Congress seeks to shut down much needed clean energy supply.
Wrangling between natural gas drilling and political fright-mongers is looming with the Oct. 17 announcement that pipeline giant Kinder Morgan will become the largest gas pipeline operator in the U.S. This means accelerated gas drilling using hydraulic fracturing, a technology developed by the company Halliburton.
The $21 billion deal for Kinder Morgan to buy El Paso Corp. will create a new network of 67,000 miles of lines to serve the rapidly-growing technological drilling advance of hydraulic fracturing, informally called "fracking." A potential 200-year supply of needed natural gas is at stake.
A bill, Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act, is pending in Congress to amend the Safe Drinking Water Act. This could slow hydraulic fracturing. The bill is sponsored by the usual suspects, including Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who probably has never seen a gas well, socialist Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who is plagued by fears of progress, and Diane Feinstein (D-CA), who has no environmental legislative responsibility.
Democrats like to call it the “Halliburton loophole.” Before he became George W. Bush’s vice president, Dick Cheney headed Halliburton. So, referencing Halliburton automatically rallies Democratic support.
An army of liberals also is instinctively opposed to drilling for gas because it’s a fossil fuel, even though it’s twice as clean as gasses discharged from burning coal or oil. The distaste is not like some people’s objection to, say, brussels sprouts. What gives eco-pros fits is the way the gas is obtained. Vast caches of natural gas trapped in deeply buried rock are now accessible by drilling by a proven and well regulated technology. Hydraulic fracking has unlocked enormous new supplies of clean-burning natural gas from dense deposits of shale.
According to Energytommorow.com, “Fracking has been used in more than one million U.S. wells and has safely produced more than seven billion barrels of oil and 600 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.”
Yet congressional Democrats charge that hundreds of millions of gallons of cancer-causing chemicals have been pumped into underground wells by the oil and gas industry.
The Natural Resources Defense Council complains that thousands of new wells in the Rocky Mountain region and in the South have expanded to the 600-mile-long formation called the Marcellus shale. It stretches from West Virginia to western New York. What makes the environmentalists wring their hands is the fracking process in which “dangerous chemicals” are mixed with large quantities of water and sand and injected into the wells at high pressure, making it a “suspect in polluted drinking water.”As to water safety, the gas is thousands of feet below the water aquifer and separated by many layers of rock.
The expanded pipeline will reach into practically every major region where natural gas is produced, from eastern states to southern states, including Florida’s huge market for natural gas. The Interstate Natural Gas Association of America Foundation calculates that 35,600 miles of high-pressure natural gas pipelines will have to be constructed between now and 2035 to meet demands of the market.
Besides multiplying our domestic energy supplies, shale development has “irrefutable economic benefits.” Fracking in the Marcellus and Barnett (Texas) shale has boosted local incomes—with royalty payments to property owners, furnishing tax revenues to the government and creating high-paying jobs in construction, engineering, surveying, equipment manufacturing, and other areas.
Past studies have been made by the EPA and the Ground Water Protection Council (GWPC). The GWPC said “the potential for fracking deep shale natural gas and oil wells to impact groundwater is extremely remote.” Studies indicate that 80 percent of natural gas wells drilled in the next decade will require hydraulic fracturing technology.
A June 6 Wall Street Journal story said the increasing abundance of cheap natural gas, coupled with rising demand from China, “may have set the stage for a golden age of gas.”
Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) is the main sponsor of the Frac Act, as it has been termed. It would put fracking under the control of the EPA and remove the 2005 congressional exemption that prevents the EPA from regulating it. The legislation would also force drillers to reveal chemicals used in fracking. Pennsylvania already requires disclosure of chemicals. At the center of the debate is the 1974 federal Safe Drinking Water Act, a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette story reported.
The paper reported that the legislation "could amount to a massive disruption of the drilling industry," according to a spokesman for the Marcellus Shale Coalition. “It would be a potential shutdown of oil and gas production on shore in the United States,” he said.
A Texas law requires disclosure of the chemicals used in some wells. They ranged from benign compounds to some known and suspected carcinogens, including benzene and methanol. Thousands of gallons of such chemicals are used with millions of gallons of water. In Texas’s Barnett Shale, wastewater can be injected into impermeable rock 1.5 miles underground. In the more porous Marcellus region, some facilities in Pennsylvania are approved to treat the water. Many companies recycle the water to drill their next well.
Studies at Penn State’s Marcellus Center for Outreach and Research found that of the 9.5 billion gallons of water used daily in Pennsylvania, natural gas development consumes only 1.9 million gallons a day, compared with 770 million for industry.
An Oct. 12 article in Scientific American exposes how eager some EPA uber-environmentalists were to blame Marcellus shale drillers for a fish kill along the West Virginia-Pennsylvania border. After a two-year study of the fish killing, the EPA charged a local coal mine with the fish deaths. But the lead EPA biologist on the case challenged that conclusion. Instead he fingered the effects of water from Marcellus shale drilling. A grand jury investigation cleared Marcellus fracking.
The documentary movie “Gasland” won an Academy Award a few years ago and spread a predictable hue and cry among environmentalists about the possibility of gas from underground wells escaping and starting fires. Gasland featured dramatic footage of gas-infused well water that can be ignited at a kitchen tap, though it was not found that this was the result of nearby shale gas drilling. Pockets of methane gas have been a phenomenon in shallow water wells in parts of Pennsylvania for decades.
Most shale gas fracking is conducted as far as 5,000 feet underground, thousands of feet below the aquifer and beneath impermeable rock layers that separate it from drinking water, as American Enterprise Institute senior scholar Steven F. Hayward has pointed out. The EPA says it has launched a major study of fracking, with initial findings projected for 2012 and a final report by 2014.
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