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Research & Commentary: Wyoming Definitively Finds Fracking Not Contaminating Pavillion’s Water

January 13, 2020

DEQ: Contaminants Naturally Occuring, No Further Testing Necessary In Pavillion Wells

The Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality (WDEQ) has finally released its update to 2016’s 80,000-page final report on hydraulic fracturing, commonly called “fracking,” and other drilling for natural gas near the town of Pavillion, Wyoming. The report concluded drilling activity did not contaminate well water there and that any contaminants found in those wells were likely to be naturally occurring, but recommended the area deserved further testing.

The 2019 version, the 4,228-page Final Pavillion, Wyoming Gas Field Domestic Water Wells Report on Recommendations for Further Investigation, “confirms the conclusions” of its predecessor, but goes further by noting the “investigation into palatability issues [around Pavillion] is complete and no additional investigations are warranted at this time.”

The two reports, which combined included more than 14,650 water samples, conclude that methane gas “in the upper Wind River Formation appears to have originated mainly from upward migration from deeper commercial gas-bearing zones and evidence suggests that upward gas seepage (or gas charging of shallow sands) was happening naturally before gas well development.”

Further, WDEQ finds “inorganic compounds that were found over applicable drinking water standards are generally associated with naturally occurring salts, metals and radionuclides,” and that “evidence does not indicate that hydraulic fracturing fluids have risen to shallow depths utilized by water-supply wells. Also, based on an evaluation of hydraulic fracturing history, and methods used in the Pavillion Gas Field, it is unlikely that hydraulic fracturing has caused any impacts to the water-supply wells.”

A December 2011 draft report by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that hinted at a link between drilling and water contamination turned Pavillion into a locus of the hydraulic fracturing debate, despite then-EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson stating after the report’s release, “… in no case have we made a definitive determination that the fracking process has caused chemicals to enter groundwater.” After EPA’s handling of the testing was criticized by the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Geological Survey, among others, EPA turned the investigation over to WDEQ in 2013.

Despite fearmongering to the contrary, there is no evidence that seepage of fracking fluids, oil, or natural gas from fracking wells systemically contaminate water sources. Since 2010, more than two dozen independent studies from around the country have not found any systemic impact caused by the 110,000 oil and natural gas wells in operation across the country. Moreover, these studies are affirmed by the Environmental Protection Agency’s own $29 million, six-year study of fracking’s benign impact on groundwater sources.

The fracking process has transformed the energy outlook of the United States over the past decade, and has had massive positive economic consequences for American consumers.

Hydraulic fracturing activity delivers $1,300 to $1,900 in annual benefits to local households, including “a 7 percent increase in average income, driven by rises in wages and royalty payments, a 10 percent increase in employment, and a 6 percent increase in housing prices,” according to a December 2016 study conducted by researchers at the University of Chicago, Princeton University, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 

Another study published in the American Economic Review in April 2017 found “each million dollars of new [oil and gas] production produces $80,000 in wage income and $132,000 in royalty and business income within a county. Within 100 miles, one million dollars of new production generates $257,000 in wages and $286,000 in royalty and business income.”

In October 2019, the White Houser Council of Economic Advisors (CEA) estimated increased oil and natural gas production from fracking saves American families $203 billion annually on gasoline and electricity bills. This breaks down to $2,500 in savings per family per year. Another 2019 report prepared by Kleinhenz & Associates mirrored CEA by finding fracking has saved American consumers $1.1 trillion in the decade from 2008 to 2018, breaking down to $900 annually to each American family and $9,000 cumulatively.

Hydraulic fracturing enables the cost-effective extraction of once-inaccessible oil and natural gas deposits. These energy sources are abundant, inexpensive, environmentally safe, and can ensure Wyoming and the United States remains a leading energy producer far into the future. Therefore, policymakers in the Cowboy State should refrain from placing unnecessary burdens on the natural gas and oil industries, which are safe and positively impact Wyoming’s economy.

The following documents provides more information about hydraulic fracturing.

Debunking Four Persistent Myths about Hydraulic Fracturing
https://www.heartland.org/publications-resources/publications/debunking-four-persistent-myths-about-hydraulic-fracturing
This Heartland Institute Policy Brief by Policy Analyst Timothy Benson and former Heartland communications intern Linnea Lueken outlines the basic elements of the fracking process and then refutes the four most widespread fracking myths, providing lawmakers and the public with the research and data they need to make informed decisions about hydraulic fracturing.

The Value of U.S. Energy Innovation and Policies Supporting the Shale Revolution
https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/The-Value-of-U.S.-Energy-Innovation-and-Policies-Supporting-the-Shale-Revolution.pdf
This report from the White House Council of Economic Advisors estimates that increased oil and natural gas production due to the fracking revolution is saving American families a combined $203 billion annually, or around $2,500 per family. On top of this, the fracking revolution is benefitting the environment, lowering energy-related greenhouse gas emissions by 527 million metric tons between 2005 and 2017.

The Local Economic and Welfare Consequences of Hydraulic Fracturing
https://www.heartland.org/publications-resources/publications/the-local-economic-and-welfare-consequences-of-hydraulic-fracturing
This comprehensive study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research says fracking brings, on average, $1,300 to $1,900 in annual benefits to local households, including a 7 percent increase in average income, a 10 percent increase in employment, and a 6 percent increase in housing prices.

Local Fiscal Effects of a Drilling Downturn: Local Government Impacts of Decreased Oil and Gas Activity in Five U.S. Shale Regions
http://www.rff.org/files/document/file/RFF%20Rpt-SPF.pdf
This study from Resources for the Future finds 82 percent of communities in the five largest shale regions in the United States experienced a net fiscal benefit from hydraulic fracturing despite a large drop in oil and natural gas commodity prices starting in 2014.

Impacts of the Natural Gas and Oil Industry on the U.S. Economy in 2015
https://www.heartland.org/publications-resources/publications/impacts-of-the-natural-gas-and-oil-industry-on-the-us-economy-in-2015
This study, conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers and commissioned by the American Petroleum Institute, shows that the natural gas and oil industry supported 10.3 million U.S. jobs in 2015. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average wage paid by the natural gas and oil industry, excluding retail station jobs, was $101,181 in 2016, which is nearly 90 percent more than the national average. The study also shows the natural gas and oil industry has had widespread impacts in each of the 50 states.

The U.S. Leads the World in Clean Air: The Case for Environmental Optimism
https://files.texaspolicy.com/uploads/2018/11/27165514/2018-11-RR-US-Leads-the-World-in-Clean-Air-ACEE-White.pdf
This paper from the Texas Public Policy Foundation examines how the United States achieved robust economic growth while dramatically reducing emissions of air pollutants. The paper states that these achievements should be celebrated as a public policy success story, but instead the prevailing narrative among political and environmental leaders is one of environmental decline that can only be reversed with a more stringent regulatory approach. Instead, the paper urges for the data to be considered and applied to the narrative.

Climate Change Reconsidered II: Fossil Fuels – Summary for Policymakers
https://www.heartland.org/publications-resources/publications/climate-change-reconsidered-ii-fossil-fuels---summary-for-policymakers
In this fifth volume of the Climate Change Reconsidered series, 117 scientists, economists, and other experts assess the costs and benefits of the use of fossil fuels by reviewing scientific and economic literature on organic chemistry, climate science, public health, economic history, human security, and theoretical studies based on integrated assessment models (IAMs) and cost-benefit analysis (CBA).

The Social Benefits of Fossil Fuels
https://www.heartland.org/publications-resources/publications/the-social-benefits-of-fossil-fuels
This Heartland Policy Brief by Joseph Bast and Peter Ferrara documents the many benefits from the historic and still ongoing use of fossil fuels. Fossil fuels are lifting billions of people out of poverty, reducing all the negative effects of poverty on human health, and vastly improving human well-being and safety by powering labor-saving and life-protecting technologies, such as air conditioning, modern medicine, and cars and trucks. They are dramatically increasing the quantity of food humans produce and improving the reliability of the food supply, directly benefiting human health. Further, fossil fuel emissions are possibly contributing to a “Greening of the Earth,” benefiting all the plants and wildlife on the planet.

 

Nothing in this Research & Commentary is intended to influence the passage of legislation, and it does not necessarily represent the views of The Heartland Institute. For further information on this subject, visit Environment & Climate News, The Heartland Institute’s website, and PolicyBot, Heartland’s free online research database.

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