Environmental activists, in spite of the lobbying of the energy industry and some sleight of hand by city staff, appear to be winning the fracking debate. The City Plan Commission has twice denied Trinity East Energy permits to drill on city parkland it leased for $19 million. Last week, it effectively did so a third time by refusing to ease setback limits.
The energy industry has developed a novel theory to explain away its mounting defeats: The concerned citizens and environmental activists who have shown up at the meetings are liars.
That's been the industry's suggestion all along, but rarely has it been stated quite as explicitly as it was by Energy In Depth, a trade group, in a blog post last week.
The report, produced with an assist from the Barnett Shale-focused industry group Clean Resources, notes that, while "many Dallas residents are eager for their city to share in the job and wealth creating bounty that has resulted from energy production elsewhere in the region," a small number of radical "fractivists" (referred to alternately as "anti-energy activists," implying a fundamental refusal to accept the laws of physics) have hijacked the debate with information that, "naturally, [has] been disproven and debunked across the country."
Among the claims EID says are BS: that earthquakes are tied to hydraulic fracturing; that fracking produced more air pollution in Dallas-Fort Worth than cars and trucks; that drilling pad sites have been shown to have elevated levels of silica; and that the industry produces a whole lot of methane. (EID's claims, along with a quick rebuttal from Downwinders at Risk's Jim Scermbeck and Texas Campaign for the Environment's Zac Trahan, can be found below).
The post continues:
These bogus claims were not the only thing demonstrating that anti-drilling protestors have a tenuous grip on reality. One speaker called the energy industry "pornographers" and stated that its employees -- hardworking men and women from all walks of life -- need to be at least 1,500 feet away from other businesses. Others laughably cited Gasland and Gasland Part 2 as ipso facto evidence that shale gas production should not be allowed to proceed in Dallas.
However, there were also speakers who were grounded in reality and poked holes in the often bizarre claims of activists in attendance. Tom Blanton, CEO of Trinity East (the energy company that invested $19 million on leases in Dallas, which are now stuck in legal limbo), called out the hyperbolic opponents on their outrageous claims about the public health impact of shale gas drilling. "If it was as bad as some people say today, our industry would be dead because all the workers would be either in the morgue or in the hospital," Blanton said. "We don't have those issues."
To summarize, if you're concerned about the health and environmental impact of drilling in urban areas, you're either 1) a liar; 2) a crazy person; or 3) both.
Here is EID's takedown of activists' "spurious claims":
CLAIM: A 2012 University of Colorado Denver School of Public Health study that allegedly demonstrated an increase in cancer among people living within 1/2 mile from a site.
FACT: The cancer risks identified in the study (which EID debunked here) are actually in line with or well below the risk for the entire U.S. population, regardless of where they live.
FACT: This was also the same study that used out of date emissions data and inflated routine industry events by as much as 900 percent. The study also failed to account for additional exposure sources, including a nearby interstate highway (the EPA identifies mobile sources as the largest source of benzene exposure).
(Schermbeck: There is no peer-reviewed, journal-published critiques of the U of C study -- just industry criticism. It is the most comprehensive epidemiological study in a gas field to date. If they have another one out there, they haven't shared it. 66 percen higher risk of cancer.
Trahan: The University of Colorado study took place over several years, was subject to intense scrutiny and attention, and was peer-reviewed and ultimately published -- against the wishes of industry lobbyists who attempted to scuttle it altogether. Industry speakers did not cite even one peer-reviewed study in their testimony on Thursday.)
CLAIM: Earthquakes and sinkholes in the area are due to hydraulic fracturing.
FACT: EID has looked into this issue several times, but it's always worth repeating: the seismic events are not from hydraulic fracturing, and experts studying those incidents have said so many, many times. Instead, they believe the culprit is wastewater disposal, a process that is not only regulated under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act, but has also been declared safe by the EPA.
FACT: The National Research Council put it best: "hydraulic fracturing a well as presently implemented for shale gas recovery does not pose a high risk for inducing felt seismic events."
(Schermbeck: "There are all kinds of USGS studies linking earthquakes to fracking -- they're linked to in my most recent post on the hearing. They don't talk about USGS studies do they? They just say that 'EID looked into this. ...' Well then."
Trahan: "Mid-sized, "felt" earthquakes (2.0-4.0) are indeed being caused by wastewater injection wells, which are actually exempt from some of the federal regulations that govern other industries. Smaller, "micro" earthquakes (2.0 and lower) are being caused by fracking itself. That's why the U.S. Corps of Army Engineers requires 3,000-foot setbacks from dams, levees and other flood infrastructure. These small earthquakes may be less dangerous and less likely to cause property damage, but they do in fact exist.")
CLAIM: A CDC [Centers for Disease Control] Study that discussed silica exposure on pad sites. Allegedly, of the 11 sites studied, all 11 exceeded the silica standards that the government has set.
FACT: What the activists always forget to tell you is that this finding from the CDC (specifically NIOSH, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) was part of collaborative effort with the oil and gas industry! The purpose was to identify exposure risks and technologies to address those risks, based on sound and credible science, and develop processes to further protect workers.
(Schermbeck: Doesn't deny the silica pollution problem. So there is a silica pollution problem that the industry hasn't addressed since urban drilling began in 2006.
Trahan: This "rebuttal" doesn't even attempt to refute the CDC study on silica exposure, its author just says this is all OK because industry participated in the study.)
CLAIM: The Colorado study that suggested methane leakage rates from oil and gas systems were twice as high as previously thought.
FACT: That study was debunked by environmental experts, and the Environmental Defense Fund said its findings should not be used to describe industry-wide emissions (which is exactly what the Dallas activists were doing). A subsequent study by many of the same researchers suffered from its own set of major flaws. EPA data show that methane emissions from natural gas systems have actually fallen since 1990.
FACT: Methane leakage claims have become anti-drilling activists' answer to the impressive and undeniable reductions in American greenhouse gas emissions that have resulted from an increased use in natural gas.
FACT: In 2012, U.S. carbon emissions hit a 20 year low thanks to the increased use of natural gas for electric power generation. These emission reductions have irked anti-fossil fuel zealots who have responded with various studies that claim to debunk the clean air success story of natural gas.
(Schermbeck: "The Methane Study is not an EDF study but a NOAA study from last year plus this one -- so ... wrong source."
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Trahan: Because of preliminary evidence that methane emissions are higher than previously estimated by industry, the EPA is currently conducting a massive, years-long study to determine the most accurate leakage estimate. What we have right now is industry reports vs. preliminary studies, we'll know more soon. Part of industry's argument, obviously, is that natural gas is awesome because of lower CO2 emissions. But methane is 20+ times more powerful than CO2 when it comes to climate change. If new studies show that huge methane emissions cancel out the CO2 benefits, it may turn out that gas is even worse for the climate than coal. The jury's still out.)
CLAIM: Texas Commission on Environmental Air Quality has stated there is more air pollution coming from the energy industry in Dallas-Fort Worth than all the cars and trucks in the area.
FACT: This claim relies on a study conducted in 2009 by then SMU Professor Al Armendariz that has been thoroughly debunked by the Barnett Shale Energy Education Council.
FACT: It is notable that the author of this study, Al Armendariz, went on to become head of the EPA Region 6 office before resigning in disgrace after video surfaced of him touting the notion of "crucifying" energy companies. He was also the orchestrator of EPA's endangerment order against Range Resources in Parker County, from which the agency backtracked after scientific tests showed conclusively that the company was not at fault. He now works for the Sierra Club.
FACT: After the Armendariz report was released, TCEQ actually weighed in on the air pollution issue in the Barnett Shale. Chairman Bryan Shaw said:
"After several months of operation, state-of-the-art, 24-hour air monitors in the Barnett Shale area are showing no levels of concern for any chemicals. This reinforces our conclusion that there are no immediate health concerns from air quality in the area, and that when they are properly managed and maintained, oil and gas operations do not cause harmful excess air emissions."
(Schermbeck: The TCEQ figure is about VOC pollution, not all smog-forming pollution in DFW and is based on the DFW SIP (clean air plan that's still online), not Al's study. So wrong source there. TCEQ says there are now more tons per day of VOCs being released by the gas industry in the nine-county non-attainment area than all the cars and truck on the road -- the opposite of what was going on as late as 2006.
Trahan: "None of the speakers ever said that energy production releases 'more air pollution' than vehicles, nor did anyone reference the study that Dr. Armendariz conducted. What was pointed out was the fact that the TCEQ has reported that in sum, oil and gas operations are releasing more Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) into the air each year than all the car and trucks on our roads in D/FW. VOCs are one component leading to smog pollution.)