Safe Oil and Gas Is Nothing to Complain About
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By Jeff Stier
Geologists at the University of Cincinnati just wrapped up a three-year investigation of hydraulic fracturing and its impact on local water supplies.
The result? There's no evidence -- zero, zilch, nada -- that fracking contaminates drinking water. Researchers hoped to keep these findings secret.
Why would a public research university boasting a top-100 geology program deliberately hide its work? Because, as lead researcher Amy Townsend-Small explained, "our funders, the groups that had given us funding in the past, were a little disappointed in our results. They feel that fracking is scary and so they were hoping our data could point to a reason to ban it."
That an environmentalist ideologue would see evidence of fracking's safety as "disappointing" is to be expected. But that a university would so flagrantly put politics before science is deeply troubling.
Hydraulic fracturing has significantly bolstered America's energy independence by unlocking an abundance of domestic oil and gas. In fact, our country has officially surpassed Russia and Saudi Arabia as the global leader in natural gas and oil production, respectively.
Just as important, these newfound energy resources have delivered economic benefits to Americans. In 2012, the average U.S. household had an extra $1,200 thanks to the energy boom. The oil and gas industry, meanwhile, supports more than 2 million jobs -- a number that is expected to grow to nearly 5 million by 2025.
This energy renaissance has also helped the environment since fracking provides a cheaper, cleaner alternative to coal. Last April, energy-related CO2 emissions hit a 27-year low, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, thanks largely to a widespread transition from coal to natural gas.
None of these benefits would matter if fracking endangered drinking water. So the University of Cincinnati's report comes as good news. Of course, the findings only confirm what experts and policymakers have been saying for years.
Back in 2011, for instance, former EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson admitted that there hasn't been a "proven case where the fracking process itself has affected water." Two years later, current EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy affirmed Jackson's remark, stating," I am not aware of any definitive determinations that would contradict those statements."
A review of the available research bears out both claims. Consider the Ground Water Protection Council's recent study on gas exploration in Ohio, from 1983 until 2007, and in Texas, from 1993 until 2008.
According to that report, neither officials in Texas nor those in Ohio "identified a single groundwater contamination incident
at any of these horizontal shale gas wells" during those periods.
Similarly, a 2013 USGS study on the Fayettville Shale in North-Central Arkansas found "that shale gas development, at least in this area, has been done without negatively impacting drinking water resources." A 2015 EPA draft report confirmed these findings.
Fracking's impressive safety record is partly due to the energy industry's own vigilance; it has worked aggressively to improve the safety of oil and gas production.
The University of Cincinnati's fracking research further establishes what myriad studies have already shown: concerns about groundwater contamination are baseless. As Townsend-Small stated, "we haven't seen anything to show that wells have been contaminated by fracking."
This might be "disappointing" to certain environmentalists, as Townsend-Small suggests. And it may interfere with the university's fundraising efforts. But for the rest of us, the study demonstrates that fracking is a safe source of jobs, prosperity, and low-cost energy.
Jeff Stier is a Senior Fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research in Washington, D.C., and heads its Risk Analysis Division.