Fracking and Policy and Science

Last week, the National Park Service submitted comments to the Bureau of Land Management regarding the latter’s proposed federal rule on hydraulic fracturing. The NPS naturally has an interest in ensuring that development is done responsibly in U.S. parks, so the fact that it weighed in was unsurprising. But what the NPS claimed about hydraulic fracturing in those comments was nothing short of appalling.

The most notable? In a section entitled “Air Resources,” the NPS cited none other than anti-fracking activist Tony Ingraffea, specifically his recent op-ed in the New York Times, which claimed that methane “leaks” could be as high as 17 percent. Based on Ingraffea’s claims – which were universally panned almost immediately after the op-ed ran earlier this summer – the NPS made a series of recommendations that it believes the BLM should incorporate into its proposed rule.

That’s right: A taxpayer-funded federal agency categorically ignored what the U.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and a virtual consensus of scientists across the country have said about greenhouse gas emissions from shale gas, choosing instead to promote the views of one of the most widely discredited stars of Gasland Part II.

In response, IPAA sent a letter this week directly to National Park Service director Jon Jarvis, questioning why the NPS would provide a forum for fringe elements in the anti-fracking movement.

Unfortunately, in comments that the National Park Service (NPS) submitted to the BLM regarding its proposed rules, your agency chose to ignore the overwhelming conclusion of the scientific community with respect to methane emissions from oil and natural gas operations. Instead, the NPS cited a New York Times opinion article2 from Cornell Professor Anthony Ingraffea, which suggested methane “leakage” rates were as high as 17 percent, based on limited studies from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Dr. Ingraffea also cited his own study from 2011 that came to a similar conclusion. These leakage figures have been extrapolated to suggest that natural gas has a higher life-cycle greenhouse gas impact than coal.

But these claims have all been categorically and systematically rejected by multiple independent scientists and even experts within the U.S. Department of Energy. Just this month, in response to an audience member who said shale gas development could have a worse impact on the environment than coal, none other than Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz said: “The current data suggest that that is an incorrect statement.”

The letter also highlights the long list of scientific experts and conclusions that conclusively debunk the notion of high methane leakage rates. IPAA’s letter concludes with appropriately harsh words for the NPS, questioning how federal agencies can maintain a commitment to scientific rigor when one of their own blatantly rejects the findings of the scientific community:

It is appalling that the National Park Service – a well-respected and taxpayer-funded agency – would refuse to acknowledge the conclusions of other federal agencies, such as the EPA and the Department of Energy, on an issue related to environmental protection and U.S. energy production. It is absolutely inexcusable that the NPS would lend credence to activist theater and transparently flawed conclusions, especially given the amount of credible scientific literature publicly available.

Federal agencies should be committed to sound scientific research, especially as it may influence the creation of new federal regulations that could have an enormous impact on the entire U.S. economy. The comments submitted from the NPS suggest that commitment was either temporarily suspended, or perhaps never existed in the first place.

The Bureau of Land Management’s proposed rules for hydraulic fracturing on Federal and Indian lands would come at an enormous cost for the U.S. economy, with an estimated price tag of $345 million per year. That kind of cost, imposed by the federal government all so it can regulate a process that the states are already adequately overseeing, will no doubt result in fewer American jobs and less domestic energy production. Calling for changes to that rule to make it even more costly — based on activist talking points and junk science — is what we expect from fringe elements in the anti-fracking community. The fact that it came instead from an agency within our own federal government is simply indefensible.

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