Fracking and facts on us house floor

Recently, the U.S. House of Representatives debated and passed a bipartisan bill — H.R. 2728 — that would prevent the U.S. Bureau of Land Management from regulating hydraulic fracturing in states where regulations are already in place. Many lawmakers from both parties used the opportunity to tout the benefits of shale development on the House floor, ranging from lower energy bills for working families to new jobs and a rebirth of American manufacturing.

Others, however, used the debate as an open forum to repeat nonsensical talking points about hydraulic fracturing. At one point, a U.S. Representative — who had been legitimately elected to serve the interests of his constituents — actually placed a screen shot from the movie ‘Gasland’ on an easel, as if such imagery were on par with a credible scientific argument. For some, when it comes to the issue of “fracking,” hyperbole and alarmism still unfortunately trumps accuracy.

Although the list of bogus claims was unfortunately quite long, we’ve narrowed it down to the “top 5″ — as inappropriate as the word “top” may be. Many of these are from Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.), who thankfully had very few colleagues willing to malign hydraulic fracturing — and the jobs and lower energy bills it has facilitated.

CLAIM I: Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.): “How can you say there’s been no contamination when there are contaminated wells in many places across the U.S.?”

FACT: It’s actually pretty easy. State regulators from across the country, numerous officials within the EPA, the U.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. Department of Interior, and countless analyses from across the country have confirmed that there are zero confirmed cases of hydraulic fracturing contaminating groundwater. A recent peer-reviewed study even said it’s “not physically plausible” for that to occur.

Interestingly, Rep. DeFazio must have had an epiphany on the House floor, because he authored an amendment that would restrict natural gas exports and allow the United States to enjoy the benefits of clean-burning and affordable natural gas (that argument, by the way, hinges on the belief that natural gas is scarce in the United States — which just isn’t true). The amendment was soundly defeated, but it’s refreshing to see that the Congressman from Oregon, despite his rhetoric, understands that U.S. oil and gas development is a vital part of our economy.

CLAIM II: Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.): “I would point to my friends this picture – maybe you have a little trouble seeing it but essentially it shows burning tap water. No, this is not a staged picture, this happened in a residence. This is methane flaming because the water is full of methane.”

FACT: What picture did Rep. Holt show? This one — which, if you couldn’t guess, is the infamous flaming faucet from ‘Gasland.’ That would also be the same flaming faucet that Colorado regulators determined was “not related to oil and gas activity.” With literally a smorgasbord of scientific research on hydraulic fracturing at his disposal, Rep. Holt opted instead to hinge the credibility of his presentation on an HBO movie.

Perhaps Mr. Holt, still reeling from a 41 point primary loss to Cory Booker earlier this year, was trying to emulate the new junior U.S. Senator from the Garden State.

CLAIM III: Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.): “[T]his is a case where the practice has gotten ahead of the science. It’s gotten ahead of our regulations. Gotten ahead of  our understanding.”

FACT: No, it hasn’t. Hydraulic fracturing is well-studied, and state regulators have literally decades of understanding. Recently, none other than President Obama’s own EPA said states are doing a “good job” regulating hydraulic fracturing.

Opponents use the argument that hydraulic fracturing needs “more study” for one reason and one reason alone: because the extensive research to date contradicts their belief that the process is unsafe. If you don’t like what the science currently says, you push for a delay until you can find (or fund) enough research that supports your preconceived notion.

CLAIM IV: Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif.): “If the public has the right to know what ingredients are in their food, don’t our communities have the right to know what chemicals the oil and gas industry is going to pump past their drinking water?”

FACT: They already do. The website FracFocus.org not only has a list of additives commonly used, but it also has individual records for more than 55,000 wells across the country. The website has been so effective that President Obama’s own former energy and climate adviser, Heather Zichal, said this about it: “As an administration, we believe that FracFocus is an important tool that provides transparency to the American people.”

As for ingredients in food, has Rep. Lowenthal ever consumed anything on this list? He also might be interested to know that one of the largest and most common fracturing fluid additives is guar gum, which is also found in ice cream and toothpaste, among other things.

CLAIM V: Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.): “A Duke University study found that methane contamination was in 115 of 141 shallow residential drinking wells that they studied—six times higher than in wells greater than a mile from the fracking operations.”

FACT: What Rep. Holt does not tell you is that just one week before that study was released, the U.S. Geological Survey published results of tests it took in many of the same areas as the Duke researchers. The USGS also found methane in water wells, and it was the same type of methane (thermogenic) that the Duke team found. Why is that important? Because those were pre-drilling samples. As it turns out, northeast Pennsylvania has been dealing with naturally occurring methane in water wells for generations.

Nonetheless, in that same study the Duke researchers noted: “we found no evidence for contamination of the shallow wells near active drilling sites from deep brines and/or fracturing fluids.” In other words, after spending great effort on the House floor to suggest hydraulic fracturing poses an inherent and inescapable risk of contaminating groundwater, Rep. Holt tried to capitalize on a study that found no evidence of hydraulic fracturing contaminating groundwater.

But hey, at least he didn’t cite ‘Gasland’ again.

Photo Credit: Fracking False Claims/shutterstock