For Maryland state Sen. Robert Zirkin (D-Baltimore County), the dangers of hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) are so patently obvious that the question itself is pointless to discuss. “This is not one of those issues that lends itself to that debate,” said Zirkin at an anti-fracking rally in Annapolis on Tuesday. “This is a public health issue, pure and simple.”
Zirkin and his supporters are backing a bill aimed at banning fracking in Maryland. They argue that fracking causes groundwater contamination, earthquakes and air pollution.
Zirkin and his supporters are spouting nonsense.
Their first concern — that fracking causes groundwater contamination — was long ago debunked. To be clear: Despite the enormous size of the 70-year-old fracking industry, there has never been a proven case in which fracking chemicals seeped into drinking water. The theory that fracking affects groundwater was first popularized by the anti-fracking documentary Gasland, in which a resident of a fracking community was depicted igniting his tap water. The drinking water’s increased flammability, said the resident, was caused by methane gas leaking into groundwater as a result of fracking. The scene — as well as most of the documentary — has since been has been discredited by the experts as “sensationalism and scare tactics.”
As a rebuttal, anti-fracking activists usually cite the Environmental Protection Agency’s 2016 study of fracking’s potential impact on drinking water, which concluded that “hydraulic fracturing activities” can affect drinking water resources “under some circumstances.”
But the report’s expansive definition of “hydraulic fracturing activities” and its willingness to venture into the absurd virtually guarantee such a conclusion. Per the report’s parameters, if a truck filled with fracking chemicals gets into a wreck, it is considered to be fracking-related. Chemical engineer Robert Rapier put it best: If chemicals used in firefighting were spilled, we would not say firefighting contaminates water.
Importantly, the EPA’s report does not say fracking causes drinking water contamination; it only says it could “under certain circumstances.” What kind of circumstances? Like, for example, when someone “[injects] hydraulic fracturing fluids directly into groundwater resources.”
Second, anti-fracking activists contend that fracking causes earthquakes. This claim is technically true but shamelessly exaggerated. According to the United States Geological Survey, “[f]racking causes extremely small earthquakes, but they are almost always too small to be a safety concern.” As for the few earthquakes that may be felt, they are caused not by the actual fracking procedure but rather the deep-well injection method of disposing of wastewater. Even still, “there is no conclusive example linking injection operations to triggering of major earthquakes,” says the USGS, and there are environmentally safe wastewater disposal alternatives that do not risk triggering earthquakes.
Finally, fracking opponents cite air pollution associated with fracking as sufficient reason to ban fracking entirely. Like the earthquake argument, this argument is wildly inflated, and the research supporting it is questionable at best. Last year, at Oregon State University, the authors of a 2015 study purporting to show pollution from fracking was linked to an increased risk of cancer were forced to retract their findings and conclude instead that fracking’s risk of causing cancer was well below the EPA’s legal threshold. After making the correction, the study found the risk of developing cancer as a result of exposure to fracking-related pollution to be 1 in 25 million — or about 0.000004 percent. Even assuming the mortality rate of cancer is 100 percent, Americans are 143 times more likely to be killed by lightning, 810 times more likely to die from contact with sharp objects and 221,239 times more likely to die in a motor vehicle accident. It is 154 times more likely a foreign refugee admitted by the United States will be a terrorist than it is a person will get cancer from fracking.
Maryland Democrats should stop appeasing environmental cartels and put their constituents first. With thousands of jobs, millions of tax dollars and a brighter future for economically distressed counties in western Maryland on the line, now is not the time for partisan grandstanding.
Thomas Wheatley is a regular contributor to All Opinions Are Local. Follow him on Twitter @TNWheatley.