Oil and Gas

Leave This One to the States

If the EPA regulates hydraulic fracturing, development of natural gas around the country could shut down, killing thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in investment.

Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., have made it clear: They are no friend of the domestic natural gas industry. This time last month, in an attempt to give rise to an investigation by the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Waxman and Markey sent letters to CEOs of eight major companies requesting a list of all chemicals used in the process of hydraulic fracturing.

As early as June 2009, Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., introduced the FRAC Act, a bill aimed at removing the exemption of hydraulic fracturing from the Safe Drinking Water Act. At the heart of DeGette, Waxman and Markey's agenda is making the case for the regulation of hydraulic fracturing under the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Commenting about this issue, Chairman Waxman noted, "As we use this technology in more parts of the country on a much larger scale, we must ensure that we are not creating new environmental and public health problems." He continued by adding, "This investigation will help us better understand the potential risks this technology poses to drinking water supplies and the environment, and whether Congress needs to act to minimize those risks."

Last week, in a strong response to Waxman and Markey's letter to major executives, Democratic Congressman David Boren of Oklahoma and Republican Congressman Tim Murphy of Pennsylvania, co-chairmen of the Natural Gas Caucus, stressed the importance of the use of hydraulic fracturing and its overall impact on our national economy. In their response letter, Boren and Murphy defended the process and noted studies that found no link to groundwater contamination. Commenting on the importance of shale gas development, they exclaimed, "At this time of unprecedented economic uncertainty, and in a year in which 4 million Americans lost their jobs, shale gas exploration represents a proven and powerful engine of economic growth - and one this Congress idles at the peril of those it represents." I could not agree more with Reps. Boren and Murphy.

To begin, it's important to note the impact of the oil and gas industry on our local and national economies. The oil and gas business in this country provides nearly 10 million direct and indirect jobs. In our home state of Louisiana, the total economic impact of the oil and gas industry exceeds $70 billion a year and sustains more than 320,000 direct and indirect jobs. Specifically, in north Louisiana, the development of the Haynesville Shale alone has resulted in the investment of billions of dollars in the local economy, raised local tax revenues by hundreds of millions of dollars, and created thousands of high-paying jobs. The sustainability of all of this relies heavily on an economical recovery of oil and natural gas. In nearly all cases, economical recovery of our domestic energy needs can only occur with the use of hydraulic fracturing.

Hydraulic fracturing is a more than 50-year proven technology used to produce oil and natural gas. The process involves pumping a water-sand mixture into rock formations where the oil or gas is trapped. The pressure of the water creates tiny fissures in the rock. The sand serves as a propant that holds open the fissures, allowing the oil or gas to escape and flow up the well.

The use of this vital and well-developed engineering technique has resulted in the production of more than 7 billion barrels of oil and 600 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. It's estimated this process is responsible for nearly 30 percent of America's recoverable oil and gas. In the next 20 years, approximately 300,000 wells will be drilled and hydraulically fracked in developing the natural gas resource plays in the U.S. Industry argues that hydraulic fracturing has been used on nearly 1 million wells in the U.S. and has proven by experience to be safe and effective.

Liberals in Congress and environmentalists contend that the fracturing process can contaminate the water supplies and should be regulated by the federal government. Early on, Congress and this administration sent a clear signal to the natural gas industry that it was their intention to regulate hydraulic fracturing through the EPA under the cover of the Clean Water Act. Currently hydraulic fracturing is exempted from the Safe Drinking Water Act and regulated by state agencies.

As early as June of 2009, Waxman noted, "The regulatory loophole for hydraulic fracturing puts public health at risk and isn't justified." In conjunction, Congresswoman DeGette cried out, "Hydraulic fracturing was an unconscionable Bush-Cheney loophole that snuck into our nation's energy policy." In support of Waxman's investigation, a previous EPA statement declared, "There are compelling reasons to believe that hydraulic fracturing may impact ground water and surface water quality in ways that threaten human health and the environment, which demands further study."

Putting hydraulic fracturing under the umbrella of the federal government is just another attempt by bureaucrats in Washington to expand the size and scope of the federal government. With no regard for the rights of states, it is this Congress and administration's goal to control the development of the domestic natural gas resources under the guise of the EPA.

Many may not be aware, but for decades the process of hydro-fracking has been effectively regulated by the states. In mid 2009, the Groundwater Protection Council released a study on the regulation of oil and gas field activities saying, "The regulation of oil and gas field activities, including hydraulic fracturing, is best accomplished at the state level where regional and local conditions are best understood and where state regulators are on hand to conduct inspections and oversee specific operations like well construction and testing and plugging as well as hydraulic fracturing."

Time and time again, states have proven to be the most effective at conserving the environment and ensuring public health. However, the administration and bureaucrats at the EPA would have one believe that states are inadequately equipped to address these problems.

In the state of Louisiana, three different agencies have oversight related to the process of hydraulic fracturing. In conjunction with existing federal regulation under the EPA, this process has effectively been regulated by the Office of Conservation of the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources, Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality, and the Department of Health & Hospitals.

It's important to note that in over 50 years of use in our industry across the entire country, the use of hydraulic fracturing has posed no discernible threats to our fresh water aquifers. Additionally, there has never been a single documented incident whereby the technique of hydraulic fracturing has contaminated ground water. The criticism is unfounded. Current industry practices and existing state regulations have consistently ensured multiple levels of protection to safeguard groundwater contamination and other public health issues.

Technological advancements such as hydraulic fracturing have resulted in the recovery of massive quantities of natural gas from unconventional shale plays. In the past decade, discoveries of natural gas shale plays such as the Barnett Shale in Texas, the Marcellus Shale on the Northeastern Coast, and the Haynesville Shale in northern Louisiana have resulted in the potential recovery of nearly 1,747 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. These finds represent more recoverable energy than the oil fields of Saudi Arabia.

One thing is certain: None of this gas will reach your home to be burned on your stove or heat your home without the utilization of hydraulic fracturing. If hydraulic fracturing were to be regulated by the EPA, the president and liberals in Congress could easily shut down the development of natural gas around the country. The end result of this could be the loss of thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in investment.

As millions of Americans find themselves unemployed and our nation continues its insatiable addiction to foreign sources of energy, it is abhorrent to think that members of Congress and our president would support a job-killing initiative that will result not only in a continuation of our energy crisis, but also affect the overall quality and standard of living in this country. It's time Congress and this administration get something right: leave this one to the states.

Don Briggs lives in Lafayette and has been president of the Louisiana Independent Oil and Gas Association since 1992. Matt Ross, LOGA's assistant director for north Louisiana, contributed to this column.