A Fracking mess

I went to a dinner recently where the speaker, an API spokesperson, presented Hydraulic Fracturing (HF) to us.  The Industry has some work to do to convince the public that they are being good neighbors.

Here are some links the speaker presented:

After the presentation, I was speaking with another industry watcher who works mostly for the oil and gas companies and he said that the water purity and environmental standards are in place.  You can check for yourself at the above links.  He said the standard is that water quality of returned water must be as good as drinking water or better.  Air, noise and other emissions must meet EPA/DEP standards for the state.  Other waste must be dealt with in an environmentally-responsible manner.  So the standards are in place and are sufficiently stringent.

The real issue is enforcement.  This guy (very off the record) says the industry is not policing themselves to meet the standards they have adopted.  Sufficient testing to prove all standards are met is not being done.  Some minor superficial testing is done but not to the level to prove “as good as drinking water or better” for example.

As to the amount of water returned to rivers, he said it varies but the average is somewhere near 55%.  This is because the cleanup process uses some heat and much of the water evaporates.  [I personally do not believe that CO2 emissions are a big problem, or certainly much less of a problem than other emissions.  That can be a whole other article.]  Just looking at the chemicals being used and I’d say VOCs from ponds should not be a big issue, even if the concentrations were a lot higher.  Most are soluble or have low volatility so they would not be considered VOCs.  The ones that are, like isopropanol, are only present in tiny amounts.  I’d suppose they’d break down in the heat of the fracking process forming less volatile constituents.  But that’s what proper testing would show.

This is a case where the government needs to get involved to enforce existing requirements.  (I can’t believe I’m saying this!)  I suppose the key point is that these standards are voluntary, not mandated.  So they are not strictly “regulations”.  Even periodic spot checks of every well’s data and drop-ins would serve to bring the industry into line, so long as there were severe penalties for non-compliance.

I pressed this guy as to why he thinks they are not doing the things necessary to comply.  His answer was economics.  He said the general population wants gas prices to be lower.  I recall about 30 years ago when commercial levels of gas were at $6/MM Btu.  Today they are in the $2 range.  I said even if compliance raises the cost 50% (to $3) or even 100% (to $4), we would still be below the $6 of 20 years ago, which is  equivalent to $14 in today’s dollars.  See http://www.bls.gov/data/inflation_calculator.htm   Still a bargain!  I believe there is plenty of room for proper environmental protection.

My point here is that the public outcry should not focus so much on the pollution but on industry adhering to their own guidelines and making them prove they are doing what they say.  I doubt the industry could mount an effective argument against that.

Think about how seat belts, catalytic converters, and air bags were argued against because they were too costly, and now they are in every car.

Fracking has certainly been around a long time, and is growing by leaps and bounds.  Let’s make sure that we protect the environment while doing it, even if it costs us more.  Let’s not make a Fracking mess out of the planet!

Tom Smith
Managing Director
Focused Solutions Group