Frac Exaggeration, Wind Blindness: Southern Environmental Law Center’s Double Standard
“Contrast West Virginia’s ridgeline wind turbines to a single fracking site hosting a dozen or more underground wells. Those wellheads produce ’round the clock, something that wind proponents cannot honestly claim. Not even all those the lawyers of the Southern Environmental Law Center can make the wind turbines regularly spin.”
The City of Charlottesville, VA is home to some notable landmarks, which include Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson, and his university, the University of Virginia. It is also home to the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC), whose mission is “to use the power of the law to protect the environment of the Southeast.”
Under the Case Summary for “Fracking in the Southwest,” the SELC notes:
The drilling technique known as “fracking” is widely used around the country to extract natural gas from deep shale deposits. Notoriously linked to flaming water taps and contaminated streams and groundwater in the Northeast and out West, hydraulic fracturing has recently emerged as a looming environmental threat in the Southeast…As pressure mounts to tap into southeastern shale deposits, SELC is working on multiple fronts in our six states to prevent fracking in special natural areas like our national forests….
The latest SELC anti-fracking diatribe was authored by Carl Jaffe, director of the Charlottesville office, and published in the May 28-June 3, 2013 issue of the local weekly C-Ville. He mentioned–but did not specifically document–concern over drinking-water pollution, methane leakage, impacts on forests, and recreational opportunities. In response, I submitted the following letter-to-the-editor to C-Ville (V.25, No. 23, not online: scan available from author):
To the editor:
Cale Jaffe’s case for opposing drilling for natural gas in the George Washington Forrest is impassioned, but in raising fears of water contamination and methane gas leakage he appears uninformed of recent facts.
The Bureau of Land Management has issued new rules for such drilling dated May 16, 2013. The subtitle reads: “Commonsense Measure Will Support Safe and Responsible Production of America’s Domestic Energy Resources.” It states:
We know from experience that hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling methods can be used safely and effectively, employing many of the best management practices reflected in this draft rule,” said BLM Principal Deputy Director Neil Kornze. “Our thorough review of all the comments convinced us that we could maintain a strong level of protection of health, safety, and the environment while allowing for increased flexibility and reduced regulatory duplication.
The press release continues:
The updated draft proposal maintains the three main components of the initial proposal: requiring operators to disclose the chemicals they use in fracturing activities on public lands; improving assurances of well-bore integrity to verify that fluids used during fracturing operations are not contaminating groundwater; and confirming that oil and gas operators have a water management plan in place for handling fluids that flow back to the surface.
Jaffe’s unspecified claim of methane gas leakage into drinking water wells has been refuted in one of the most publicized such claims. “Methane study, EPA Debunk Claims of Water Pollution, Climate Change from Fracking,” The Washington Times Monday, April 29, 2013. “After a 16-month investigation, state regulators Monday said that natural gas fracking, contrary to highly publicized claims, isn’t to blame for high methane levels in three families’ drinking water in a northern Pennsylvania town.
The state’s Department of Environmental Protection now says there is no evidence to connect natural gas drilling with high levels of methane in private water wells in the small town, which sits within the Marcellus Shale region…” “Thus far, however, there have been no confirmed cases of fracking contaminating water supplies — an acknowledgment that Lisa P. Jackson, as EPA administrator, made twice to Congress.”
Jaffe laments the “clear cutting and bulldozing required to build wellpads, and access roads…” Has he equal outrage over similar operations on the Laurel Mountain Wind facility? See wind turbine installation pictures.
Perhaps not; this source of renewable energy is out of his sight in West Virginia.
When the EPA and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management both attest to the ability to do fracking safely with current technology and safeguards, the alarmist message needs to be countered with facts, facts, facts.
The SELC may never be convincingly satisfied, particularly if they are dogmatically opposed to fracking. If one does not like eating spinach, then no amount of rational argument is likely to change one’s taste. However, the general public can view factual rebuttals and then make informed decisions as to public policy.
Contrast West Virginia’s ridgeline wind turbines to a single fracking site hosting a dozen or more underground wells. Those wellheads produce ’round the clock, something that wind proponents cannot honestly claim. Not even all those the lawyers of the Southern Environmental Law Center can make the wind turbines regularly spin.