Thursday, September 13, 2012

Hydraulic Fracturing or Fracking: Impact on Energy, Jobs and Economic Growth

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Myth #1: Hydraulic fracturing threatens underground water sources and has led to the contamination of drinking water.
Fact: Hydraulic fracturing is subject to both federal and state regulations, and there have been no instances of fracking causing contamination of drinking water.
Groundwater aquifers sit thousands of feet above the level at which fracking takes place, and companies construct wells with steel-surface casings and cement barriers to prevent gas migration. Studies by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Groundwater Protection Council, and independent agencies have found no evidence of groundwater contamination.[11] In May 2011, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson stated before the U.S. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that "I am not aware of any proven case where the fracking process itself affected water although there are investigations ongoing."[12] Three of those investigations are in Texas, Wyoming, and Pennsylvania, and thus far the EPA has found no evidence of contamination; in the case of Wyoming, however, the EPA published faulty data with speculative and heavily contested conclusions. In all three cases the EPA ignored state regulators' management of the alleged problems.[13] Although previous EPA analysis of hydraulic fracturing found the process to be safe, the EPA now plans to publish a full study on hydraulic fracturing and drinking water that ostensibly demonstrates lack of safety. Analysis of the EPA's "Plan to Study the Potential Impacts of Hydraulic Fracturing on Drinking Water Resources" by the nonprofit technology research and development organization Battelle highlighted a number of concerns, including cherry-picking of data, lack of peer review, poor quality control, and a lack of transparency.[14]
Myth #2: The chemicals used in the fracking process are foreign chemicals that industry hides from the public.
Fact: Fracking fluid, made primarily of sand and water, uses a small percentage of chemicals that have common household applications and are regulated by the state.
The fluid used in hydraulic fracturing is 99.5 percent water and sand. The 0.5 percent of additives (typically between three and 12 different chemicals) depends on the composition of the shale formation that varies by region and by well. The combination of additives function to dissolve minerals, prevent bacteria growth and pipe corrosion, minimize friction, and keep the fractures open or propped up. All chemicals used in the fracking process have common applications from swimming-pool cleaners and laundry detergents to cosmetics, and even ice cream.[15] None of these chemicals is hidden from the public, and federal law stipulates that a company must provide detailed chemical information sheets to emergency personnel in case of an accident. While states that have hydraulic fracturing laws have their own stipulations for chemical disclosure, the U.S. Department of Energy, in collaboration with the Groundwater Protection Council and industry, created the website The site provides a full list of chemicals used in the fracking process and companies voluntarily disclose the chemical makeup for specific wells across the country.[16] FracFocus allows users to search wells by operator, state, and county.
Myth #3: Wastewater from hydraulic fracturing is dangerous and unregulated.
Fact: Companies dispose of, and recycle, wastewater using many different methods, all of which are compliant with existing federal and state laws.
Companies typically use around 4 million gallons of water—what a golf course uses in one week—to fracture a well by using water from lakes, rivers, or municipal supplies. Much of that water remains in the ground; about 15 percent to 20 percent of the water returns to the surface by flowing back through the well.[17] The flowback water contains the chemicals used in the fracking process and can also collect other naturally harmful substances in the ground. This water is never used for drinking and the disposal is subject to federal and state regulations. States have different regulations for disposal, and companies employ a variety of methods including temporary storage of wastewater in steel tanks or contained pits. More companies are recycling or reusing the flowback water because it makes both economic and environmental sense. Other disposal methods include storing wastewater underground in injection wells that states regulate individually, and the EPA regulates under the Safe Water Drinking Act.[18] The demand for wastewater disposal and recycling is creating opportunities for new companies with emerging technologies to treat wastewater.[19]
There have been concerns, in Pennsylvania for instance, that treating wastewater at sewage treatment plants that discharge into rivers supplying drinking water would contaminate drinking water with radioactive material. But Pennsylvania's Department of Environmental Protection found levels of radioactivity well within federal and state standards. Norm Zellers, manager of the Sunbury Generation treatment facility in Synder County, Pennsylvania, emphasized that "[y]ou can have more radioactivity on a bunch of bananas in the store or on a granite countertop."[20] Wastewater management is another aspect of the fracking process that has been well regulated by existing federal and state laws, and the increased demand for wastewater treatment has driven the process to be cleaner and cheaper.
Myth #4: Fracking causes earthquakes.
Fact: The fracking process itself does not cause earthquakes; in rare instances, the use of underground injection wells (for storage) has caused earthquakes. Induced seismic activity from many underground energy activities is not a new phenomenon and has been closely monitored by the Department of Energy.
After a series of small earthquakes—ranging from 2.1 to 4.0 on the Richter scale—in Ohio and Arkansas near oil and gas sites, many have raised concerns about future tremors resulting from hydraulic fracturing. But the fracking process itself did not cause these earthquakes. The use of injection wells, an efficient and cost-effective way to dispose of briny wastewater, produced the seismic activity. Instances of seismic activity are rare; out of 30,000 injection wells, there have only been eight events of induced seismic activity—none of which caused significant property damage or injury. Induced seismicity does not occur only from oil and gas extraction. A recent National Research Council study highlights the fact that geothermal activities (capturing and using heat stored in the earth's core) have caused relatively small earthquakes (some felt, some not) at more frequent rates from far fewer projects.[21] The study also warns that continuously injecting carbon dioxide at high pressures (carbon capture and sequestration from coal plants) could induce earthquakes of higher magnitudes.[22]

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