The abundant supply of North American natural gas has resulted in increased attention to one part of the development process, hydraulic fracturing. Hydraulic fracturing is an advanced technology that has brought energy production into areas that are less familiar with this work, including the heavily populated Northeast. That people want to have a conversation about their questions is admirable. And those entrusted with developing this natural resource safely and responsibly must be committed to answering those questions.
What we are seeing, however, are people with good-faith questions and concerns being overwhelmed by misrepresentations, innuendo and just plain false information. Celebrities from Alec Baldwin to David Letterman to Mark Ruffalo, having no expertise, claim natural gas development is “poisoning our drinking water and air.” Deliberately false “documentaries” meant to inspire fear are being distributed in libraries and schools. And natural gas is being cast as the villain in Hollywood, from episodes of CSI to SyFy’s original movie, Arachnoquake, in which giant fire-breathing albino spiders come out of the earth’s core because of hydraulic fracturing. These characterizations would grab the attention and scare anyone who hears or sees them.
Gasland Director Josh Fox, again with no background in the subject, likes to insist that there can be no reasonable or thoughtful questioning of his misleading claims. The truth is, he doesn’t want there to be, and he knows he is intentionally misleading people. Take the iconic scene of tap water on fire. Mr. Fox knew before he made his film that Colorado regulators had investigated and forensic water testing found that this was not related to hydraulic fracturing. Yet, he edited the video to make people believe otherwise. Sadly, when pushed, Mr. Fox admits to knowing this but he does nothing to fix his film.
He also claims that water in Dimock, PA, was contaminated by hydraulic fracturing. This week, the EPA completed its well sampling in the town and concluded that “there are not levels of contaminants present that would require additional action.” Will Mr. Fox point this out to his followers or is the truth too inconvenient to his dramatic storyline?
On Monday, the Associated Press ran an article “Experts: Some fracking critics use bad science” detailing how some hydraulic fracturing opponents are playing fast and loose with the scientific facts. In the article Mark Lubell, director of the Center for Environmental Policy and Behavior at the University of California, Davis points to a behavior called motivated reasoning. “You can literally put facts in front of people, and they will just ignore them.” But, let’s put them out there anyway for those looking for real answers and honest debate.
Among the instances the article cites where “fears haven’t been confirmed by science”:
- Radioactivity in drilling fluids making its way into the water supply? “Extensive tests…didn’t find a problem in area rivers.”
- Extreme air pollution threats? In truth, “Natural gas is having a positive effect on air quality.”
The reality of natural gas development in the United States is quite compelling. In a world concerned about carbon, natural gas emits half the carbon of coal, 80% fewer smog-forming nitrogen oxide emissions, virtually no sulfur dioxide or particulate matter and no mercury.
Because of these properties, natural gas is being used to generate more of our electricity and has helped knock power-related U.S. carbon emissions back to levels not seen since the mid-1990s. Natural gas also serves as the primary source of back-up power to wind and solar. And, it is powerful and versatile enough to run everything from UPS trucks to 18-wheelers to ferry boats.
Thousands of wells are drilled safely every year. That is the most important fact. But natural gas development is also bringing jobs into this slow economic recovery. Communities in 32 states have seen job growth and increased revenues.
And, it’s not just industry jobs. In St. James Parish, Louisiana, Nucor has broken ground on an ironmaking facility that will bring over 1,000 jobs to the state. Why here instead of overseas? The steady, affordable abundance of clean natural gas.
Wondering if this is a Democrat versus Republican issue? President Obama, Governor Romney and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson agree that natural gas is being responsibly developed to the profound benefit of our environment, economy and energy security. And, you can look to experts at Harvard, MIT, Carnegie Mellon, Cornell and beyond for real scientific analysis.
Every day, the natural gas companies I represent maximize efforts to minimize the risks inherent in all energy development. It’s the right thing to do to protect all of our natural resources, the communities in which they work and their own businesses.
It is understandable that people have questions about how energy is produced and how risks are managed. But those who have intentionally inspired fear should be called upon to either participate in a more honest and factual dialogue or admit that they just don’t want one. This week, anti-hydraulic fracturing activists are descending on Washington D.C. as part of a Stop the Frack Attack protest. As they come to exercise their rights to free speech and peaceful assembly, we ask that you exercise your right to ask questions and take a second look at the claims being made. The truth just may surprise you.
Regina Hopper is the President and CEO of America’s Natural Gas Alliance.