A novel about Vivian, a young Irish girl sent by rail from a New York City tenement to Minnesota in the early 1900s. She was one of thousands of abandoned children sent to live with rural families for a better life. But not all ended up in loving homes.
In his 2012 State of the Union address, President Barack Obama claimed America is sitting on a supply of natural gas that could last nearly a century. Those who support hydraulic fracturing –- or fracking -– to extract that natural gas from shale say it could make the U.S energy independent. Others worry about what the prospect of excessive development from drilling could mean for their local communities. Most everyone agrees that fracking needs some level of regulation, but questions remain about how much regulation is too much and what controls are realistic. The ongoing debate over fracking and its impact on U.S. energy prices.
- Coral Davenport energy and environment correspondent for National Journal
- Scott Kurkoski attorney at Joint Landowners Coalition of New York
- Deborah Goldberg managing attorney at Earthjustice
- Steve Everley spokesman for Energy in Depth, a research and education program of the Independent Petroleum Association of America
- Michael Brune executive director of Sierra Club
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has not yet decided whether to lift the five-year moratorium on the practice of hydraulic fracturing. But that did not stop a New York appeals court from ruling that local governments have the right to ban the controversial practice. Joining me to talk about the ongoing debate over regulation of fracking and its impact on U.S. energy prices: Coral Davenport of the National Journal, and Steve Everley of Energy in Depth.
MS. DIANE REHMJoining us by phone from San Francisco is Michael Brune of the Sierra Club. You are always a welcome part of the conversation. Give us a call, 800-433-8850. Send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Good morning to all of you.
MS. CORAL DAVENPORTGood morning.
MR. STEVE EVERLEYGood morning.
MR. MICHAEL BRUNEGood morning.
REHMGood to see you all. First, joining us by phone from New York is Deborah Goldberg. She is managing attorney at Earthjustice. Deborah, thanks for joining us.
MS. DEBORAH GOLDBERGThank you for having me.
REHMI know you represented the city of Dryden, N.Y. in their successful suit to ban fracking. Tell us how that came about?
GOLDBERGWell, the citizens of Dryden worked for a number of years to -- with their local government officials to persuade them that they needed to clarify their zoning ordinance. Their zoning had never allowed for heavy industrial uses. The heaviest industry they have in Dryden, as a supervisor likes to say, is agriculture. And by working through the democratic process, they persuaded their local town board to enact an amendment of the zoning ordinance that clarified that oil and gas development and all of its infrastructure would be prohibited within the town boarders.
REHMSo what are the precedents for that recent New York decision?
GOLDBERGWell, there are legal precedents and there are practical precedents. What many people don't know is that there are states throughout this country that have allowed localities to regulate whether, where and how the industry will operate within their borders. For example, Oklahoma, which is not exactly a tree-hugging home of environmentalism, allows localities to prohibit oil and gas development within their borders. The city of Tulsa, Okla. had a ban on oil and gas drilling for 100 years.
GOLDBERGSo there are good precedents there. And there are other states as well where regulation of this industry is common practice. Legally in New York, there were good precedents coming from other types of mining operations that -- where our highest court has ruled that the state may regulate the technical operations. But the localities continue to have long-standing home rule rights to regulate land use. And that's what they re-affirmed in this case.
REHMNow is the area around Dryden primarily farming area?
GOLDBERGYes, it is. It's, you know, it's a rural town. The folks there love the rural, quiet, clean character of the town. There are educational institutions. There's recreation and tourism. There are a variety of different local economic drivers that are not consistent with heavy industry, and that's why it's never been permitted in the town.
REHMNow, as I understand it, the court decision involved interpretation of state law that says regulation of oil and gas rests solely with the State Department of Environmental Conservation. In how many other states is that the case?
GOLDBERGWell, in -- most states regulate oil and gas regulation because there are major loopholes in federal law. This industry has managed to secure exemptions for most of the major federal environmental laws. States has stepped in to some extent, but they really haven't implemented sufficient protections. And that has left local governments as the only line of defense for Americans that are affected by the consequences of the drilling rush.
GOLDBERGNew York is not alone in saying that the technical operations, the activities and processes of the industry are regulated by the state. And they're also not alone in saying that land use, which is fundamentally different, must be regulated by local government.
REHMNow, is Dryden, N.Y. part of the Marcellus Shale?
GOLDBERGYes, it is. It overlies the Marcellus Shale and the Utica Shale. There are a number of different shale areas in New York that potentially could be developed under Dryden.
REHMSo how do you see the larger implications, not only for the state but perhaps the nation?
GOLDBERGWell, I think that as long as these loopholes in federal law exist, there will be huge incentives for local communities to get involved to protect themselves. This industry is moving closer and closer to the areas where people are living and sending their school -- you know, children to school and working. And, you know, even conservative representatives are beginning to understand that it may not be appropriate for every community to have this heavy industry in its midst.
REHMAll right. Deborah Goldberg, she is managing attorney at Earthjustice. Thanks for joining us.
REHMAnd now joining us from New York is Scott Kurkoski. He's an attorney representing the Joint Landowners Coalition of New York. Thanks for joining us, Scott.
MR. SCOTT KURKOSKIGood morning. Thanks for having me.
REHMI know you represented a dairy farmer in Middlefield, New York, but the court upheld the fracking ban there. Tell me about the concerns of the landowners you represent.
KURKOSKIWell, we have multiple concerns. Our greatest is how are we going to be able to move forward with any state energy plan in New York? The court has decided now that towns can make whatever decision they want to make. This decision will have far-reaching effects. It will not just be for oil and gas wells. Will it then go to pipelines? Will it go to windmills, solar panels? You can see that there are all of these energy issues that now towns can weigh in on. And will we be able to accomplish an effective state energy plan if that's the case?
REHMNow, do you think if regulation were a part of all this that there might be an easier path forward?
KURKOSKIYou know, I think no one argues that New York has regulated this industry and every other industry more than most states ever have. And the federal government has, for the most part, relied upon the states to formulate these regulations because there are many local issues. The issues of oil and gas in New York are different than they might be in Oklahoma.
KURKOSKISo it's very difficult further to be one overriding structure -- stay out of federal structure to govern every single state. And the prior EPA administrator, Lisa Jackson, and other EPA officials have all said the states do an effective job regulating this industry.
REHMSo how do you think the state court decision on Dryden is going to affect the entire discussion on fracking in the Marcellus Shale?
KURKOSKIWell, we've got to decide what our important interests are, what are our important state interests, what are our important national interests. There's a local teacher that talks about his town and people on his road a few years ago who all had signs up that said no blood for oil. Now, they have exchanged those signs for no fracking signs. The fact is we can't have it both ways. We have our young men and women fighting for our interests in foreign countries.
KURKOSKIFor years, we have been sending billions of dollars to our enemies in foreign countries who want to do us harm. And now we have this opportunity to produce clean, domestic energy and really change that tide in a way that we have not been able to do since prior to the days of President Nixon. In addition to those national interests and state interests, we have environmental interests because, through this process, we're now turning back the clock on the release of greenhouse gases.
KURKOSKIWe are cleaning our air in ways now that we've never been able to do before because we're converting our power plants from coal-fired power plants to natural gas-fired power plants. Even Mayor Bloomberg, the mayor of New York City, has said there are 13,000 people who die every year from the emissions from coal-fired power plants. That is changing. And Mayor Bloomberg is one of the leading proponents of moving forward with natural gas development.
REHMOK. But it's ultimately Gov. Cuomo who's going to make the decision whether to lift the five-year-old moratorium and permit fracking. What happens to the municipal decisions if Gov. Cuomo decides to allow fracking?
KURKOSKIWell, right now, the way it stands, given the current decisions, if the governor says we can move forward with the process of hydraulic fracturing in New York, then towns, according to these decisions, will be able to do whatever they want to through the process of zoning. Now, that's still going to be left to the final decision from the Court of Appeals.
KURKOSKIWe're already working on our application for leave to appeal to the Court of Appeals. And we think it's really crucial that the court weigh in. This decision was primarily based upon a decision in the mining law. Well, this is the oil and gas law. And as I said during our arguments in the court -- in the Appellate Division, we've never had an -- or a sand and gravel crisis in this country.
KURKOSKIBut we have had an energy crisis. We tend to take energy for granted because it's always there. The farmers that I work with, they get angry because they know that it takes a lot of hard work to produce energy just like it does with food. They see a lot of the people who are opposed to energy development as the same ones who thinks that food comes from grocery stores. It doesn't. It comes from hard work, and it needs to come from our domestic resources.
REHMAll right, sir. Thanks so much for joining us. Scott Kurkoski, he's an attorney representing Joint Landowners of New York. And that's a short break.
REHMAnd welcome back. Now joining me here in the studio: Coral Davenport of National Journal, Steve Everley, he is with the Independent Petroleum Association of America. Michael Brune is on the line with us. He is executive director of the Sierra Club. Coral Davenport, you've heard about what New York has done, this one area of New York. What about the position the federal government has taken thus far?
DAVENPORTSo far, the federal government has effectively let the states come up with different plans. And what's ended up -- there aren't -- there isn't one clear federal policy right now on fracking. And part of the reason for that is that until we've seen this boom -- this natural gas boom, there hasn't really been a huge need for it. This is something that has taken place on a mix of public and private land but hasn't been a tremendous part of our energy mix and our energy story until we've seen this big natural gas boom in the past couple of years.
DAVENPORTSo we're seeing these conflicts arise in different communities all around the country, and the federal government hasn't stepped in and given a plan and said, you know, here's the road map, here's what we need to do. So we see these conflicts, these state, local conflicts, you know, popping up all over the place and it's sort of turning into a little bit of a patchwork.
REHMSo, Steve Everley, you've got New York doing what it's doing and waiting to hear from the government about this moratorium. What about other states around the country? What are they doing?
EVERLEYWell, a lot of them are just moving forward with development. They're doing it in a responsible fashion. North Dakota is the greatest example of this. It has the lowest unemployment rate in the country. It consistently does and it's because they're allowing for responsible oil and gas development. And if you look at Texas also, you've got responsible oil and gas development all through there as well. And hydraulic fracturing has changed the way we think about energy so much because a lot of these states have moved forward.
EVERLEYYou know, we're so conditioned in this country to think about energy scarcity that we don't have enough that we're running out of energy. And what hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling have done is allowed us to completely reverse that equation. And now we're in a position here in North America to be the ones who sort of set the energy dynamic for the rest of the world. It's really an amazing situation, and it's because these states are allowing development to move forward.
REHMMichael Brune, what about your concerns on moratoriums and regulations and how they're playing out?
BRUNEWell, the concern here is that there just aren't -- it's very simple. There aren't any safeguards that are being put in place across the country that begin to minimize the risks to air, water, climate and the viability of rural communities from fracking. And the one thing that I'll agree with what Steve just said is that fracking has changed how people look at energy. But I don't think that people have thought of energy as being scarce.
BRUNEYou know, people notice that the sun shines every day and that wind blows in most parts of the country. The real question is, do we want to continue to link our prosperity or to link economic development to fossil fuels? Or should we do what people -- what farmers in Iowa are doing, which is find a way to secure energy sustainably without putting to risks our watersheds or our rural communities or the quality of our -- the air that we breathe? And so the moratoriums we've seen...
REHMAnd I want to pick on that, Michael. Coral, Steve mentioned North Dakota and how well it's working there. But there are other states out West where fracking is banned.
DAVENPORTThere are other states. In Mora County, N.M., last we week, we saw -- became the first county in the country to ban oil and gas extraction. The county commissioners decided that federal and state laws weren't adequate to protect the community from the impacts of fracking. Potentially, you know, fracking can potentially contaminate water tables. It also uses a lot of water in an area like New Mexico. That's a concern as well.
DAVENPORTSo, you know, we're seeing, you know, as Steve said, fracking is sort of moving ahead -- moving full-speed ahead in many parts of the country. And in North Dakota, there is this kind of huge boom. And then in other pockets of the country, in the absence of strong state and federal regulations, we're seeing, you know, towns, communities and counties try to put the brakes on where they can. They're not comfortable with how quickly it's proceeding.
REHMTell me about the water problems.
DAVENPORTSo fracking is associated with two potential concerns in water. The fracking process essentially works -- the ground is opened is opened up, fractured and several thousands of gallons of water are injected into the ground, and they're mixed with chemicals. And the concern is that chemicals can -- that chemicals in that water can penetrate down, get into the local water table potentially contaminate large swaths of water supply. This is the concern that a lot of local communities have.
DAVENPORTIt's certainly -- the industry will say it's absolutely possible to frack safely to make sure that those water supplies are not contaminated. But there's a lot of fear. Again, in the absence of one, strong federal rule, there's a lot of fear that, you know, companies can go in, not necessarily be subject to regulations. And that's what we're starting to see in these smaller communities. And they say, well, if the federal government isn't going to regulate this. We're just going to stop it before it starts.
EVERLEYWell, there's a couple of things touched on there. Going back to Mora County, N.M., to highlight how this is all kind of a symbolic thing, there's not a single active oil and gas well in Mora County, N.M. So, I mean, it's kind of easy to go into some of these areas that don't have active development and say we are going to take a hard stand against this when no one's really dealing with it there anyway. And...
REHMBut did they simply decide to ban it before they got there?
EVERLEYWell, I mean, that's a question. But, I mean, they also banned hydraulic fracturing in Vermont. But no one was planning to develop anything there. The...
REHMWere they planning to develop it in Mora, N.M.? Do we know?
EVERLEYI'm not sure.
EVERLEYI just know there's no active oil and gas wells.
EVERLEYI don't think you could do this in parts of Western North Dakota is my point, that where you have these sorts of, you know, huge economic benefits from this and people recognize that this can be done safely and is being done safely. Those people realize that, hey, you know what, this isn't really this, you know, evil process that we need to ban. You know, the other thing here, too, you know, in terms of being able to do this safely, that's not just industry saying that. That's state regulators in every single state.
EVERLEYThat's the head of the Department of Interior. It's the EPA. The president has even said that natural gas is part of our, you know, clean energy future. And the EPA says the same thing. Across the board, the hysteria -- that's Ken Salazar's words, not mine -- around this is really kind of polluting the debate in a way that it doesn't need to.
EVERLEYAnd we can do this safely.
REHMMichael Brune, you've got places like Montana, the Dakotas who are loving this process, what it's bringing in terms of economic development. You just heard Steve. Maybe there's hysteria over this.
BRUNEI don't see much hysteria. You know, so we should be kind with each other. There are jobs in North Dakota and Montana associated with fracking, and we all need to put food on the table. But even in North Dakota and Montana, there are great concerns about fracking. And, by the way, the community in New Mexico does have plans for fracking underneath the surface of their town.
BRUNEThe town of Fort Collins also just voted for a ban, and that's being challenged in the state court. And in California, three bills passed out of committee last week that would -- on fracking in the state. In Illinois, there is momentum building for fracking. The reason for this is that there are now thousands of cases.
BRUNEJust one study by Duke University identified more than 1,200 cases of contamination near drilling sites. And once you contaminate an aquifer, you can't clean it up. So this is a very basic concern that communities have, that their water supply will be put at risk by fracking, and there are much better solutions to keep our economy powered than by fracking our watersheds.
REHMBut, Michael, aren't there some areas where industry and the communities are working together to try to mitigate the concerns to try to minimize the possibility of damage?
BRUNEYes. There are -- there's basically -- if you can oversimplify it a little bit, there's three responses that communities have. One is that many communities, as I just said, are saying, we don't want this in our backyard, and they're voting for bans or moratoria because they just don't want this kind of industrial extraction to happen where they live. Other communities are saying, bring it on, let's bring this in, and there are very few restrictions or safeguards put in place.
BRUNEAnd then, of course, there are some communities that are trying to adopt regulations that cannot eliminate the risk, cannot make fracking "safe," but try to put some safeguards to make this a more appropriate process. What the Sierra Club believes is that we have to stop the expansion of the natural gas industry. We have to prevent fracking from moving into new communities and new neighborhoods and instead make a smart decision about moving to renewables instead.
BRUNEWhere fracking is occurring, the standards have to be tightened much more effectively.
REHMBut what kinds of safeguards are you talking about?
BRUNEWell, I'll give you the short answer. But it concerns the -- it concerns both the chemicals that go into the process, making sure that there's full disclosure of what chemicals are being used, as well as eliminating all the toxic chemicals. But more importantly, it concerns the casing standards that surround the well. The reason why we're seeing thousands of cases of contaminated water is because the casing standards around these wells aren't effective enough, and some combination of bad design plus human error are putting people's water supplies at risk.
BRUNEAnd then finally the biggest piece is the amount of fugitive methane emissions that are coming from these well sites as well as the pipeline and distribution network, because what we're finding is that there's so much methane coming from these wells and from these pipes that gas is already the second-largest industrial source of greenhouse gases -- fracking is -- but it also could be even worse than coal. And so we're trying to replace one problem, but we're creating a huge other problem that we haven't yet started to solve.
REHMSteve, what about these concerns that Michael raised?
EVERLEYWell, I'm glad to hear that he's, you know, saying that, you know, hydraulic fracturing and shale development is creating jobs. I think that, you know, reflects a sort of responsible approach and everything else. But, you know, in terms of some of the specific things that he raised, methane is the greatest example. Just recently, the EPA revised downward its estimates of methane emissions from natural gas systems by 33 percent.
EVERLEYPreviously, it had estimated that methane emissions since 1990 had actually been going up. And when it revised downward these estimates, it was due to the fact that the industry is using technologies -- green completions and some of these other emissions-reducing technologies -- on a far wider scale than they had given -- than they give them credit for. So...
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." What about these casing standards?
EVERLEYWell, each state has its own, you know, strict casing standards. And I think if you look at the actual data in terms of failure rates and incidents on this -- I don't want to minimize any of this in terms of the threat. If it's anything above zero, there's room for improvement. And I think if you ask anyone in the industry, they would acknowledge that. But if you look at Texas, Texas is the oil and gas capital of the world, right?
EVERLEYThe Groundwater Protection Council has looked into this, and over a 25-year period, they saw that the failure rate was .01 percent. That's one one-hundredth of 1 percent. In Ohio, it was .03 percent for these oil and gas wells -- again, over a 25-year period. So, yes, there's always room for improvement. I mean, .03 is greater than zero. But at the same time, we need to have this discussion based upon what the available data says and put it in proper context.
DAVENPORTSteve is right. Within these states, we have seen -- you know, the official reports are that the failure rates are very low. But what's also happening is we're seeing a boom of fracking in states that have never experienced it before, like, for example, the state of Ohio. Fracking is -- it's exploding there, and it's an all-new industry. And so, you know, I would counter what Mike said. You know, he talks about the need to move from fossil fuels straight over to renewable energy.
DAVENPORTAt this point in the U.S., I think the natural gas is -- you know, natural gas and fracking, the cat's out of the bag. I mean, the boom is so big. The demand is so big. It looks like that -- this industry is sort of here to stay whether or not we like it. And I think that the administration now is trying to figure out how to find that balance, how to find that balance of supporting this new natural gas development, this new domestic energy source without having it kind of go into a Wild West situation that could potentially be destructive.
REHMBut what about protecting water at the same time?
DAVENPORTAnd so the Interior Department has been working on the first major set of federal fracking regulations. And, in fact, the new interior secretary, Sally Jewell, has said that we should expect to see those regulations within a matter of weeks. And that -- I think that will start to take the debate in a new direction.
REHMAll right. Let's open the phones. We'll go first to Rochester, N.Y. Good morning, Willa.
WILLAHi. Thanks for taking my call.
WILLASo I'm reacting to a comment that was made earlier in your program that -- where Mayor Bloomberg is a proponent of hydrofracking. And here's my concern about that. New York City gets its water from a protected watershed in the Catskill, and there's legislation in New York that protects the New York City water supply in ways that the rest of the state is not subject to. So it occurred to me that what's good for New York City ought to be good for the rest of the state.
BRUNEI think that's a good point. I think that everybody deserves the right to clean water, just like they deserve the right to sustainable jobs. And what we're seeing in New York a little bit -- even though the moratorium's in place, but certainly in other places across the country -- is that, because fracking has made more areas available for drilling, and because the cost of solar and wind have dropped so significantly in the last couple of years, is that communities have a legitimate choice about what their energy future should look like.
BRUNEShould they tie themselves to natural gas, or should they invest in clean energy? That's what we have to face as a country.
REHMMichael Brune, he's executive director of the Sierra Club. And here in the studio, Steve Everley, he's spokesman for Energy in Depth. That's a research and education program of the Independent Petroleum Association of America. And Coral Davenport, she's energy and environment correspondent for National Journal. When we come back, we'll talk about the overall effects on the cost of oil in this country and abroad. Stay with us.
REHMAnd we're back talking about states and local counties taking into their own hands rules and regulations and even affectively banning fracking in their own areas being upheld by state courts. The New York State is awaiting a judgment from both its environmental groups as well as the governor as to whether to lift the five-year-old ban, a five-year-old moratorium on fracking.
REHMHere's an email from Jonathan here in Washington, D.C., who says, "Perhaps fracking can be done safely and responsibly, but the industry has itself to blame for any hysteria it's experiencing. Refusal to disclose what they're pumping into the soil and widespread contamination is why communities are turning against this form of energy development. We need to focus on renewable wind and solar energy solutions." Can you, Steve, respond to the first part of the disclosure by companies of exactly what's going into the fracking combination?
EVERLEYSure. You know, over the past couple of years, states and industry have both sort of responded to this challenge and sort of in an unprecedented way, really, passing disclosure regulations at the state level. Again, there are about a dozen states now that use a system called FracFocus which is an online database, fracfocus.org. Anyone could go there. It's a searchable system. I believe there's more than 43,000 wells that you can search on there. You pull -- you can pull up exactly where it is and look through exactly what is in the fluid that is at the well.
REHMNow, is that standardized around the country or are different companies using different combinations of chemicals?
EVERLEYWell, the specific additives that go into hydraulic fracturing fluid are based upon what the specific formation that is going to be stimulated. So, you know, a rock formation in North Dakota is going to need something different than one in Texas, and both of those will need something different than in Pennsylvania.
REHMSo if I go to a website for North Dakota, will that tell me absolutely accurately what's in that chemical fracking combination?
EVERLEYYou can search by well, and you -- it'll pull up a PDF, and it'll list all of the fluid or the additives that have gone into that as well as the, I believe, the volume of water as well. And states have been -- I think there's about 12 that used fracfocus.org as their disclosure database for this sort of requirement.
BRUNESo, to answer your question, Diane, no, this is not standardized. It's not even close. Steve is right to say that there are 43,000 wells that are documented in FracFocus, but there are more than 800,000 wells across the country. So what's going on with the other 750,000? There's no disclosure of what chemicals are going in. There's no disclosure of how toxic those chemicals are.
BRUNEThere's no disclosure of and what quantities those chemicals are being used. And to make matters worst, there's hardly any effective safeguards put in place about all of the radioactive waste water and toxic waste water that comes out of those wells. This is just -- this is the start of why people are so concerned. They know that there is a significant risk to their water quality, but they can't even put together safeguards if there's not transparent information about what's actually happening in their backyard.
BRUNEChemical companies are forced to do this in other industries, but the natural gas industry has a big loophole that it currently enjoys.
REHMHere's an email from Cecil, and I'll ask you about this, Coral, "The advocates of fracking are talking about how much energy this is creating. So why don't we see lower prices at the gas pump? What percentage of the new energy is sold overseas?" Generally speaking, how is all this affecting oil prices here and abroad?
DAVENPORTThe big difference that fracking has had -- fracking has not had any impact on oil prices. The big difference that it's had is on the price of natural gas. Natural gas is a major source of U.S. electricity. And about 10 years ago, the expectation was that the U.S. was running low on natural gas and, in fact, might even have to start importing natural gas from Russia.
DAVENPORTThere were conversations starting about building natural gas import terminals, concern that the U.S. would then have a new source of foreign energy dependence. So fracking has legitimately completely changed that equation. The U.S. is now one of the biggest natural gas producers in the world. And natural gas, what it's doing is moving to displace coal as a source of electricity.
DAVENPORTThat's really big deal because coal is one of the most heavily carbon-polluting sources of electricity. It's the biggest source of global warming emissions in the U.S. What's been happening is we're seeing a transition of, you know, heavily global warming polluting coal -- electricity generated by coal to a shift in the market to electricity produced by natural gas that produces about half the global warming emissions.
DAVENPORTAnd in many parts, the market, it's actually become cheaper than coal. The Obama administration would like to put forth new regulations that would further shut down coal plants, continuing to drive, you know, drive electricity production in the direction of natural gas. So we'll see as a result of this natural gas boom cleaner, less polluting sources of electricity that are also affordable. The other way in which natural gas boom has had a big impact on the economy is it's a major feedstock for U.S. manufacturing.
DAVENPORTAnd because the cost of natural gas -- because we have this abundant new supply of natural gas, manufacturers have a major new supply of their feedstock, and it's lowering the cost of U.S. manufacturing and has lead to several companies actually choosing to build manufacturing facilities within the U.S. again. So it's absolutely legitimate that there are many environmental concerns about fracking. On the other side of the equation, the natural gas that's being produced by this fracking is having a big impact on the economy.
REHMAll right. Let's go to Ottawa, Ill. Good morning, Amanda.
AMANDAThank you for taking my call.
REHMSure. Go right ahead, please.
AMANDAPart of what goes into hydraulic fracturing which a lot of people don't talk about which is affecting where I live is where the sand comes from. In the South County, Ill., we started out with, you know, a handful of the sand mines. And since hydraulic fracturing has taken off in the last year, we've had six more mine permits be granted. One of those mine permits that allow them to mine right up the Starved Rock State Park, which gets about 3 million visitors every year, it's a source of great beauty, and bald eagle nests are there.
AMANDAThe Sierra Club and the University of Chicago has filed a lawsuit to stop that mine from going in. Our local county boards have put a moratorium on more sand mines. It releases a lot of silicosis, but we also have an issue with a small town near us called Wedron, Ill., which had all of their groundwater contaminated with benzene.
AMANDAWe just can't Erin Brockovich here, and they believe that the source of the benzene is coming from these sand mines. So it's not just affecting people who have hydraulic fracturing. It's also affecting those of us who live in areas where we have fine quality sand that they want to use for hydraulic fracturing.
REHMSteve, do you want to comment?
EVERLEYWell, I mean, I think that when you look at this industry, as Coral was saying, there are a lot of impacts and effects that go out in all kinds of different directions. It's not just the well that, you know, or the well pad in that community where, you know, you have these sorts of discussions.
EVERLEYYou know, on the sand issue, on the silicosis issue, NIOSH and OSHA and some other federal agencies have been looking into this with the industry's help, by the way, to make sure that, you know, the right rules are in place and, frankly, the right technologies are being used and the right safeguards and worker equipment are being used as well. So this is a challenge that the industry has been responding to.
EVERLEYAnd, you know, as it relates to sands specifically, again, this isn't something that the industry is taking, you know, and just sort of, you know, whistling past and ignoring. It's something that they've been actively addressing. But I would say that the silicosis issue, you know, maybe a different show that we -- if we had more time, we could get into some of the specific issues there and why, you know, certain claims about that have not exactly matched up with realities in the field.
BRUNEHow is the industry responding to it? We were not seeing much of anything at all. In fact, that what we're seeing from industry is the same response regarding other concerns around fracking, some very good PR but very little substantive changed. So, Steve, what is the industry actually doing?
EVERLEYWell, the hazard alert that came out last summer -- this is the one that's comes off of the top of my head -- from NIOSH and OSHA and some of these other federal agencies, it noted specifically right in there that it was collecting that information with the help of the industry. And the industry was working with them to identify the different types of worker equipment on the well pad and a variety of other different processes that can reduce these things.
EVERLEYYou know, the industry is not opposed to scientific research into this, but what we what should all oppose is this sort of anecdotal things that get kind of blown up into these hysterical claims about, you know, widespread contamination, widespread illness, widespread harm when we're actually trying to come up with solutions here. You know, our goal should be responsible development and the safest possible operations, not sort of picking off one little thing and then inflating it into something it is not.
REHMAll right. Here's an email from Linda Lavine, councilperson on the town board of Dryden, N.Y. She says, "The industry along with Scott Kurkoski argued that we cannot allow local government to make decisions because they are fickle. They said the industry needs to control large squads without respect to local zoning. What is their concept of democracy? It is not China. It's Dryden, N.Y., and people loved their land and chose it for a reason." Coral Davenport, are we going to see many more confrontations like this one?
DAVENPORTWe will if the federal government doesn't step forth on this. Again, the Interior Department has been working for about a year on putting together the first major set of federal regulations on hydraulic fracturing. They've been working with the industry. They have been working with towns and communities.
DAVENPORTAnd again, we're -- now, that the new interior secretary has confirmed, we are expecting to see significant new rules again, as they said in the next few weeks. If those rules don't come out, absolutely, these local industry state conflicts are just going to keep continuing because the natural gas push is just going to keep continuing.
REHMSteve, one of our listeners wants to know why has there been so much fracking on dairy farms.
EVERLEYI don't have the specific numbers off the top of my head, but I can speak generally on, you know, farming communities that actually support hydraulic fracturing and support natural gas development because there's a lot of family farms out there who have been struggling for a long time. We all know sort of the plight of small farms around the country and some of the different vacillations of commodity prices.
EVERLEYAnd they've actively supported natural gas development because of the infusion of revenue. They can invest in new equipment, better equipment, and they really have a new lease on life, pardon the pun, that they didn't have and never saw coming.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." To Tulsa, Okla. Good morning, Shannon.
SHANNONGood morning. Thank you for covering this topic. First, water is such a precious resource, and we've talked about protecting the water table. My concern is the amount of water that is actually used. My understanding is that up to 2 million gallons are used from fracking site, and, of course, that water can never be used again.
DAVENPORTThis has been a huge issue in the West, particularly in areas like Colorado, in Texas, which are both huge energy development states. The politics in those states are generally supportive of fossil fuel development. Also, those are states in the past two years have experienced devastating drought that have hurt farmers -- that's also a big part of those states' economies and...
REHMSo could you come to a point where is water for farmers or water for fracturing?
DAVENPORTThat's already happening. In Colorado, for example, there are several towns where the way the zoning works is towns actually will auction off water rights. They'll auction off the right to use certain amounts of supplies of local water, and so the major energy companies are coming in and putting in the highest bids and gaining access to a lot of this water.
DAVENPORTAnd I've spoken to farmers in Colorado who say, on one hand, you know, we know that fracking is good for our local economy. On the other hand, you know, it burns us up when we are, you know, struggling to irrigate our crops. And we'll see, you know, these -- the fracking companies go by with, you know, huge trucks full of water that we know they're using that we can't afford to buy.
BRUNEThat is a huge problem. Right now, 47 percent of the drilling sites in the country are located in drought-stricken areas. And for gas, it's a double win because you have millions of gallons of water that are used in the fracking process and then millions more gallons of water are used to -- in the cooling towers when natural gas is burned to produce electricity.
BRUNEAnd so this is a primary concern for communities across the country in addition to the quality of their water. They're worried about the quantity of the water and whether it'll be available to farms and to families.
EVERLEYWell, a few points here. You know, first of all, if we're going to talk about the volume of water, let's kind of put that in context, too. In Colorado and Texas, both oil and gas development accounts for less than 1 percent of all the water use. Hydraulic fracturing specifically in Colorado is less than one tenth of 1 percent. So it -- we hear some of these numbers, you know, 5 million gallons, 2 million gallons, you know, we hear the total volume use for hydraulic fracturing in an area, and it's never really put in context. It's sort of this kind of alarmist numbers.
REHMSo are you saying we should not be worried about this because the amount is so minimal?
EVERLEYNo, no, not at all. And I think the industry -- you see movements toward recycling and reuse. In the Marcellus, you have very high rates of reuse and recycling of water. People are moving towards that in areas all across the country. So this is a challenge that the industry is responding to. I don't want to minimize concerns over this, but I think it's also important to put these kinds of things in context. And I think if we're going to talk about water use also, every energy source that we use is going to require water in one form or another.
EVERLEYYou know, if you look at the best places for solar energy, where is that going to be? Arizona, Southern California and Nevada, also very drought-stricken, and solar uses a lot of water too for cooling. So this is about choices. This is about tradeoffs. And I think if you look at natural gas and hydraulic fracturing that you have, the determination has been made that this is a net positive for our economy and, frankly, for our environment as well.
REHMWell, this discussion will clearly continue. Steve Everley of the Independent Petroleum Association of America, Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, Coral Davenport, energy and environment correspondent for National Journal, thank you all so much. And thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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