So what's all the fuss about fracking? Its most vocal opponents charge that fracking will burn your water, pollute your air and cause the very ground to shift beneath you. The oil and gas industry obviously disagrees. So who's right?
Well, not being a scientist I have to base my opinions on information I get from trusted sources, as do most of fracking's detractors. And based on that information my conclusion is that, just like the Keystone XL pipeline opposition isn't about pipelines, coal dust alarmism isn't about coal dust, and mega-load obstructionism isn't about mega-loads; most of the fuss about fracking has little to do with the actual process and more to do with getting rid of fossil fuels.
Sure, there are plenty of studies "proving" that fracking is either essential to mankind or, alternatively, its inevitable downfall. Most of these tend to be a tad self-serving. As the old proverb says, a lie will go 'round the world while the truth pulls its boots on.
But what have those who are actually responsible for public safety said about fracking? Dimock, Pa., and Pavilion, Wyo., have been under the fracking microscope for years and are good indicators.
Residents in Dimock, Pa., reported dirty water that was famously ignitable at times. But both state regulators and the EPA said claims relating those problems to fracking were unfounded, and the water posed "no immediate health concerns."
My humble abode is also over an aquifer that gets cloudy as melted snow enters the sandstone structure. It looks awful but is perfectly drinkable. We deal with it. And I can remember stories as a kid in northeast Montana of burning stock ponds as naturally occurring methane bubbled to the surface. It should come as no shock that methane gets into water wells in areas where there are also gas wells. That's where the gas is. Relating the two is a common but dangerous trick that tries to confuse coincidence and causation. It's just like my being cranky on days that end in "Y" doesn't necessarily mean the letter "Y" makes me cranky.
In the Wyoming case, the EPA came out with a 121 page draft report claiming that fracking contaminated ground water. But the report has not yet been peer reviewed and appears to leave some significant questions. It tested wells where hydrocarbons were already present, and that were far deeper than drinking water wells. Potential contamination could have come from "legacy pits," or even the testing process itself. And it ignored the fact that organic chemicals were present in local water supplies long before fracking was employed. In short, the jury is still out on this one.
A final report on fracking's impact on drinking water is due later this year. But it's likely to be anticlimactic. Fracking solutions are typically over 99 percent water and sand. If you're worried about the remaining 1 percent, you can look up individual well ingredients yourself at fracfocus.org.
So why all the fuss if the data is not all in, and what data there is proves no harm? It's a fuss because for the zealots, this argument is about fossil fuels and not fracking. Just like the Keystone pipeline, coal dust, mega-loads, and so many other battles, this is about shutting down the fossil fuel industry, and facts are the first casualty in what is essentially a highly coordinated, well-financed public relations campaign.
It's also counterproductive. Cleaner, cheaper natural gas is rapidly replacing coal in the nation's energy grid, already accounting for about 25 percent of power production. That would not be possible without fracking. If you care about global warming and affordable electricity, you should be a fracking fan.
And finally, fracking's good for Montana. It brings in jobs, prosperity, and tax revenues. The economic benefits are measurable and immediate. And the smiling faces of mothers and fathers in eastern Montana watching their kids put on their boots and go to high paying jobs close to home are a welcome change.
(Carl Graham is CEO of Montana Policy Institute, a nonprofit policy research center in Bozeman.)