Monday, June 8, 2009

Ghostbusting Hydraulic Fracturing... State vs. Federal Regulation (Who You Gonna Call???)

A report, by John Laurent-Tronche, in today's Fort Worth Business Press, "States or Feds: Who gets to regulate hydraulic fracturing?" states:

A recent push by federal legislators to repeal the Energy Policy Act of 2005 could mean companies that employ hydraulic fracturing, a means of stimulating and opening up a well, would have to answer to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Safe Drinking Water Act about the chemicals they use in the injection process.
Legislators and other concerned parties, including environmental groups, are worried the chemicals used – many of which are harmful to humans and other species – could seep into underground water tables and contaminate water supply. The industry argues there haven’t been any instances of contamination to date and federal oversight would impede natural gas and oil development by adding increased permitting requirements and economic burdens.

“We have a 60-year track record on our side,” said Chris Tucker, spokesman for Energy in Depth, a Washington, D.C.-based industry lobbying group comprised of dozens of organizations, including the Texas Alliance of Energy Producers, the Texas Independent Producers and Royalty Owners Association and the Independent Petroleum Association of America. “Why in 60 years that fracing has been used, why now? Why is everyone pissed off now?”

In today's Atomic Insights Blog post: "See No Evil, Hear No Evil Approach to Regulating Hydraulic Fracturing Shale Gas Extraction", Ron Adams counters:
...I also found out that claims of "never a problem with hydraulic fracturing" were carefully stated to ensure that the claim was applicable only to a portion of the full process and did not include the potential for human or mechanical errors during drilling through aquifers, or the potential for surface water contamination. The witnesses that claimed that there was no evidence of contamination from hydraulic fracturing admitted that some parts of the complete process of extracting gas from shale formation had historically caused some issues of contamination or property damage, but the "fracking" process itself had not yet been proven to be the cause of any incidents. (One witness dismissed the reports of previous problems by stating that they were "legacy" issues that have already been corrected through state legislation and/or regulatory changes.)

Though the natural gas industry is adamant that additional regulations will cause it undue financial burdens and limit its ability to supply the abundant, cheap fuel that it claims is a "game changer", it appears evident that the practice of drilling for unconventional gas requires consistently applied regulations set at the federal level, perhaps with some assistance from state agencies that have proven capabilities as the local enforcement arm. As described by the witness from the US Geological Survey, the formations being developed are spread over large areas that do not respect state lines. The potentially affected air and water resources also do not recognize the politically determined boundaries of existing states.

With that 60 year problem free track record in Texas, why is there suddenly such outcry?

The Fort Worth Business Press continues:

The answer, [industry spokesman Chris Tucker] said, is the Marcellus Shale. As soon as natural gas production went from an isolated area in North Texas to nationwide – in Louisiana, Wyoming, New York, Pennsylvania, Arkansas and elsewhere – people began to worry about how to address it.

“[Environmental activists] knew they couldn’t go into Texas and say that the Barnett Shale was a loser or that fracing was dangerous. They couldn’t do that in Oklahoma,” Tucker said. “But once the Marcellus Shale came out and it was clear this was huge, it all came to the forefront.”

Indeed, 34 states now have oil and gas production, said Amy Mall, senior policy analyst with the Natural Resources Defense Council.

“It definitely is a national issue,” Mall said. “It’s no longer a local issue. We think federal regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act makes sense, because it is a national issue.”

From Atomic Insights:
In many cases, notably the newly developing Marcellus shale formation, the continuous gas reservoirs are deep under the surface of states that have little existing regulatory infrastructure and little experience in deep underground drilling. It is disingenuous for the oil/gas industry and the states that have experience to dig in their heels on a states' rights basis when it is clear that the implications of developing this large and important resource in a responsible manner will require multi-state cooperation with legal enforcement of required practices and should not be dependent on voluntary compliance with vaguely defined ''best practices".

FW Business Press:
Many of the chemicals used in Texas frac jobs can cause irreparable harm to the eyes, skin, sensory organs, respiratory system, brain and nervous system, according to an April 2009 study by The Endocrine Disruption Exchange, a Colorado-based organization that studies chemicals’ effects on human health and the environment. A little more than a month ago, 19 cattle died after ingesting a fluid that originated at a Chesapeake Energy Corp. drill site in Louisiana, according to an April 29 article in the Shreveport Times. Schlumberger Ltd. reportedly was conducting a frac job at the time. The matter is under investigation by the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality.
There have been at least 375 cases of groundwater contamination due to oil and gas operations reported to the New Mexico Oil Conservation Division, according to a list on the government agency’s Web site. Some of the companies responsible are big players in the Barnett Shale.

From TXSharon's blog, Bluedaze today, David Burnett, Director of the Global Petroleum Research Institute, is quoted, saying:
What is the fuss about drilling a Barnett Shale well? A Barnett well site with a drilling rig operating for three months has the same impact as a city of 4,000 people - Water use, solid waste generation, air emissions and traffic. The O&G industry has been slow to realize this—that it has too big an impact on the environment. ...

Bluedaze presents us with this revealing bird's eye view of "Natural Gas Production in the Barnett Shale..."

Thank you TXSharon, for all you do.

The Fort Worth Business Press concludes:
Earlier this year, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation issued a report saying it found no significant impacts from hydraulic fracturing operations, according to news reports. Only later did the department admit it had not conducted a single test to back up that claim.


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