Fracking Debate Update

North Dakotans are well-informed on hydraulic fracking and understand that our state has put in place significant regulations to ensure development is done safely. We’ve seen that oil development can be done safely and efficiently.
By Tessa Sandstrom | June 17, 2015

In perusing Facebook the other day, a comedy clip came across my newsfeed that I’ve seen many times before and still makes me laugh. The clip, from acclaimed comedian Louis C.K., was focused on air travel complaints, and it also made me think.

“‘I had to sit on the runway for 40 minutes.’ Oh my god, really? What happened then, did you fly through the air like a bird, incredibly? Did you soar into the clouds, impossibly? Did you partake in the miracle of human flight and then land softly on giant tires that you couldn't even conceive how they [expletive] put air in them?...You're sitting in a chair in the sky. You're like a Greek myth right now.”

I’m just as guilty about making similar complaints about incredible modern feats, including flights and the delays and misconnections that come with the process. This joke, however, is representative of other modern marvels– Internet, on-demand TV, sketchy cell phone service. We all complain about the “unreliability of it” sometimes, but think about a time before we had them.

In fact, we’ve become so accustomed to being introduced to a new marvel on a daily basis that we’ve become completely immune to some of them. Take, for example, the fact that we have learned to take a chunk of dense rock and turn it into a liquid which is then turned into malleable, yet durable solids that have helped create the many comforts of our modern day life from modern medicine to the devices like smart phones and computers that we use to stay connected to our loved ones, complete our work, stay informed and play our games.

That marvel is made possible by one technology: hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Fracking has been under attack by some for the past six to seven years despite the fact that fracking has been performed safely for more than 60 years. Their belief—that has never been backed by science or facts—has always been based on the belief that fracking would ruin our water supplies. Fracking opponents have continued to stand by their belief, relying primarily on misinformation or emotional arguments often from people like Yoko Ono and Sean Lennon who have recognizable names but no scientific education or background, despite several elements of the argument for or against fracking. There has never been an occurrence of water contamination in 60 years. And, technology and the research of chemists, engineers, and other scientists who have dedicated their professional lives to this area of study, continues every day.

Recently, fracking detractors received another blow against their argument when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released a report concluding that fracking does not have “widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water.”

This is something that those of us in oil producing states already know. North Dakotans are well-informed on this topic and understand that our state has put in place significant regulations to ensure development is done safely. We’ve seen that oil development can be done safely and efficiently. We also recognize that there are impacts and the EPA study acknowledged that as well.

Neither the industry nor the report deny that fracking is impact or risk-free. Nothing in our lives is risk-free. The important thing is that we recognize that there are risks and work to mitigate them. As we speak, there are scientists and engineers within the industry who are exploring new ways to become more efficient, whether it is building even better safeguards, recycling and reusing more of the flowback or produced water, or should a spill incident occur, finding ways to remediate them.

For example, saltwater spills have been an area of concern in North Dakota, but a task force made up of scientists and industry professionals have been working over the course of the year to look into these incidences. They’ve put together documents and case studies showing the ways that these incidences can be cleaned up and the land remediated and producing in as little as a year. These documents will soon be released.

Meanwhile, other scientists are exploring the use of carbon dioxide or nitrogen to frack instead of water. Others are looking into carbon capture and sequestration. The possibilities for innovation could be endless, but innovation can only exist in an environment where they are able to progress.

Despite the support of science, the long history of safe use and reports like that from the EPA, the debate of fracking will not end. The witchhunters who have dedicated the better part of a decade trying to persecute this technology will move on to other issues associated with oil development, and therein lies the witch they are out to hunt: oil and gas. The end goal for them is not to work constructively to mitigate risks or impacts; their endgame is to simply put up roadblocks against innovative solutions that can encourage better development.

But for those of us who enjoy our modern conveniences, including our computers and smart phones, we recognize that science and innovation can unlock the technologies that will allow us to develop this vital resource even more efficiently, and we know it’s possible. After all, if scientists have figured out how to turn a chunk of rock into a smart phone, don’t you think there is at least one who can find solutions to our industry’s challenges? All they need is our support and the ability to operate under certainty, and the EPA report helps provide the insurance—and assurance—to do just that.

Author: Tessa Sandstrom
Communications Manager,
North Dakota Petroleum Council