Henry Frac'ing Waxman!
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In their never-ending quest to extend EPA’s regulatory tentacles into all phases of our lives, Congressional Democrats, professional hysteria-mongers, give us this:
"Oil and gas companies can pump hundreds of thousands of gallons of fluid — containing any number of toxic chemicals — into sources of drinking water with little or no accountability," said Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
Rep. Waxman, with all due respect, sir, that statement is either 1) grossly misinformed and irresponsible; or 2) a bald-faced lie.
If given this new regulatory responsibility, the EPA, one of the slowest-moving and blindly anti-business of the Federal bureaucracies, will decrease our energy security while making oil and natural gas more expensive for the consumer.
From the Houston Chronicle, of all places:
Of all the aspects of oil and gas well operations, none in my experience (30 years and counting) receives closer scrutiny from state regulators than protection of groundwater resources.
Rep. Waxman would have you believe that the process of "hydraulic fracturing" (frac'ing, for short) – in which hydraulic pressure is applied to a well to create cracks in the reservoir rocks to allow gas or oil to flow more easily – is an activity so hazardous and potentially injurious to human health that it demands regulation by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, rather than the agencies in the various producing states.
Hydraulic fracturing already has been used on more than a million wells nationwide, according to the American Petroleum Institute, a trade group. And industry experts estimate oil-field-services firms will use this technique on up to 80 percent of new gas wells drilled over the next decade.
In 2004, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency examined the use of hydraulic fracturing fluids in coal bed methane wells and concluded they posed a minimal threat to underground sources of drinking water.
Environmentalists, health experts and residents who have lived near oil and natural gas drilling activity questioned the EPA's conclusions.
Theo Colborn, president of The Endocrine Disruption Exchange, a Colorado-based organization that studies the effects of low-dose chemical exposure, said private citizens have a difficult time ascertaining what chemicals oil-field-services companies are using.
"We keep running into the word 'proprietary,' " Colborn told the panel.
The American Petroleum Institute said water typically constitutes 99 percent of the liquid phase of fracturing fluids. These fluids also frequently include a gelling agent also used in puddings and ice cream or a buffer such as fumaric acid, found in fruit drinks and baking soda.
But Colborn told the panel she obtained the fracturing fluid of a company operating near her home that included the chemical 2-butoxy ethanol. Laboratory studies have shown the chemical can cause problems for the spleen and bones in the spinal column, bone marrow and the liver.
Steve Mobaldi told the panel both he and his wife, Chris, began suffering health problems after gas drilling began near their home in Rifle, Colo. Eventually, Chris Mobaldi was diagnosed as suffering from exposure to an unknown chemical.
A drilling rig was installed across the street, about 300 feet from their home, Mobaldi said. At one point, company officials came to their house and warned them not to drink their water. Instead, the company provided them with water for four months.
[emphasis added throughout]
Note that the Mobaldis’ supposed problem is not attributed to hydraulic fracturing, merely to the proximity of a drilling rig. And therein lies at least part of the confusion.
During drilling operations, the shallow freshwater sands may be temporarily exposed to “drilling mud”, prior to lining the hole with protective pipe called “casing”. One of the primary functions of casing is the protection of groundwater; that is why state agencies regulate how much casing is run, and to what depth. A prudent operator might offer drinking water to any nearby water well owners “just in case”.
Now, hydraulic fracturing, that’s a whole different kettle of fish. Contrary to the Chronicle’s headline, hydraulic fracturing is a completion technique, not a “drilling method”. That means it is applied to help prepare a producing formation by stimulating it after it has been drilled, and casing has been run, usually at depths that are separated from the drinking water supply by many thousands of feet. Even in the article’s extreme example of shallow coalbed methane, the separation would be hundreds, if not thousands, of feet. The chance of fracturing fluid finding its way into the groundwater supply is miniscule.
This issue is trying to become Version 2.0 of a mass hysteria we saw a few years back: Sick Building Disease, wherein trace amounts of even naturally occurring chemicals were accused of causing symptoms as varied as malaise, ennui, and lack of focus to office workers and apartment dwellers. In short, a personal injury lawyer’s retirement plan.
As a side note, oil companies do not perform hydraulic fracturing themselves. Instead, they turn to the oil field services sector for the equipment and expertise to execute these complicated services. The big three in fracturing are Halliburton [who else?], Schlumberger, and BJ Services. [Note that this BJ Services is a $7.6 B market cap NYSE company, not to be confused BJ Services, LLC, a leisure and personal services company with offices in Washington, DC and Massapequa, NY.]