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Daniel J. Graeber

Daniel J. Graeber

Daniel Graeber is a writer and political analyst based in Michigan. His work on matters related to the geopolitical aspects of the global energy sector,…

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Obama Calls on Energy Companies to Disclose the Ingredients of Fracking Fluid

President Obama during the State of the Union address Tuesday night said his administration would require energy companies working in shale gas plays in his country to disclose the ingredients of hydraulic fracturing fluid. That's becoming something of a common practice in the United States, a country described by Texas oil magnate T. Boone Pickens as the Saudi Arabia of natural gas. Yet, advocacy groups complain the chemicals in so-called fracking fluid threaten the environment. State regulators, and most of the energy companies, counter that fracking is safe if done correctly. So was Obama's message Tuesday to the energy companies or was it a political message to shore up his environmental base? 

Last year, Energy Secretary Steven Chu called on energy companies to disclose the ingredients of fracking fluid, though the never-happy American Petroleum Institute said he wasn't giving the industry or state regulators their due. Most of the states in the U.S. hold shale deposits. The Marcellus and Utica plays are among the richest, though other states like Michigan hold their own unique shale deposits. Michigan law requires operators to list the chemical additives used in fracking fluid.  Of note is ethylene glycol, or antifreeze, which can lead to cancer.  But energy companies, like the dreaded Halliburton, say most of the chemicals are present only in trace amounts. True, the EPA found some of these chemicals in groundwater samples in Wyoming. Here in Michigan, however, the Department of Environmental Quality said fracking has been utilized in the state for years without any adverse affects on the environment or human health. That's the Michigan agency tasked with monitoring the environment, not an energy regulator.

Opponents of fracking note there've been more than 1,000 incidents of groundwater contamination tied to hydraulic fracturing and point to a video on the Internet of someone actually sparking a fireball in their kitchen sink presumably because of something tied to fracking. That's all fine and well and certainly there are some reports of livestock falling ill but is that any worse than any other practices associated with the extraction of natural resources? Is strip mining better? Oil? Coal? Natural gas is abundant and one of the cleanest forms of energy, the industry says, so what's the issue? 

Groups like Frack Watch and Food & Water Watch note the sky is falling because of the secret and oh-so mysterious fracking fluid. Granted, regulation on shale isn't universal and perhaps Michigan is a special case but it should be noted that more than 12,000 wells were hydraulically fractured in the state since the 1960s and the DEQ didn't find a single problem with it. 

Obama is right to address the issue during his annual address because lawmakers on both sides of the aisle see matters related to energy as a national security issue.  But it seems that in the era of hyper-partisanship that certain groups would rather chant easy slogans than comb through the 121-page EPA report on fracking issues in Wyoming. One could argue for more wind farms, but the environmentalists complain about those too. In the meantime, maybe we should all just say frack it and walk to work – provided there's a job to go to, that is.

By. Daniel J. Graeber of Oilprice.com

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Leave a comment
  • maxoom on January 26 2012 said:
    excellent article, i think this is the way to go forward, the natural gas is going to come out of the ground one way or another, lets do it the right way..
  • beofgoodpurpose on January 26 2012 said:
    • Obama has lost my vote with his decision to put the lives of NYers, our environment and our precious water supply at risk endorsing hydraulic fracturing and making blatently false claims that fracking does not pollute the environment and that it is safe. Running billions of gallons of chemicals laced with carcinogens and endocrine disruptors through our water treatment plants puts our families and our children at risk..creating billions of gallons of radioactive carcinogenic wastewater to be stored in open air containment vats puts us at a previously unprecented risk of a cancer epidemic. Chesapeake industries just revealed that the financial benefits of fracking and the yield may be less then originally thought and might not even be worth the financial investments necessary. Even if fracking provides energy for 100 years in a short century our beautiful state will have been contaminated, our water polluted, our tourism and winery and farm industries destroyed, our real estate investments depleted, our families sick from respiratory ailments, cancer and other unknown effects proven to be caused by fracking. and yet Obama says this is safe. Why? because he is feeling the pressure from oil and gas companies over his pipeline decision, and he is worried about his own reelection. do we want a president who Really explores safe sustainable green energy solutions, which ARE available, and attainable, or a president who will allow our water supply to be put at risk in order to get financial backing for his campaign? stand up for clean water clean air green energy for your families. fight back. fight frack!!
  • commonsense on January 29 2012 said:
    Can we have an arrangement where we off the gas only to.the environmentalists houses in the middle of winter. Also if we abolish tracking it should only be the environmentalists that have to.go fight in the middle east.

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