Hydraulic Fracturing - Laws, Laws Everywhere and Not an Ounce of Sense

Aug 7, 2009

by Bill Kovacs
It seems as though the number of new and duplicative laws Congress can propose is only limited by its unsteady imagination!  And to think that just a decade or so ago it was common wisdom to believe that “everyone is presumed to know the law.”  Today we have so many new, complex, mind-numbingly huge laws that common wisdom can only conclude that some of the proposals are literally the tales told by an idiot to ensure that economic progress cannot continue.
The most recent federal proposal, H.R. 2766, to  repeal the exemption for hydraulic fracturing in the Safe Drinking Water Act (and companion legislation, S. 1215, introduced in the Senate) is a clear example of Congress attempting to take over a regulatory process that has flawlessly worked at the state level for 60 years and has created billions of dollars of wealth for our communities, huge tax receipts for our government, tens of thousands of jobs for our citizens and has produced vast amounts of energy to heat our homes and run our factories.
So what is “hydraulic fracturing” and why should we care if Congress screws it up?

Hydraulic fracturing is a method used to create fractures that extend from a borehole into rock formations. The fractures are typically kept open by material such as grains of sand and water so as to create a path from the surface to the underground oil and gas reserves.  By use of this path underground oil and gas can be brought to the surface.  95% of the fluid used is water and 99% of the fluid is water and sand.
Hydraulic fracturing has been used for over 60 years and there has never been a single documented case of groundwater contamination.  A 2004 EPA study concluded that hydraulic fracturing posed “no threat” to underground drinking supplies.  In 1995, then-EPA head director Carol Browner (the current energy and environment czar) wrote the EPA saw no evidence that hydraulic fracturing “has resulted in any contamination or endangerment of underground sources of drinking water (USDW).” This technique has been regulated by the states to ensure protection of groundwater from oil and gas production.  Under this state regulatory regime more than one million oil and gas wells were put into safe operation.  It has produced over 7 billion barrels of oil and 600 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.  But more American energy, using American know-how, is available for many generations to come.

The Potential Gas Committee of the Colorado School of Mines estimates that the U.S. has 1,800 trillion cubic feet of technically recoverable natural gas and hydraulic fracturing is key to accessing this vast and needed resource.  This is enough natural gas to supply America’s needs for over 100 years.  Moreover, for every cubic foot of gas that is produced our governments collect billions of dollars in royalties; tens of billions of dollars in economic development is fostered, jobs are created and billions in taxes are collected.  It is simply the American way – create wealth and the wealth creates more wealth and more jobs.  Using Oklahoma as an example, the state collected $1.3 billion in 2009 directly from the royalties associated with the oil and gas developed from hydraulic fracturing.
So what is the problem?  Why do some in Congress want to stop the use of hydraulic fracturing?  Do they understand the consequences and the lost benefits to communities, governments, workers and energy security?
While the congressional sponsors of H.R. 2766 assert that federal government must regulate hydraulic fracturing to ensure it is conducted in a safe manner; they rest their case on political beliefs, not facts and cannot point to one incident of harm to the environment that has occurred in the 60 years since the process has been utilized.  But Congress many times acts without facts and in fact, Congress many times, if not most times, acts without 99% of the members of Congress even reading the legislation.  Congress will not be confused by the facts, that is a given.  By not worrying about the facts Congress can talk about moving away from reliance on foreign oil while systematically banning domestic drilling in the Outer Continental Shelf, the Alaskan National Wildlife Reserve, the Rockies and parts of the Gulf of Mexico.

Fortunately, a few members of Congress, Governors and other elected officials of both parties understand the importance of hydraulic fracturing and oppose the current efforts to impose new regulations:

"Also, at the federal level, been a great deal of discussion about the regulation of hydraulic fracturing, which you know is essential to the development of Colorado gas resources. Colorado rules are an excellent example of how states can and should act." – Governor Bill Ritter (D-CO)

"Some of these members claim the allowing the practice is a loophole in federal law and that it is free from regulation. Mr. President, that is completely false. Through my leadership position on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, I have a long history of working on environmental and energy issues, and I can tell you new federal regulation of hydraulic fracturing would be a disaster." – Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK)

"My colleague was speaking as I came to the chamber and I agree with most all of that which he described with respect to hydraulic fracturing. He's describing something that that affects our ability to produce a domestic supply of energy…My colleague has said it correctly: decade after decade, no one has found any evidence that there is any contamination with hydraulic fracturing." – Sen. Bryan Dorgan (D-ND)

"If you shut down fracking, you shut down the industry." – Rep. Dan Boren (D-OK)

"The bill is potentially very threatening to the oil exploration and recovery activity underway in North Dakota…It’s one of these pieces of legislation that is a solution in search of a problem." – Rep. Earl Pomeroy (D-ND)

Even now as Congress embarks on its "Green Journey" it is allowing the environmental groups to kill, one by one, many of the wind, solar and transmission line Green Projects.  By not worrying about the facts or the consequences, Congress can promote theoretical green jobs while kill existing, high paying jobs in the oil, gas, coal, nuclear and transmission industries.  So the short answer as to why Congress wants to ban hydraulic fracturing is – Congress is not about the facts, it is merely about the politics.
Unfortunately as American citizens we need to worry about running the country.  And to run the U.S. we need energy and lots of it.  By using hydraulic fracturing we can produce over 100 years worth of American energy without any environmental consequences. 
So what do we do with Congress?  Take them on when they come home in August.  Ask them how we intend to ensure this country has ample supplies of available and affordable energy to run the country.  Many Members of Congress will tell you we will build wind mills, solar panels and maybe even use little green fireflies.  But don’t just take their answers for granted.  Make them go through the numbers and prove that all this energy will come on line.  They can’t do it because the amount of energy needed from green sources is vast and we can’t get from here to a green future without natural gas (and oil, and nuclear, and coal).  We have all been too kind to our representatives.  We have eaten too much pabulum for too many years.  Hydraulic fracturing can produce vast amount of energy for decades.  Tell your representative why we need it and make any representative that rejects it explain how we can run the country without it.

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