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 is part of all mankind. I cannot criticize those who are afraid of what they do not know. Rather, I applaud those who raise relevant questions about activities they do not under-stand. My criticism is reserved for those who exploit and pander to fear by repeatedly citing unproven anecdotes to advance their political agendas.
So, what are the facts on hydraulic fracturing?
Fact: Hydraulic frac-turing (fracking) is not new. For more than 66 years, America’s energy produ-cers have relied on fracking to enhance oil and natural gas production. 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 major fault lines, although smaller faults are found all over. Oil and gas production often is found in geologically folded and faulted areas with a history of seismic activity due to natural faults. While fracking causes micro-seismic events, in contrast to earthquakes those events are similar to the impact of an apple falling from a tree. The National Research Council released a study in 2012 that concluded that fracking does not pose a high risk for seismic events. Also, the National Academy of Sciences released a study in 2012 stating that seismicity risk from hydrau-lic fracturing is negligible. These two studies confirmed that there is no legitimate reason to believe hydraulic fracturing causes earthquakes.
• Fact: Fracking has never caused ground water contamin-ation. Hydraulic fracturing has been used in the U.S. since 1947. More than 57,000 wells in Kansas and 1.2 million wells across the U.S. have been fracked by the oil and gas industry without a single documented instance of harm to ground water. Fracking has not only been used by the oil and gas industry, but also to access things like water and geothermal energy. It has even been used by the EPA to clean up superfund sites.
• Fact: Fracturing fluids are 98 percent water and 2 percent chemicals. In the case of hydrau-lic fracturing, the word “chem-icals” is used by fearmongers to imply poisoning, death and dis-ease. Toxicity is not synonymous with the use of chemicals. Peanut butter, jelly and other common foods become toxic at a certain dose, so it is not the pre-sence of a chemical substance that creates the concern. It is, and always will be, the dosage.
• Fact: The chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing involve simple compounds at very low concentrations. Hydraulic frac-turing uses water with biocides to control bacteria — the same chemicals used in rural wells, municipal water treatment sys-tems and the sterilization of medical instruments. Com-pounds are added to the water to reduce friction — the same com-pounds used in water treatment facilities. 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 equip-ment clean –— the same material used in swimming pools. Sta-bilizers are used to control migration of fluids — primarily the same salts used to flavor food or to melt ice in the winter.
Hydraulic fracturing 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 ex-ploration and production also apply to fracking. These include laws and regula-tions related to well design, location, spacing, operation and abandonment as well as environmental activities and discharges, including water management and dis-posal, air emissions, under-ground injection, and work-er health and safety.
The extraction of oil and natural gas is not risk-free. It requires effective regulation, which exists in Kansas and many other states.
Facts should always debunk the anecdotal nonsense some try to pass off as fact. Hydraulic fracturing is a proven technology that the oil and gas industry has demonstrated time and again can be used safely. Neither politics nor fearmongering can conceal or deny the substantial economic development benefits society has derived from hy-draulic fracturing without any environmental degradation. Let’s not be afraid of hydraulic fracturing.
Edward Cross is president of the Kansas Independent Oil and Gas Association.