In a Thursday letter to the Observer-Reporter, Candy DeBerry noted that “Drilling and Fracking [is] not safe.” DeBerry lists a litany of items that can or may impact public health. While she lists what appear to be reasonable concerns, a deeper review shows her assertions are largely without merit and are refuted by individuals with experience in overseeing natural gas development. To understand if natural gas development can impact public health, it’s worth looking at actual experience not anecdotes, individual assertions or studies that use models and simulations that don’t reflect actual experience. When examining Community Health Statistics from 2000-2008 in counties overlying the Barnett Shale a trend regarding natural gas development and public health becomes pretty clear. In fact, it’s noticeable that despite a growing elderly population, every major health indicator improved at the same time natural gas production was expanding rapidly. In 2009 natural gas production in the Barnett Shale had increased by 2,144 percent from 2000 levels. As production occurred and expanded, the health of the populations in counties experiencing development simultaneously increased. This is noticed by the fact that cases of stroke, cancer, heart disease, respiratory diseases and overall deaths decreased as development expanded.
That’s not my opinion or a hypothesis, it’s what experience has shown. How could this be? Well, quite simply, natural gas development is heavily regulated by the state and federal government and the increased prosperity natural gas provided to that region allowed more individuals to gain access to health insurance and therefore better health care.
This experience, of course, pokes gaping holes in the credibility of those claiming otherwise and provides credence to statements made by some of our nation’s most respected academics. Folks like Mark Zoback, a professor of geophysics at Stanford University and member of the secretary of energy’s Committee on Shale Gas Development. Last year Zoback stated, “We think the mystery surrounding hydraulic fracturing has actually been exacerbated and people have been paranoid, really for no reason.
Zoback is not alone in this opinion. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, a lifelong conservationist, stated: “There’s a lot of hysteria that takes place now with respect to hydraulic fracking,” Salazar told Congress last year. “My point of view, based on my own study of hydraulic fracking, is that it can be done safely and has been done safely hundreds of thousands of times.” Salazar’s comments match the conclusions of a report from the U.S. Department of Energy and the Ground Water Protection Council, which found hydraulic fracturing is “safe and effective” and a “key technology” for producing affordable energy in America.
Of course, it’s understandable why some are in hysterics over natural gas development. Quite simply, there is a lot of money, influence and misinformation being thrown into this discussion by groups that are afraid natural gas will make renewable energy a less-attractive investment. However, here again experience shows the opposite as expanding wind and solar power requires increasing amounts of peak power backup to maintain reliability of the power grid. That’s why the U.S. Energy Information Administration noted that natural gas and renewable power dominated U.S. electric capacity additions in the first half of 2012.
So, the moral of this story- if there is one- is not to focus on what could or might happen but to use experience as our guide as we modernize the sources of energy on which our nation, and its prosperity depends.
John Krohn is a spokesman for Energy In Depth, a natural gas industry advocacy group.