One would hardly expect an official from Obama’s administration, which has dedicated a lot of work to curbing the harmful effects of fracking on the environment and public health, to have anything positive to say about it, but Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz has done just that. At a hearing in Seattle, he said that fracking has helped bring down CO2 emissions to their lowest in 24 years by enabling the displacement of coal with lower-emission natural gas.
The secretary’s remarks come soon after the EPA published a study that claims fracking doesn’t pollute underground water, raising alarm among environmentalist groups and more notably, among EPA’s own science advisers, who lashed back at the authority with the argument that the researchers involved in the study did not have enough scientific evidence to support its claim.
This study, by the way, is one of 75, The Federalist points out, all with conclusions in defense of fracking as a clean method of extracting hydrocarbons from the ground. The important point, however, is that these 75 studies, reviewed by ICF International, focus on the methane emission issue, rather than on water pollution.
At the same time, there is also evidence that waste from frack wells does pollute water and represents a health hazard. Interestingly, one such study from the Oregon State University, initially concluded that fracking pollutes the air, but a year later the authors retracted it, claiming they found an error in their calculations, adding that fracking was, in fact, safe.
Another one, this time from a former EPA scientist, Dominic DiGiulio, found that fracking waste contaminated underground water in Pavillion, Wyoming. This study was also an interesting one in that the EPA launched an investigation into the issue in 2008, but five years later transferred it to state regulators without finishing it. DiGiulio completed it independent from the agency. Related: The Best Way To Unlock Canada’s Crude Exports
There are possibly many such interesting studies for those fascinated by the fracking controversy, but what they all suggest is that this controversy is nowhere near its end, and Moniz’ remarks at the Seattle hearing further muddy the waters.
It’s undoubtedly true that natural gas burns more cleanly than coal. Consequently, it’s true that replacing gas with coal wherever and whenever possible is, on the whole, a good move. But just how good, one may wonder, in light of the latest EIA Short-Term Energy Outlook, where the authority notes that CO2 emissions from natural gas are about to surpass the emissions from coal for the first time since 1972 this year.
Here’s a quote from the EIA to illustrate: “In 2015, natural gas consumption was 81 percent higher than coal consumption, and their emissions were nearly equal. Both fuels were associated with about 1.5 billion metric tons of energy-related CO2 emissions in the United States in 2015.” Related: The Eagle Ford: Down But Not Out
Fracking has been a fundamental point of dispute among presidential candidates – no wonder given the controversy – and Moniz is not the only one adding fuel to it. Earlier this week Harold Hamm, Trump’s potential energy secretary appointee, and perhaps the very embodiment of Big Shale, was quick to take back something Trump said—namely that state and local governments should be free to regulate fracking.
Trump’s remark, though largely in line with Republican values in that the party typically prefers limited federal oversight, went counter to the oil and gas industry’s priorities, which rely on the federal and state regulation of fracking to a substantial degree. Local communities sometimes do not want fracking in their own backyards, as the technology is being linked to not just air and water pollution but also to earthquakes. But the industry, and most Republicans, do not support such local initiatives.
So, in an ironic twist, it seems like Moniz, a Democrat and member of a fracking-aware government, is supporting fracking, while Donald Trump seems willing to alienate frackers in favor of state and local rights. It remains to be seen whether Harold Hamm, who blamed the comment on Trump’s misunderstanding of fracking, can assuage Big Oil’s ire, or convince Trump to shift gears.
Meanwhile, the other presidential hopeful, Hillary Clinton, is being criticized heavily for supporting fracking abroad, but being much more reserved about its benefits at home. It seems that fracking just became an even more central issue in the presidential race.
By Irina Slav for Oilprice.com
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