Kent Cravens, who resigned his post in the New Mexico Senate 2011 so that he could become the state’s top oil and gas lobbyist, assured the Senate Conservation Committee last month that hydraulic fracturing was safe, clean and necessary. Here are highlights of the rebuttal testimony he gave after I spoke on the dangers of hydraulic fracturing.
No Documented Cases of Contamination
“Just for the committee’s information, there’s not been a single documented groundwater contamination from fracking.
This is a favorite mantra of the industry, although they usually say there are no “proven” cases of contamination. (Watch the video to see Kent struggle to remember the agreed upon language.)
The statement is misleading for two reasons. First, proof is in the eye of the beholder. Outside of mathematics, things are rarely proven. The mountain of evidence correlating shale gas operations with water contamination will never convince the industry to admit that they are contaminating water. But any reasonable person, given the same evidence, can easily see it.
The second reason this statement is misleading is that it only addresses the fracking process, rather than from all the other processes that accompany fracking. This deception is expertly delivered by Lisa Jackson:
“I am not aware of any proven case where the fracking process itself has affected water…”.
In New Mexico during 2011 and 2012, an estimated 3.7 million gallons of fracking chemicals were transported to well sites, pumped into wells at high pressure, pumped back out of the wells, transported to disposal sites, and then dumped – often underground. During this time, the industry self-reported nearly 1500 spill events, including 30 affecting waterways or groundwater and 17 involving fracking fluids. So, proven or not, the odds that water in New Mexico has not been contaminated by fracking fluid are essentially zero.
Coffee is a Chemical
“You know, chemicals are all over. A Styrofoam cup, a paper cup, coffee – everything has got a chemical structure to it. And so, when we say ‘chemicals’ we’ve got to just make sure we keep it in perspective."
So, chemicals are chemicals? Coffee and fracking fluid are on par with one another? It’s hard to imagine anyone making an argument so inane, let alone in testimony to a lawmaking body. Better yet, Energy Secretary John Bemis stood up right after this and had the nerve to assert that my presentation wasn’t academic enough, and that I needed to get better educated about fracking. Cream and sugar, Mr. Secretary?
The chemicals in fracking fluid are far more dangerous than those in coffee. Some are known to disrupt the endocrine system, which controls human development. For these chemicals, there is no safe dosage -- they are toxic in concentrations so small they must be measured in parts-per-billion. And yet, about five-thousand gallons are pumped down each and every fracked well.
Water Use is Insignificant
“Of the 4 million acre-feet of water consumed in New Mexico, 14,000 acre-feet in the last year were consumed by hydraulic fracturing. That’s less than four-tenths of one percent of the total water usage…”
When is water usage more than mere water usage? Answer: When you contaminate the water in a way that it can never be remediated, and then pump it underground into deep injection wells, removing it from the hydrological cycle. Comparing such “usage” to agricultural usage, in which clean water is used to nurture plants into food, is perverse at best.
Despite industry claims that they are moving away from using water for fracking, the data in New Mexico tell a different story. Reported water consumption by fracking operations more than doubled last year, from 221 million gallons in 2011 to 518 million gallons in 2012.
Induced Seismicity is a Fallacy
“…the idea that they can cause seismic activity – that’s been absolutely proven to be a fallacy.”
After hanging his hat on the impossibility of proving that fracking is contaminating groundwater, here Kent asserts that it has been “absolutely proven” that fracking doesn’t cause earthquakes. Evidently he hasn’t read the current issue of Mother Jones, which shows a correlation so strong that one seismologist commented, “You’d need Powerball odds for that to be a coincidence.”
Communities Want Fracking
“Oddly enough, there are counties out there that are really asking for us to help them craft ordinances that would support the creation of an industry in their counties.”
Odd indeed, especially if it were true. I never believe any claim that comes after the word "really." This one came in response to a senator asking whether local authorities had the ability to limit or prohibit hydraulic fracturing within their communities. There have been expensive and highly contentious battles all across the nation as communities struggle to find the legal means to keep out the destructive power of oil and gas. Santa Fe County, Mora County, San Miguel County and the City of Las Vegas, New Mexico have all waged such battles, with varying degrees of success. Passing our bill would have saved them all the trouble, while protecting the state's revenues by allowing fracking to continue in the two main basins where it is already occurring.
The only remaining question for me on the dangers of fracking is this: Do they know? If they do, and they are covering it up by playing stupid, would it constitute the greatest environmental crime in history? Sadly, I believe it would. Our planet is on the line this time. Really.