It’s not a surprise, as we’ve repeatedly warned that it was coming, but yesterday the House Energy and Commerce Committee sent letters to eight natural gas producers questioning them about the chemicals they use in their “drilling mud” while engaging in the practice of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking” – a 50-year old procedure which combined with the innovation of horizontal drilling has unlocked vast natural gas resources in areas like North Louisiana’s Haynesville Shale.
The committee, chaired by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) and seconded by Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA) of Waxman-Markey Cap and Trade lunacy fame, intends to conduct hearings into potential threats of groundwater contamination arising from fracking. This despite the fact that in more than five decades of the practice’s existence, with over a million wells drilled, no documented case of groundwater contamination arising from fracking has ever been recorded.
Furthermore, a four-year EPA study into the procedure conducted in 2004 found no danger. As James M. Taylor of the Heartland Institute writes:
Responding to environmental activist concerns, EPA spent four years studying the issue and produced a final report in 2004. While investigating the issue, EPA requested information from 500 local and county agencies, interviewed officials from 50 such agencies, and interviewed and considered data from 40 environmental activist groups which had alleged drinking water contamination. At the conclusion of the four-year investigation, EPA reported hydraulic fracturing “poses little or no threat to underground sources of drinking water and does not justify additional study at this time.”
The results of EPA’s 2004 study did not surprise many objective analysts, as the Clinton administration had concluded the same thing in 1995. Clinton EPA administrator Carol Browner reported “no evidence that hydraulic fracturing resulted in any drinking water contamination.”
Environmental groups have long decried the EPA study, calling it a whitewash and faulting its methodology.
The safety procedures developed by the natural gas industry in concert with state regulatory agencies – which have overseen fracking from its inception – are significant. This video from the Louisiana Oil & Gas Association outlines how fracking works, and from it you can see that wellbores are cased in steel and concrete below the deepest aquifers, sealing off groundwater from what goes on in the well. The vast majority of underground aquifers exist less than 1,500 feet under the surface, while the fracking process goes on at 7,500 feet below the surface or more – so some 6,000 feet of rock lies between groundwater and the area where the shale is fractured.
When the fracking solution, which is 99 percent water and sand, with trace amounts of chemicals found in household products, is removed from the well and brought back up to the surface, it is usually put on trucks and carried away to be treated – when it isn’t, it’s deposited in specially-lined catch-pools, per relatively standardized state regulations.
In other words, every step in the process is already scrutinized, developed and regulated at the state level. And yet, we have a quote like this one from Waxman in the letter he sent to the gas producers:
“As we use this technology in more parts of the country on a much larger scale, we must ensure that we are not creating new environmental and public health problems. This investigation will help us better understand the potential risks this technology poses to drinking water supplies and the environment, and whether Congress needs to act to minimize those risks.”
LOGA president Don Briggs called the inquiry a witch hunt.
“It’s a continuation of the administration’s efforts to get the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) to control hydraulic fracturing, and that’s what they’ve been pushing for,” Briggs told the Alexandria Town Talk.
We will continue to monitor the proceedings in Waxman and Markey’s committee. The issue of fracking and federal intrusion into it is one which is crucial to America’s energy and economic future, and it needs to be at the forefront in this election year.