El Paso spokesman calls fracturing controversy misdirected

Much of the public concern about possible water contamination from unconventional oil and gas operations is misdirected, David Blackmon, director of government affairs for El Paso Corp., told a Mayer Brown LLP energy conference in Houston on May 23.

Blackmon said he agrees with a University of Texas study that suggests water pollution from oil and gas operations typically stems from wastewater spills on the surface rather than from hydraulic fracturing.

Wastewater handling procedures on the surface have nothing to do with fracing jobs, but the public generally does not understand this, Blackmon explained. He advocates industry gets better about handling surface wastewater.

“If you have one spill, that’s a bad thing for everybody, and you need to make sure it doesn’t happen,” Blackmon said.

The Energy Institute at UT Austin funded an initiative leading to a study focused on US shale gas plays.

“Of all the issues that have arisen over shale gas development, hydraulic fracturing and its claimed effects on groundwater are without doubt the most contentious,” the UT study concluded, adding that fracing “has become such a lightning rod that it is equated in the eyes of many with the entire cycle of shale gas operations.”

Regarding news coverage and public perceptions about fracing, Blackmon said oil and gas companies have gotten better about communicating with reporters concerns the facts of daily operations.

“The misinformation about fracing fluids is our fault because we have not educated the media,” he acknowledged.

He also questions the timing and motivation of a pending report on hydraulic fracturing by the US Environmental Protection Agency.

“It’s a totally politically oriented process as anything is with the EPA these days,” Blackmon said.

EPA is slated to release its final report during 2014, and the agency is expected to release its initial findings by yearend.

“By 2014, this issue will be totally resolved,” Blackmon said. “By 2014, what is going to be left to do on this subject?”

Numerous states have implemented or are working on rules and regulations regarding fracing, including public disclosure of chemicals used in frac fluids.

Contact Paula Dittrick at paulad@ogjonline.com.

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