AshevilleCity - County Gov.Opinion

The Other Side of Fracking

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Specifically, the resolution expressed alarm that Governor Pat McCrory had signed the Energy Modernization Act, thereby lifting a moratorium on fracking. Permits, the resolution warned, could be issued in a matter of months. Consequently, council joined other local government bodies in calling upon the North Carolina General Assembly to reinstate the ban, at least for Asheville and Buncombe County. They further asked that the power to decide whether to frack or not, as well as how to frack, be vested in local, and not state government.

The resolution, of course, was one-sided. Like climate change, fracking is an issue based on cherry-picked facts connected by a vast sea of unknowable science. Short-term, single-variable scenarios may be predictable, but when all factors from the real world combine their feedback loops, outcomes become anybody’s guess. That’s why it is easy to fill in the blanks with scare tactics to leverage political gain. The left says fracking rapes the environment in ways that can’t be remediated. The right says affordable and abundant fuel can jumpstart the economy with what the left would call “economic justice.”

In the interest of equal time, a number of whereases from the resolution will be reprinted. They will then be followed by arguments from right-leaning political interests with the full understanding that nobody has the entire story.

The document states, “hydraulic fracturing, or ‘fracking’ is a method of extracting natural gas that involves injecting a mixture of water, sand, and a complex combination of toxic chemicals at an extremely high pressure to break up shale or other rock formations otherwise impermeable to the flow of natural gas.”

That is a fair statement except for the purple tones implicit in the phrase “toxic chemicals.” It doesn’t help that Halliburton is a pioneer in the fracking industry. Although even the leftest of the left would be surprised if they stopped to think about the modern comforts they enjoy because of this entrepreneurial giant, it is still demonized as the paramilitary arm of President Bush and his cronies.

Regardless, Halliburton complies with federal regulations in disclosing the chemicals used in fracking on its web site. These include scary, scary things like sodium chloride (table salt), bentonite (clay), lactose (milk sugar), and naphthalene (moth balls). For other, less familiar compounds, the company provides a sampling of household items that also contain the chemicals, like shampoo and cheese. Scarier compounds, like antimicrobials and corrosion inhibitors, also have household uses, but their toxicity is a matter of levels and routes of exposure. Halliburton provides MSDS’s listing the conditions under which these chemicals are harmful, but it does not divulge exact recipes, stating they vary for each combination of rock formations.

Another whereas claims, “Negative environmental and public health impacts related to hydraulic fracturing have been documented in other states, including contamination of drinking water wells, contamination of surface water, degradation of air-quality, an increase in greenhouse gas emissions, and increased incidents of earthquakes.”

Some of this sounds as fetched as wanting to ban auto supply stores because a delivery truck might get in an accident and dump sharp, metal objects all over the highway, posing a threat to motorists. However, like everything else big oil does, fracking is subject to EPA, and OSHA regulations. It is exempt from the Safe Drinking Water Act for the simple reason that oil shale deposits are typically found thousands of feet below the aquifers tapped for drinking water.

One famous contamination that occurred in Pennsylvania is now attributed to pre-existing conditions independent of any fracking activity. The other is owned by the frackers as due to a miscalculation; for which they are now, in order to save their hide and stay in business, bending over backward with corrective policies to appease environmental and safety regulators. In fact, the General Assembly did, and intends to continue to rely, on experts from the industry to craft legislation with sensible protections for people and the environment.

As for greenhouse gases, to frack or not to frack is being presented as a false dilemma of either Armageddon or the Garden of Eden. There is also the choice of using coal, which requires the blowing up of beautiful mountains. Shale oil emits half as much carbon dioxide per kilowatt-hour than coal. It also lacks heavy metal emissions characteristic of coal, and leaves behind no nasty ash. Another alternative would be to remain reliant on the Middle East to keep our houses warm and our grocery stores stocked.

Even frackers admit their drilling is responsible for microseismic activity, most of which is not even detectable at the earth’s surface. Some tremors have, however, been felt by humans. A 2013 article published in Science says the correlation has long been known to induce earthquakes that sometimes exceed magnitudes of 3.0 on the Richter scale.

A third whereas asserts, “Fracking can industrialize rural and urban areas with drilling rigs, bright lights, twenty-four hour operations, new roads, wastewater containment ponds, new pipelines, and other infrastructure that brings attendant air, water, and noise pollution detrimental to property values and future economic growth.”

This could be construed as eliminating guesswork for urban planners, except Halliburton claims the big-time commotion lasts only a matter of days. After that, the heavy machinery hauls out, and environmental remediation begins.

Another whereas claims fracking could upset the natural beauty responsible for “the region’s multi-billion dollar tourist economy.” Johan Norberg, an outspoken advocate for the poorest of the poor, argues that genuinely free markets can do this, and inexpensive and plenteous fuel is a big part of getting there. He notes that Western civilizations degraded the environment before they had enough wealth to employ technologies like smokestack scrubbers and catalytic converters. It therefore is unfair to tell those who can’t pay their fuel bills that no heat is better than dirty heat.

Advocates of fracking are on record for saying the economic benefits of fracking would be negligible. Do I hear $2/gallon?

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