Frac opposition stains credibility on energy issues

Bob Tippee

Forty-six members of the US House of Representatives have surrendered credibility on important energy issues.

The lawmakers, all Democrats, signed a letter to Interior Sec. Ken Salazar supporting federal regulation of hydraulic fracturing.

The 60-year-old technology is crucial to the production of natural gas from shale. Growing supply from that enormous resource is reshaping energy markets.

Anyone concerned about US energy supply should be cheering a pivotal development that also boosts the economy and demonstrates technical leadership.

But the energy in question is gas. It’s hydrocarbon. It requires drilling. To some extremists, those qualities are intolerable.

A scare campaign therefore is under way. Frac fluids, which are injected into most wells drilled in the US under well-established state regulation, are being portrayed as threats to drinking water. It doesn’t matter that injection targets lie thousands of feet below fresh-water aquifers, which are protected by well casing. The purpose of scare campaigns is to frighten, not inform.

The letter from 46 Democrats urges Salazar to make companies disclose chemicals used in the tiny fraction of frac fluid that isn’t sand and water.

That information is available now. The public already can discover, to use words in the letter, “what toxins might be going into the ground near their communities and what might be leaking into their drinking water.” The information not disclosed relates to how fluid suppliers combine ingredients to achieve the performance characteristics over which they compete. Those trade secrets aren’t important to the question whether fracing should or should not occur.

The important question for policy-making is whether the long history of hydraulic fracing provides any reason to fear leaks of toxic substances in concentrations high enough to cause damage. The answer is no.

Disclosure is a sham issue. What the letter-writers want is a new layer of regulation with which to foreclose development of an important supply of energy from light hydrocarbons.

Their signatures will be relevant to all future discussions about energy security and carbon mitigation.

(Online Jan. 14, 2011; author’s e-mail:

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