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Hydraulic Fracturing and the EPA • Policy Position Paper
Hydraulic Fracturing and the EPA
Having a reliable form of energy is very crucial in order to survive comfortably in the United States. Since there have not been any ground breaking discoveries with any other resources, Americans still rely heavily on the production of oil and natural gas. Over the years, we have used the majority of the oil in the United States that was easily accessible. We are now at a point where we have to get creative and find ways to extract the oil and gas that lies deep below the surface. Finding ways to extract oil and gas in the United States is extremely important because we do not want to be dependent on another country for a product that is so crucial in our everyday lives. We need to be able to use the oil and gas that we have here in our own country. One of the ways we are able to extract oil and natural gas is through Hydraulic Fracturing (Fracing), which non-industry people erroneously call “fracking.” However, this method has caused quite the commotion over the years. There has been an ongoing battle between the oil and gas industry and the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regarding the safety of fracing and the effects it has on the environment. The EPA has held up quite a bit of production through fracing due to new regulations, policies, procedures, and or investigations. This has become costly to the oil industry since so much money has already been invested in the method, and holding up production costs money. The regulation of air and water pollution is supposed to be handled at the state level, not the federal level. However, the EPA is citing the Clean Water Act as their foothold into the industry, which in turn makes it a federal issue. These types of issues leave many people questioning the EPA’s involvement and whether is it beneficial or harmful.
It is extremely important to understand why the EPA was established. The EPA was established by President Richard Nixon on December 2, 1970. During this time there was a huge increase in concern for the well-being of the environment due to various incidents that had occurred. One of the major factors that lead to the increased concern was a blowout that occurred on the ocean floor of the Santa Barbara Channel on January 28, 1969. According to a newspaper article in the Los Angeles Times, more than 3 million gallons of crude oil made its way into the oceans and onto the beaches (Corwin). Journalist Miles Corwin wrote, “For weeks national attention was focused on the spill’s disturbing, dramatic images…..The disaster is considered to be a major factor in the birth of the modern-day environmental movement” (I23). Obviously, with this being such a hot topic in the United States, it was only a matter of time for the federal government to get involved in the issue. President Nixon wrote the Reorganization Plan No.3 of 1970, which was an executive order that gave Congress the course of action for creating the EPA. President Nixon felt that it was important to have an independent agency that dealt with all of the environmental needs of the United States. However, this went against his normal practice, because he did not believe in creating new independent agencies in order to provide effective administration. He ended up creating an outline that specifically stated what he felt should be the main purpose of this new independent agency. He stated:
The principal roles and functions of the EPA would include:
– The establishment and enforcement of environmental protection standards consistent with national environmental goals.
– The conduct of research on the adverse effects of pollution and on methods and equipment for controlling it, the gathering of information on pollution, and the use of this information in strengthening environmental protection programs and recommending policy changes.
– Assisting others, through grants, technical assistance and other means in arresting pollution of the environment.
– Assisting the Council on Environmental Quality in developing and recommending to the President new policies for the protection of the environment. (Nixon 582)
Nixon was basically stating that the purpose of this agency was to provide environmental conservation, as well as protecting the health of Americans. The agency was to do this by not only creating, but also enforcing regulations based on legislation passed by Congress. The EPA headquarters is in Washington D.C. They have quite a few regional offices and laboratories that they utilize for their research. The agency is led by an Administrator who is appointed by the President, but must be approved by Congress. Today the EPA conducts investigations and research on things they feel are hurting the environment. Furthermore, they are required to consult with the state and local governments in order to maintain environmental standards and enforce the laws of the nation. Even though they have been granted the authority to get involved in many issues by Congress, they tend to get too involved and cause more harm than good.
Since the majority of oil and gas lies deep below the Earth’s surface, one of the ways we have been retrieving it is through Hydraulic Fracturing. Interestingly enough, the first commercial fracing was done by Halliburton; however, it was not until 1998 that horizontal slick water fracturing technology was developed. A journalist of the Redwood Times stated, “Slick-water fracking added friction-reducing chemicals to water increasing the fluid flow. Now, high-volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing, or ‘hydrofracking,’ is the preferred method of extraction” (Gardner). The hydrofracing method made it possible to extract shale gas and was first used in Barnett Shale in Texas. Fracing is a well stimulating process that maximizes the extraction of resources that are deep below the Earth’s surface. Utilizing hydraulic fracturing allows the oil and natural gas to move freely from the rock’s pores into the production wells for extraction. This is done by post drilling of a well that is perforated in the targeted reservoir. Once the drilling is complete, the wellbore is cemented to prevent fluid migration to higher reservoirs. Fracturing fluids are then pumped into the well at a specific rate and pressure that will fracture the rocks. The rate and pressure are based on the fracture gradient of the reservoir that you are trying to treat. The fracture process includes fracturing of the rock, and injection of a propping agent to maintain the fracture or keep them from closing. As the internal reservoir overburden pressure forces the excess fluid through the wellbore to the surface, the fluids are then recovered and handled per regulatory requirements, whether it is state or federal. This happens during the production and flow back process. Once the fracture fluids are recovered the well begins production of oil or natural gas. This has proven to be a very productive method of extraction. Although, it may seem like a very complex procedure, it really is simply comprised of four basic steps. First drill the well, then complete the well, then facture treat the reservoir, and finally produce the well. Figure 1 below illustrates a very simple reference of how the hydrofracing process works; however, natural gas is not trucked into a pipeline as stated below. Natural gas flows into a pipeline from the wellsite and produces brine and condensate liquids that are trucked offsite for further processing:
Figure 1. Eagle, Jeremy. How Hydrofracking Works. Infobase Learning. “Hydrofracking.” Issues & Controversies. Facts on File News Services, 31 Oct. 2011. Web. 2 Apr. 2013.
There are several supportive arguments for fracing. Hydraulic fracture treatment has proven to be an extremely effective and profitable method of oil production, generating higher quantities of oil and gas, more money, and jobs for Americans. According to the article “History of an Enduring Technology” in the Society of Petroleum Engineering website, approximately 2.5 million fracture treatments have taken place since 1949. The article states, “Fracture stimulation not only increases the production rate, but it is credited with adding to reserves-9 billion bbl of oil and more than 700 Tscf of gas added since 1949 to US reserves alone” (Montgomery; 27). The statistics support huge profitability. The 9 billion additional barrels is worth $ 87,330,000,000.00 at current oil prices. In addition, the 700 trillion standard cubic feet of gas is worth $ 3,311,000,000,000.00 at current gas prices. The fracing process produces quite a bit more oil and gas than the conventional techniques that have been used in the past. This will provide the U.S. with the needed source of energy, keeping us from having to rely on other countries for oil. In the article “Domestic Oil Resources Will Reduce Foreign Dependence,” philosopher Gary Jason noted that, “By 2020, shale oil fields could allow us to cut our imports of foreign oil by 60%” (Jason). This is a huge accomplishment. Our nation should never be dependent on foreign countries unless there are absolutely no other options. Additionally, the hydraulic fracturing process has helped reduce the high unemployment rate in the Unites States by producing jobs. Economics professor Dr. Mark Perry from the University of Michigan, mentions in an article that the fracing process has reversed the decline in oil and gas extraction jobs in the United States. In the article Perry notes:
No union/environmentalist central planner set out to create hundreds of thousands of new jobs by perfecting new methods of extracting shale oil and gas from rocks thousands of feet beneath the surface. But that is exactly what the private sector has done. A recent IHS Global Insight report found the fracking industry supported 1.7 million jobs in 2012 alone. Liberals often make light of conservative claims that the free market is perfectly capable of solving problems and creating wealth without government planning. But that is exactly what fracking has done for the U.S. economy. (Perry)
According to Perry there has been a 61% increase in employment in oil and gas drilling since 2005. Thus, there are more Americans employed today than there have been since 1988 when the oil and gas employment drastically fell. Figure 2 illustrates the rise in employment over the years.
Figure 2. Perry, Mark J. “Market Forces and Fracking Have Created Wealth and Jobs.” AEI Ideas. N.p., 15 Apr. 2013. Web. 21 Apr. 2013.
The best part about these numbers is that they only reflect the jobs that are held specifically by individuals drilling for oil and gas. This does not include the jobs that are being produced indirectly by other companies that are producing the items that the oil industries need such as sand, steel, and transportation. Economic growth is stimulated by the production of more jobs for Americans, and when our economy is strong, we are strong as a nation.
The fracing process does have a potential risk factor associated with it, which is the only opposing argument for the procedure. According to the section “Natural Gas Extraction-Hydraulic Fracturing” found on the EPA website, there are a few potential impacts that fracing may have on the environment. These are the items that the EPA is concerned with:
Stress on surface water and ground water supplies from the withdrawal of large volumes of water used in drilling and hydraulic fracturing; Contamination of underground sources of drinking water and surface waters resulting from spills, faulty well construction, or by other means; Adverse impacts from discharges into surface waters or from disposal into underground injection wells; and air pollution resulting from the release of volatile organic compounds, hazardous air pollutants, and greenhouse gases. (United States Environmental Protection Agency)
In other words, it is possible that ground water contamination and risks to air quality may occur. There are also potential risks involved with mishandling the wastes. The key words here are potential and possible, and it is important to note that there are many state regulations put in place to drastically minimize the risks mentioned above.
Many people would argue that the EPA’s involvement in environmental issues is completely necessary. The EPA was created to ensure the safety and health for Americans and the environment in the United States. The organization’s main purpose as mentioned previously is creating and enforcing regulations based on the laws passed by Congress. The EPA has taken charge of the pollution control in the United States. They perform various investigations to understand the factors associated with certain procedures they deem to be a threat to the environment. Many people believe that the EPA has tremendously helped the environment over the years with the miscellaneous regulations they have put in place. According to an article written by Environmental Scientist Paul Taylor, the United States actually leads the world in protection of the environment (Taylor). We have the most regulatory systems, placing us in front of other countries when it comes to environmental protection.
On the other hand, there are many people who are in complete disagreement and do not think the EPA is a good thing. One of the biggest arguments in opposition of the EPA is that they tend to get involved in issues that they should not; for instance, regulation of air and water pollution should be handled at the state level. States take public and environmental safety very seriously. Secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Michael Krancer, believes that the states should be responsible for regulating natural gas drilling, not the federal government. He makes a good point when he states, “No ‘one size fits all’ is applicable in this field. Each state is different and has different geography, topography, geology, hydrogeology and meteorology…The states are light-years ahead of the federal government in terms of experience and know how about their own individual states and about the science and technique of hydraulic fracturing,” (Krancer). What he says here is completely true. States have been heavily involved in regulating the procedure long before the EPA had any involvement in the process. There are emergency procedures in place at the state level in the off chance that something does go wrong. A second argument against the EPA is how much money is spent on their numerous investigations. Taylor said “EPA and related environmental regulations cost over 5% of the U.S. annual gross domestic product (GDP) – The equivalent to the cost of the U.S. national security and homeland security combined” (Taylor). This is an extremely large amount of money that could be of better use paying off a portion of our nation’s debt. It is not only the money that is spent on this research; there is also a lot of money that is being lost due to inability to produce. While these lengthy investigations for possible water contamination take place, the oil industries have been put on hold until the EPA completes their research. This costs the companies quite a bit of money. Furthermore, the results have still not proven that there is actually a risk in water contamination and, yet the EPA continues their investigations. Another interesting fact that Taylor points out is that since the increase in EPA regulations, the average unemployment rate has increased by 33.3% in the United States (Taylor). High unemployment rates are devastating to our economy. Clearly, the EPA’s involvement in environmental issues such as fracing is more harmful than beneficial to the United States. The EPA fails to see the big picture with things and chooses to ignore the implications its policies have on the American people.
With this being such a controversial topic, opposing sides will naturally present their support and opposition somewhat based on emotion and somewhat based on fact. The purpose of this paper was to surface the facts and point out the areas in which people’s emotions have seemingly taken control. Many people would argue that the EPA’s involvement in hydraulic fracturing is completely necessary. They believe that the EPA will rescue them from the pollution in which the horrible oil industry is subjecting them to. The EPA has conducted many investigations on the hydraulic fracturing process and they have not come up with any substantial evidence that this process has anything more than “potential” risks. The reality is that the EPA was not involved in fracing until it became a hot topic in the nation. The EPA then felt the need to put on their superhero cape and come to the nation’s rescue, which the federal government does quite frequently. The EPA should not be involved in the issues of hydraulic fracturing. The only thing they have done is cost the nation tons of money and raised unemployment rates, all to realize that the states knew what they were doing all along. The EPA’s involvement is basically saying that the states are not competent enough to ensure the safety of their own people which is complete nonsense. Fracing is a great way to produce the source of energy that we need in America today. This process has so many supportive arguments. Fracing produces more oil and gas, thereby reducing our dependence on foreign oil, as well as; providing more jobs for Americans, which in turn stimulates our economy. The fact is that there are some risks involved; however, the potential risks are very minimal. America did not become the great nation that it is without taking risks. People take risks every day when they decide to step outside of their bubble. For example, one can be killed driving their own car or by some psycho going crazy in a public place. It is not about taking the risk that we should be focused on; rather it is whether or not we are prepared to deal the problem at hand if it should ever arise. State regulations and oil companies themselves have existing emergency responses in place for possible incidents that may occur.
Corwin, Miles. “The Oil Spill Heard ’Round the Country.” Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 28 Jan. 1989: I23. Web. 30 March 2013.
Gardner, Susan. “Hydraulic Fracturing Expands Natural Gas Production.” Redwood Times. Redwood Times, 22 Jan. 2013. Web. 10 February 2013.
Jason, Gary. “Domestic Oil Resources Will Reduce Foreign Dependence.” Foreign Oil Dependence. Ed. Ronald D. Lankford, Jr. Detroit: Greenhaven Press, 2013. At Issue. Rpt. from “Green Dreams, Green Nightmares.” 2011. Opposing Viewpoints In Context. Web. 5 Apr. 2013.
“Hydrofracking.” Issues & Controversies. Facts on File News Services, 31 Oct. 2011. Web. 2 Apr. 2013.
Krancer, Michael. “States Are the Proper Regulators of Natural Gas Drilling.” Fracking. Ed. Tamara Thompson. Detroit: Greenhaven Press, 2013. At Issue. Rpt. from “Natural Gas Drilling: Pennsylvania’s Perspective: The States’ Regulation of the Natural Gas Industry.” Testimony of Michael L. Krancer, Secretary, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Department of Environmental Protection, Before the Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment, Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure,. Vol. 1. 2011. Opposing Viewpoints In Context. Web. 22 Apr. 2013.
Montgomery, Carl, T., and Michael B. Smith. “History of an Enduring Technology.” Society of Petroleum Engineers. 26-30. Web. 16 February 2013.
Nixon, Richard M. Public Papers of the President of the United States. Richard Nixon. Containing the Public Messages, Speeches, and Statements of the President 1970. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Library, 2005. Web. 5 April 2013.
Perry, Mark J. “Market Forces and Fracking Have Created Wealth and Jobs.” AEI Ideas. N.p., 15 Apr. 2013. Web. 21 Apr. 2013.
Taylor, Paul. “EPA at 40: Pros and Cons.” Examiner.com. N.p., 6 Dec. 2010. Web. 5 Apr. 2013.
United States Environmental Protection Agency. Natural Gas Extraction – Hydraulic Fracturing. 2 April 2013. Web. 5 April 2013.