For much of the last decade the growth of natural gas production has brought jobs to many regions of the country as well as massive increases in energy royalty dollars to both state and local governments.
With this increase, however, have come growing concerns about the practices used for accessing and extracting these natural gas reserves. Cases of water contamination, chemical poisoning and permanent destruction of aquifers have coincided with increased well drilling through hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.” This process involves injecting often highly toxic chemicals in large quantities into the earth to get at the gas. The chemicals are suspected of leaching into aquifers, and large pools of waste fracking fluids are dumped in poorly constructed pools that can seep out chemicals into the ground – and into water supplies. Leaking pipes and accidents have led to further water contamination.
Yet, despite these serious concerns, the public has been kept in the dark about the chemicals that are pumped from their property into the earth under their homes. The 2005 Energy Act exempts industry from disclosing the chemicals it injects into the ground as part of the fracking process. This exemption, known widely as the “Halliburton Loophole,” was created when the natural gas industry convinced lawmakers that disclosing these chemicals would be bad for business.
The result has apparently been very good for business. Exxon Mobile predicts that consumption of natural gas will increase by 55 percent between 2005 and 2030. Following the 2005 Energy Act, energy services giant Baker Hughes made a $5.5 billion deal for the third largest pressure-pumping developer BJ Services, which trails only Halliburton and Schlumberger in the fracking world. In 2010 Nabors Industries, which is the world’s leading rig contractor, acquired Superior Well Services for $900 million in cash. The deal will increase Nabors Industries’ presence in the heavily fracked Marcellus Shale area, as Superior Well is said to have a 530,000 horsepower capacity for pressure pump fracking. All this has taken place as industry leaders continue to beat the drum that fracking is safe and needs little oversight.
- “I have never seen anything dangerous.” – T.Boone Pickens talking about fracking on The Daily Show with John Stewart
- “The regulatory burden on the oil and gas industry increases the cost of doing business and consequently affects profitability.” – CEO of Bill Barrett Corporation.
While these claims have become ubiquitous in industry circles so too have claims of water contamination, sickness and industrial accidents wherever fracking is common. Beyond the documentation of flammable tap water and nagging sicknesses in the film Gasland there are several other similar reports. In early 2011 a fire at a gas well erupted near Rifle, Colorado. Just days later, a congressional report found that companies including Halliburton and BJ Services had been using diesel fuel as part of their fracking fluids. Other reports including those of a Colorado man, Ned Prather, who went to drink a glass of water and ended up chugging benzene, a carcinogen, have become common-place throughout the West. In the fracking hotbed of Pennsylvania several families are entangled in a lawsuit against frackers over contamination of their water supplies. Clearly there is a disconnect between the rhetoric of industry and the landowners who live among their operations. The only route to ensure drilling is done safely and water supplies aren’t permanently contaminated is through fair, effective oversight and public health protections. However, the taxpayer-funded agencies and officials entrusted with making protecting the public’s interest have often failed or buckled under industry pressure. The Checks and Balances Project is dedicated to increasing the accountability and transparency of the way natural gas drilling is overseen.