Sunday, April 06, 2014

Fracking's risks are manageable, but we need to do a better job of managing them, author warns

Frack job of Encana Oil & Gas near Rifle, Colo., March 29
(Associated Press photo by Brennan Linsley)
The advent of horizontal hydraulic fracturing has created an oil and gas boom that could make the U.S. energy-independent but has also raised widespread concerns about water pollution, air pollution, road damage, earthquakes and methane leakage that can worsen global warming and climate change. All are manageable, but more needs to be done, Wall Street Journal reporter Russell Gold, author of the new book, The Boom, says in an interview with Lindsay Abrams of Salon.

Gold says fracking itself poses little if any risk to groundwater, but improper well construction does. "Every time a new well is drilled and fracked we should test the water, the aquifers, so we have some sort of base-line test, and the air quality as well, so if there are significant changes to the water quality or to air emissions, we’ll know . . . We need more data," he told Abrams. "You need to make sure the wells have the right integrity and are going to stand out for thirty, forty, fifty years in the ground."

And the key to that, he said, is better state regulation. "There are still a lot of states where the oil and gas regulator, the watchdog, is the same agency that’s the cheerleader that’s trying to drum up business and encourage economic development," he told Abrams. "I really don’t think those two functions can live under the same roof. You can’t have the cheerleader and the watchdog under the same roof; they need to be split up."

Methane worries Gold too: "There’s no question — and there have been many peer reviewed scientific papers — that the industry as a whole needs to cut down on the leaks. Methane is a very potent greenhouse gas. It simply cannot be allowed to leak out in the amounts that it is right now.
The good news is that, even if at the current amounts of leakage, even at the high ends of what I’ve seen, it’s still better than coal in terms of its impact on the climate. And there’s a lot of low hanging fruit, there’s a lot of relatively easy plumbing that can be done to fix those leaks."

Gold says some proponents and opponents of fracking offer a false choice between "an energy system that gives us lots of good, cheap energy and trashes the environment" and one "that absolutely protects the environment, and we have really expensive energy and that’s a regressive tax. It’s a lot harder for people to get it, and you’ve got health effects because you don’t have access to energy. We need to find a balance between those two. And there is no one balance. We always have to be finding that balance. You find it once and you can’t rest on your laurels, and you need to kind of keep pushing." (Read more)

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