The boom in fracking across many areas of the nation including Colorado has lowered the price of natural gas, provided an economic boom to local communities, provided jobs, and contributed to the effort to make the United States independent of foreign countries for our energy (if you do not count Canada as a foreign country).
Environmental groups, however, have been asking “at what cost.” They cite incident after incident of oil spills, contamination of drinking water, methane leaks, and even tap water catching on fire as reasons fracking needs to have tighter regulations. They call of better oversight on practices at the well head, and the transportation of all the fracked oil and gas in pipelines, trucks, and rail cars.
The oil and gas industry rejects all these charges saying repeatedly that fracking is environmentally safe. They spend tens of millions of dollars in TV and print ads to assure Americans there is nothing to see here.
Are the oil and gas companies telling the truth? The short answer is not always.
North Dakota is the nation’s largest oil and gas producer behind Texas. Much of this boom is directly attributable to fracking. Spin doctors from the state government and the oil and gas industry have touted how all this energy is being produced because of the state’s “responsible” energy plan. There is some reason to believe that a “responsible” energy plan means just don’t report the problems to the public.
The Associated Press recently uncovered data showing there have been at least 300 oil pipeline spills in North Dakota in the last two years and none of them were reported to the public. Those were a part of 750 total spills in the same period that went unreported.
AP reported about a recent spill that was one of the largest in North Dakota history. An estimated at 20,600 barrels of oil oozed over an area the size of seven football fields. However, for weeks, no one knew that a Tesoro Corporation pipeline broke in a remote area near Tioga. Officials say no water was contaminated or wildlife hurt. If there was no problem, why was it covered up?
Why is the state is hiding information from the public? Perhaps regulators believe their role is to champion the oil and gas industry rather than protect the public and the environment.
North Dakota is not alone. Colorado experienced a 1000-year flood in September. The South Platte River jumped its banks flooding tens of thousands of acres and destroying property and farm land. Much of Colorado’s fracking wells are located in the flood plain of the Platte River. There were early reports that flooding had compromised fracking facilities spilling oil and who knows what else into the river.
The trade association for the Colorado oil and gas industry was quick to deny that there was any problem. The association’s CEO went on TV assuring the public everything was capped and there were no spills. The flood prevented state regulators from visiting the area to confirm the denials.
Local media aired the denials. One news anchor went so far as to attack the “reports on social media of spills” saying he had fact-checked them and found them to be false. He went further, he urged viewers to use social media to put down the “misinformation” being spread about non-existent spills. His facts came from the oil and gas industry.
A day or so later video evidence documented the fact that tens of thousands of gallons of oil did indeed spill into the river. Neither the station, the anchor, nor the oil and gas spokesman offered an apology for the spin.
Fracking has benefits, but it has tremendous risks. These risks can be mitigated. The problem is the industry does not want to cut into its enormous profits to take the steps necessary to adequately protect the public. They won’t unless someone makes them. Keeping information about problems from the public will not lead to solutions. When it leaks out, as it always does, the regulators and the industry lose credibility. That could lead to more local referendums banning fracking like are on the ballot this year.
A responsible energy plan, as industry spin doctors like to call what they are doing, would have two elements: full disclosure of spills and chemicals used, and robust environmental and public health safety measures. If these are not present, the energy program is not responsible.