Despite Benefits, Hydraulic Fracturing Continues to be Target of Federal Regulators

Dec 3, 2012

At the Southwestern Energy Co., natural gas production site, water and sand are mixed and then pumped through the tubes at pressures over 6,600 psi into the well during fracture stimulation, at the Marcellus Shale formation in Camptown, PA. Photographer: Julia Schmalz/Bloomberg.

We have more evidence of the benefits from hydraulic fracturing and the natural gas produced from it, yet federal regulators continue their obsession with regulating it.

Over the weekend the Global Carbon Project announced that carbon dioxide emissions rose by 3%, yet emissions from the United States fell by 2%. According to environmental researcher, Bjørn Lomborg, we should attribute this to increased natural gas use that’s the result of greater supplies from hydraulic fracturing.

We also learned from MIT researchers that despite the claims of some opponents of the technology, greenhouse gas emissions from hydraulic fracturing wells are only a fraction more than those from conventional natural gas wells. Francis O’Sullivan, one of the study’s co-authors, told E&E News, “[I]t is incorrect to suggest that shale gas-related hydraulic fracturing has substantially altered the overall level of fugitive emissions from the natural gas system.”

You’d think that this would mean less concern from federal regulators, but that’s not the case. EPA continues studying the technology that’s allowed an impressive increase in American oil and natural gas production, and you may remember that the Department of Transportation reinterpreted a rule for truckers that specifically targets the movement of supplies to/from hydraulic fracturing sites. According to The Hill, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is “considering examining a potential link between hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, and drinking water contamination.”

This doesn’t sit well with some Congressmen who fear that poorly-conducted research could hurt the economy and job creation. In a letter to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee advised that the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), the agency that would conduct the research, “apply a rigorous, scientific approach” and an “appropriate peer review” to their work. The Members also suggest that ATSDR work with state agencies “who have much deeper experience monitoring the effects of hydraulic fracturing than most Federal officials have.”

That’s sound advice.

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