Brewster Bevis: Misconceptions surround hydraulic fracturing

Right now, in Florida, there’s a debate over the future of onshore oil and gas activities and, more specifically, the use of high-pressure well stimulation techniques, such as hydraulic fracturing. During the course of this debate, there have been several common misconceptions surrounding the use of those advanced techniques and their effect on the environment, the health and welfare of residents, and the influence on property values.

While lawmakers consider how to best govern the onshore oil and gas industry during the 2016 Legislative Session, we at Associated Industries of Florida consider that it’s important to address several of the fallacies that have been proffered during this debate.

Most recently, there have been assertions made about how the use of high-pressure well stimulation techniques would push down property values.  Yet, in other states where hydraulic fracturing has commonly been used, property values haven’t been affected so. In fact, property values have increased by 5.3 percent in Tarrant County, Texas, 12.8 percent in Johnson County, Texas, and 12.9 percent in Weld County, Colorado. And, in Mountrail County, North Dakota – one of the state’s largest oil producers – property values have quadrupled since 2007.

Another common misconception we’ve heard is how high-pressure well stimulation techniques will harm the health and welfare of those living near wells. In one instance, an individual cited a recent John Hopkins study on premature births, but doesn’t mention the disclosure at its beginning that “the study can’t pinpoint why the pregnant women had worse outcomes near the most active wells.” The study had several limiting factors not least of which was that the researchers’ own data contradicted their findings and their failure to consider any other potential factors that could cause premature birth.  There is simply no science to support that the health and welfare of those living near well sites is harmed.

Further, during a recent committee hearing, an individual stated that the oil and gas industry doesn’t produce local jobs. But, the experience across the country has been that the energy industry does create local jobs, not just for transient workers.  In Ohio alone, fracking has led to full employment for local trade unions and millions of work hours.

We’ve also seen discussion regarding whether the use of hydraulic fracturing is linked to earthquakes, a conclusion that’s simply not true. There has, however, been a potential link to injection wells, but a recent study found that even that claim is a stretch as fewer than 1 percent of U.S. injection wells can actually be linked to seismic activity. Regardless, disposal of produced water is not fracking and takes place in Florida daily.

Finally, state support of banning hydraulic fracturing has been exaggerated. Only one state, New York, has banned fracking, while other states such as California and Colorado have soundly rejected statewide bans.  Moreover, the rationale behind New York’s ban has been heavily criticized, by Democratic U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg who called it a “misguided policy” in a Wall Street Journal article.

Bloomberg’s reaction was not uncommon given that the ban ignored the EPA’s research, the country’s top environmental regulators and leading Democrats across the country. The decision also unnecessarily took away opportunities in the economically depressed regions of New York, meaning that Pennsylvanians get the economic benefits of fracking, while New York has to import the natural gas.

As the debate continues over the future of onshore oil and gas activities, we hope that a science-based discussion cemented in facts is fostered, as Floridians deserve honest discourse, not activist rhetoric, when discussing the state’s energy future.

Brewster Bevis is Senior Vice President of State and Federal Affairs for Associated Industries of Florida. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

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