With many questions surrounding the health and environmental impacts of hydraulic fracturing, drillers are facing scrutiny about this natural gas retrieval technique. Can fracking be performed without harm to surrounding communities? During today's OnPoint, Scott Anderson, a senior policy adviser at the Environmental Defense Fund, explains the uncertainty surrounding hydraulic fracturing. He discusses why he believes fracking can be performed safely, with minimal risk to the environment.
Monica Trauzzi: Hello and welcome to OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. With me today is Scott Anderson, a Senior Policy Advisor at the Environmental Defense Fund. Scott, thanks for coming on the show.
Scott Anderson: Thank you.
Monica Trauzzi: Scott, hydraulic fracturing, a technique used to drill for natural gas, is under scrutiny for its environmental and health impacts. Why is there so much uncertainty surrounding this practice?
Scott Anderson: There's several reasons. Part of it is that the industry has not come forward to tell the public exactly what chemicals are being used in the process. Another reason is that hydraulic fracturing has now left parts of the country where people are familiar with the practice and has begun to be used in areas where it's not so familiar.
Monica Trauzzi: What about the transparency from the industry? Is there enough? Are they sort of changing their tone now that there's more of an emphasis on this practice?
Scott Anderson: Some companies are changing their tone. I could mention a few specifically and I may in a minute, but generally companies have not changed their tone and it's very surprising to me that that they haven't. I'm very puzzled because they're shooting themselves in the foot I think as far as public acceptance is concerned.
Monica Trauzzi: Do you believe that this technique can be used safely?
Scott Anderson: Yes, I do. I think in the vast majority of cases, if wells are constructed right and operated right, that hydraulic fracturing will not cause a problem.
Monica Trauzzi: So, there's a coalition now of environmental and industry representatives coming together to draft a framework for regulation of this practice. What does that framework look like?
Scott Anderson: Before I talk about the framework itself, I need to clarify exactly where we are in terms of forming a coalition. I don't want to say that we yet have a coalition, but we are ready to announce that a coalition is forming. The Environmental Defense Fund and Southwestern Energy have been working for a number of months to develop model regulations that you refer to. And we are able to announce that that has now developed into a broader group effort for multi-stakeholders, both industry and environmental groups. But we're not prepared yet to say who the other participants are.
Monica Trauzzi: And the framework itself, what are you hoping it will look like?
Scott Anderson: Well, the framework focuses on well construction and operation. And those people who understand the drilling process generally also understand that hydraulic fracturing is just a subset of the well construction and operation process. And more important than the details of how hydraulic fracturing is conducted are things like getting the cement right in the wells, getting the pipe right that's in the wells, managing pressure properly so that if there's unexpected surges in pressure people respond to it correctly. And then the fourth thing that's important is to make sure that wells are located or that fracturing operations take place beneath a cap rock, beneath a layer of rock that's sufficient to keep the fractures from coming up into the drinking water.
Monica Trauzzi: So, EPA is investigating this right now. They've requested information from the industry. There have been some delays though with the industry getting that information to EPA. Is that curious to you at all? Does that concern you at all, that they're maybe not being as forthcoming with information?
Scott Anderson: Well, as far as companies responses to these particular request, I'm really not knowledgeable about what the cause of the delays would be and I would say if the delays are short, that, no, it won't concern me. If the delays turn out to be long, then yes, I think that would look suspicious.
Monica Trauzzi: So, if EPA get the information and they determine that the practices save, is that something that the environmental community then will be happy with and will feel comfortable then allowing for this practice to continue?
Scott Anderson: Yes, so we need to divide that question into several questions. The requests there that I was just referring to, they're requests that have been made most recently, only have to do with the identity of the chemicals. EPA's study of hydraulic fracturing, in general, is going to take a lot more time than their inquiry into the chemicals.
Monica Trauzzi: How difficult is it for states to regulate this practice and should it be done on a state-by-state basis, a region-by-region basis, or nationally?
Scott Anderson: Yeah, the states actually have a lot of knowledge and experience in regulating well construction and operation. We think that the states have every reason to be able to tackle this issue and do it well. We also think that if the states fail in that and the federal government has to take over, then the states will have no one but themselves to blame.
Monica Trauzzi: Without this practice of hydraulic fracturing, what would our natural gas supplies look like?
Scott Anderson: Our natural gas supplies would plummet precipitously without hydraulic fracturing. About 90 percent of the gas wells in the United States are hydraulically fractured and the shale gas that everyone talks about as being a large part of the future of natural gas production, it is absolutely dependent on fracturing in, I believe, each case.
Monica Trauzzi: So, you would say that this is a necessary part of our energy future?
Scott Anderson: Yes, at Environmental Defense Fund we don't pick fuels, but we are realists and we recognize that fossil fuels will be around for a while, a long while most likely. And we also recognize that natural gas has some environmental advantages compared to other fossil fuels. So, we do believe that natural gas will be around and has a significant role to play and, therefore, we have to cope with the hydraulic fracturing issue. That's not to say that natural gas development should happen everywhere. There are certainly some sensitive areas where it really is appropriate to simply not have development. But where there's development, the public needs to recognize that some impact is inevitable and the question is how to minimize that impact and be as protective of the environment as reasonably possible.
Monica Trauzzi: OK, we'll end it there. Thank you for coming on the show.
Scott Anderson: OK.
Monica Trauzzi: And thanks for watching. We'll see you back here tomorrow.
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