Energy Industry Threatens Water Quality, Sways Congress with Misleading Data
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"We are all for using science-based information," said Amy Mall, a senior policy analyst for the Natural Resources Defense Council. "But the underlying information doesn’t really tell the story they claim it does."
Nonetheless, the arguments have gained traction in Congress and have eroded support for new regulation.
Rep. Dan Boren, D-Okla., told his fellow members in a recent hearing that "these folks are laying people off -- people are hurting in my district." Rep. John Salazar, D-Colo., who sponsored legislation to regulate fracturing in 2008, but declined to add his name to this year's bill, told ProPublica that "developers may have legitimate concerns about the impact that removing the exemption may have on their ability to find and extract oil and gas."
To keep the legislation alive, Diana DeGette, D-Colo., its main sponsor, has shifted gears to seek environmental studies and hearings rather than a quick passage into law.
"The opposition has been throwing out scare tactics and mischaracterizations of what she is trying to do," said DeGette's spokesman, Kristofer Eisenla. "Unfortunately the oil and gas guys came out of the barn storming."
The study that has received the most publicity (PDF) is also among the most misleading.
The report, which evaluates the costs of regulations for the oil and gas industry, was written for the Department of Energy by a consulting company also used by the energy industry, Advanced Resources International, or ARI. It contains a table (PDF) listing seven specific processes it says would be mandated under the proposed federal regulations, and what those processes would cost -- a total of $100,505 per well. Among the listed items is "state of the art" fracture imaging, at a per-well average cost of $37,500, and three-dimensional fracture simulation, at a cost of $7,500.
But a footnote reveals that these figures are based on memo sent to a DOE official by another consulting firm in 1999. The report’s author said they haven’t been updated to reflect technological advances or substantial shifts in the drilling business over the last decade.
Furthermore, none of the tests listed in the table are mentioned in the text of Safe Drinking Water Act, the federal law that would apply to hydraulic fracturing, according to an EPA spokesperson in Washington. And they aren’t mentioned in the bill being floated in Congress either.
"It's a sense of magnitude of the impacts, not a sense of absolute accuracy," said Michael Godec, Vice President of ARI and author of the report. The regulatory requirements were interpolated on a "bad-case" scenario, he explained, because the federal laws are not specific. "We took some liberties. You have to make some assumptions about what might be required."
One of the industry reports raises serious questions about the construction of the pits used to store toxic drilling waste and what happens when dangerous fluids are spilled.
Godec believes that many of the processes listed in the report are already being practiced to a greater degree than they were in 1999, meaning that even if they were required they may not be additional burdens at all. But he said that anecdotal conversations with drilling companies confirm that the report’s conclusions are still “about right.”
Godec said he did not obtain recent cost figures from drilling companies, which are closely guarded. Halliburton -- one of the largest hydraulic fracturing service providers -- did not return calls from ProPublica for comment about the expense of the procedures listed.
Asked whether the age of the data was a concern, Godec said it had been discussed with Nancy Johnson, the DOE official who commissioned the report. He said he was instructed that the report was needed quickly, that the budget was limited and that he should move forward because "this is a hot topic and people are testifying."