prior to the shale breakthrough, U.S. natural gas reserves were in decline, prices exceeded $15 per million British thermal units, and investors were building ports to import liquid natural gas. Today, proven reserves are the highest since 1971, prices have fallen close to $4 and ports are being retrofitted for LNG exports.
The shale boom is also reviving economically suffering parts of the country, while offering a new incentive for manufacturers to stay in the U.S....
The question... is whether we are serious about domestic energy production. All forms of energy have risks and environmental costs, not least wind (noise and dead birds and bats) and solar (vast expanses of land). Yet renewables are nowhere close to supplying enough energy, even with large subsidies, to maintain America's standard of living. The shale gas and oil boom is the result of U.S. business innovation and risk-taking. If we let the fear of undocumented pollution kill this boom, we will deserve our fate as a second-class industrial power."
The Ground Water Protection Council (GWPC), a national association of state groundwater agencies, wrote in its Apr. 2009 publication "Modern Shale Gas Development in the United States: A Primer" on gwpc.org:
"Hydraulic fracturing has been a key technology in making shale gas an affordable addition to the Nation’s energy supply, and the technology has proven to be a safe and effective stimulation technique. Ground water is protected during the shale gas fracturing process by a combination of the casing and cement that is installed when the well is drilled and the thousands of feet of rock between the fracture zone and any fresh or treatable aquifers... While challenges continue to exist with water availability and water management, innovative regional solutions are emerging that allow shale gas development to continue while ensuring that the water needs of other users can be met and that surface and ground water quality is protected."
Terry Engelder, PhD, Professor of Geosciences at Pennsylvania State University, wrote in her Sep. 14, 2011 article "Should Fracking Stop?" in Boston University's Comment:
"I believe that there is enough domestic gas to meet our needs for the foreseeable future thanks to technological advances in hydraulic fracturing. According to IHS, a business-information company in Douglas County, Colorado, the estimated recoverable gas from US shale source rocks using fracking is about 42 trillion cubic metres, almost equal to the total conventional gas discovered in the United States over the past 150 years, and equivalent to about 65 times the current US annual consumption. During the past three years, about 50 billion barrels of additional recoverable oil have been found in shale oil deposits — more than 20% of the total conventional recoverable US oil resource. These ‘tight’ oil resources, which also require fracking to access, could generate 3 million barrels a day by 2020, offsetting one-third of current oil imports. International data aren’t as well known, but the effect of fracking on global energy production will be huge.
Global warming is a serious issue that fracking-related gas production can help to alleviate... Mankind’s inexorable march towards 9 billion people will require a broad portfolio of energy resources, which can be gained only with breakthroughs such as fracking...
Global warming aside, there is no compelling environmental reason to ban hydraulic fracturing. There are environmental risks, but these can be managed through existing, and rapidly improving, technologies and regulations. It might be nice to have moratoria after each breakthrough to study the consequences (including the disposal of old batteries or radioactive waste), but because energy expenditure and economic health are so closely linked, global moratoria are not practical.
The gains in employment, economics and national security, combined with the potential to reduce global greenhouse-gas emissions if natural gas is managed properly, make a compelling case."
Timothy J. Considine, PhD, Director of the Center for Energy Economics and Public Policy at the University of Wyoming, wrote in his June 7, 2011 paper "The Economic Opportunities of Shale Energy Development" for the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research:
"The natural gas boom that America is experiencing is due largely to advances in hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling techniques which free gas trapped in densely packed shale formations previously thought to be uneconomic...
[T]he net economic benefits of shale drilling in the Marcellus are considerably positive while the environmental impact of the typical Marcellus well is relatively low...
[T]he probability of an environmental event is small and that those that do occur are minor and localized in their effects... [T]he potential economic benefits of shale gas exploration greatly exceed the potential environmental impacts..."
Paul Chesser, Executive Director of the American Tradition Institute, wrote in his July 2011 policy brief "The Great Frack Attack: The War on Natural Gas" on commonwealthfoundation.org:
"The development and growth of the Marcellus Shale natural gas industry is a major boom for Pennsylvania's economy. The industry has directly and indirectly created tens of thousands of new jobs, with tens of thousands more to come if natural gas is allowed to continue in a safe and responsible manner; paid out billions in royalty and lease payment to landowners; and contributed hundreds of millions of dollars to state and local government tax coffers...
Among the myths alleged about 'Big Gas' is that drillers are flocking to Pennsylvania's rich Marcellus Shale reserves, engaging in dangerous and highly polluting drilling activities, and shirking responsibility for damages while successfully avoiding paying taxes...
These intentional distortions of reality have both misinformed the public understanding in Pennsylvania and the policy debate in Harrisburg."
The American Petroleum Institute (API) wrote on its webpage "The Promise" on EnergyFromShale.org (accessed Nov. 7, 2011):
"Fracking has emerged as a contentious issue in many communities, and it is important to note that there are only two sides in the debate: those who want our oil and natural resources developed in a safe and responsible way; and those who don’t want our oil and natural gas resources developed at all. Development does bring with it some challenges, but the oil and natural gas industry has and will continue to work with concerned citizens, regulators and policy makers to make sure that it is done responsibly."
Robert W. Howarth, PhD, Profesor of Ecology and Environmental Biology at Cornell University, and Anthony Ingraffea, PhD, Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Cornell University, wrote in their Sep. 14, 2011 article "Should Fracking Stop?" in Boston University's Comment:
"Many fracking additives are toxic, carcinogenic or mutagenic. Many are kept secret. In the United States, such secrecy has been abetted by the 2005 ‘Halliburton loophole,' which exempts fracking from many of the nation’s major federal environmental-protection laws, including the Safe Drinking Water Act... Fracking extracts natural salts, heavy metals, hydrocarbons and radioactive materials from the shale, posing risks to ecosystems and public health when these return to the surface. This flowback is collected in open pits or large tanks until treated, recycled or disposed of. Because shale-gas development is so new, scientific information on the environmental costs is scarce. Only this year have studies begun to appear in peer-reviewed journals, and these give reason for pause. We call for a moratorium on shale-gas development [which requires fracking for extraction] to allow for better study of the cumulative risks to water quality, air quality and global climate. Only with such comprehensive knowledge can appropriate regulatory frameworks be developed...
[S]hale gas competes for investment with green energy technologies, slowing their development and distracting politicians and the public from developing a long-term sustainable energy policy. With time, perhaps engineers can develop more appropriate ways to handle fracking-fluid return wastes, and perhaps the technology can be made more sustainable and less polluting in other ways. Meanwhile, the gas should remain safely in the shale, while society uses energy more efficiently and develops renewable energy sources more aggressively."
EARTHWORKS, an environmental advocacy organization, wrote in its Apr. 23, 2009 webpage "Hydraulic Fracturing 101" on earthworksaction.org:
"Hydraulic fracturing fluids contain toxic chemicals and are being injected into and near drinking water supplies...These chemicals have known negative health effects such as respiratory, neurological and reproductive impacts, impacts on the central nervous system, and cancer...
There are number of ways in which hydraulic fracturing threatens our drinking water...
[H]ydraulic fracturing fluids not only contain toxic chemicals, but this operation utilizes high volumes of fluids and high pressures to intentionally open up underground pathways for gas or oil to flow. Injected fluids have been known to travel as far as 3,000 feet from a well, and fracturing fluids may remain trapped underground.
Most states' policies regarding hydraulic fracturing amount to 'don't ask and don't tell.' At the state level, most oil and gas agencies do not require companies to report the volumes or names of chemicals being injected during hydraulic fracturing, and they have never conducted any sampling to determine the underground or surface fate of hydraulic fracturing chemicals."
Paul Krugman, PhD, Professor of Economics and International Affairs at Princeton University, wrote in his Nov. 6, 2011 op-ed "Here Comes the Sun" in the New York Times:
"Fracking... imposes large costs on the public. We know that it produces toxic (and radioactive) wastewater that contaminates drinking water; there is reason to suspect, despite industry denials, that it also contaminates groundwater; and the heavy trucking required for fracking inflicts major damage on roads.
Economics 101 tells us that an industry imposing large costs on third parties should be required to 'internalize' those costs — that is, to pay for the damage it inflicts, treating that damage as a cost of production. Fracking might still be worth doing given those costs. But no industry should be held harmless from its impacts on the environment and the nation’s infrastructure.
Yet what the industry and its defenders demand is, of course, precisely that it be let off the hook for the damage it causes. Why? Because we need that energy! For example, the industry-backed organization energyfromshale.org declares that 'there are only two sides in the debate: those who want our oil and natural resources developed in a safe and responsible way; and those who don’t want our oil and natural gas resources developed at all.'
So it’s worth pointing out that special treatment for fracking makes a mockery of free-market principles. Pro-fracking politicians claim to be against subsidies, yet letting an industry impose costs without paying compensation is in effect a huge subsidy. They say they oppose having the government 'pick winners,' yet they demand special treatment for this industry precisely because they claim it will be a winner.
So what you need to know is that nothing you hear from these people is true. Fracking is not a dream come true."
Margot Roosevelt, staff writer at the Los Angeles Times, wrote in her June 18, 2010 article "Gulf Oil Spill Worsens--But What About the Safety of Gas Fracking?":
"Imagine a siege of hydrocarbons spewing from deep below ground, polluting water and air, sickening animals and threatening the health of unsuspecting Americans. And no one knows how long it will last.
No, we're not talking about BP's gulf oil spill. We're talking about hydraulic fracturing of natural gas deposits. And if that phrase makes your eyes glaze over, start blinking them open. Fracking, as the practice is also known, may be coming to a drinking well or a water system near you. It involves blasting water, sand and chemicals, many of them toxic, into underground rock to extract oil or gas...
[F]ormer Vice President Dick Cheney, in partnership with the energy industry and drilling companies such as his former employer, Halliburton Corp., successfully pressured Congress in 2005 to exempt fracking from the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Clean Air Act and other environmental laws...
Each well requires the high-pressure injection of a cocktail of nearly 600 chemicals, including known carcinogens and neurotoxins, diluted in 1 million to 7 million gallons of water.
Coincidentally, a month before the blowout of the gulf oil well, Energy and Environment Daily, an independent publication, published a draft of proposed language to exempt fracking from chemical disclosure rules in pending Senate energy and climate legislation. The primary author? BP America Inc."
Kevin Grandia, Director of Online Strategy at Greenpeace USA, wrote in his June 28, 2010 article "What the Frack: Is Pumping Glass Cleaner Into the Earth Okay?" on the Huffington Post website:
"[N]atural gas extraction is a nasty business. Hydraulic fracturing is the reason there is so much money to be made in natural gas nowadays... The problem is that while the natural gas companies might think hydraulic fracturing is great for their bottom line, the process involves pumping thousands of gallons of toxic chemicals down into the earth. While the short-term financial upsides of fracking look good on quarterly reports, the long-term costs of the potential health and environmental damage is speculative at best. What is certain is that pumping thousands of gallons of toxic chemicals deep into the planet is probably not a good thing...
I don't know what is more insidious, pumping thousands of gallons of immunotoxicants, mutagens, and other nasty things into our planet's core, or the public relations spin the natural gas companies try to put on all this by listing these toxic agents as they are found in common household goods... Pumping these toxins into our earth is just plain fracked up and it makes clean energy technologies from unlimited sources like the sun and the wind that much more sensible."