Government shutdown, week four. Diane talks to longtime political analyst Norm Ornstein, one of the most prolific chroniclers of Washington's descent into partisan dysfunction.
The Marcellus Shale which lies beneath a number of Northeastern states including Pennsylvania, New York, and West Virginia is thought to be one of the largest known gas fields in the world. Hydraulic fracturing techniques have allowed oil and gas companies to tap into these reserves as never before, and with such success that supplies now exceed demand, and prices are at near record lows. The operations have been a boost to local economies, but there are important environmental and health concerns yet to be addressed: Please join us to discuss natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale.
- Erik Milito Director of upstream and industry operations, American Petroleum Institute
- Amy Harder Reporter, The National Journal
- Fred Krupp President, Environmental Defense Fund
- David Brown Toxicologist, and an adviser to the Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. America's reserves of natural gas have been touted as the game changer, the resource that will end our dependence on foreign oil and lower overall energy cost. But America's largest source of natural gas, the Marcellus Shale, lies relatively close to densely populated East Coast urban areas, raising the stakes for environmental and health issues.
MS. DIANE REHMJoining me to talk about hydrofracturing in the Marcellus Shale, Amy Harder of The National Journal, Erik Milito of the American Petroleum Institute, and, joining us from a studio at NPR in New York City, Fred Krupp of the Environmental Defense Fund. I hope you'll join our conversation. Call us on 800-433-8850. Send us your email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Join us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Good morning to all of you.
MR. FRED KRUPPGood morning.
MS. AMY HARDERGood morning. Thanks for having me.
MR. ERIK MILITOGood morning.
REHMGood to have you all here. I want to say here at the top of the show that my family owns property in the Marcellus Shale in the northeastern tip of Pennsylvania. So, clearly, I have a special interest in this subject. And now, turning to you first, Erik, the price of natural gas has really, really gone down, and, apparently, we're overflowing with supply. Explain what's happened.
MILITOWe once again appreciate the opportunity to be on the show. I'm actually from Southwestern Pennsylvania, grew up in Natrona and have family in Lower Burrell. But this truly is a game changer. And over the course of the past several years, we've seen advanced technologies that have been applied. And it's really a great story of human ingenuity and U.S. engineering that's enabled us to go into these seams in the earth several thousand feet below to really get into the shale seams through horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing several thousand feet below.
MILITOAnd this technology is now going to be -- enable the country to produce much more natural gas than we ever thought even possible. We're talking about a significant increase to the extent where we're looking at about 100-year supply of natural gas for the country. And we've already seen the benefits of additional jobs. About 600,000 additional jobs were supported by the industry, and this will just grow. And we've already seen the impacts.
MILITOAnd I think your listeners would be interested in hearing this, but the cost to consumers, in terms of their household energy costs, are expected to go down significantly, close to $1,000 over the next three years, and then by 2035, close to $2,000 per year per household for electricity and natural gas heating costs. So it really is a good story. We think we have good standards in place, and we can do it safely. So it is a game changer.
REHMAs I understand it, the price was once $13 per thousand cubic feet. It's now $2. What's happened?
MILITOWell, that's a story of supply and demand. And with these additional supplies, we now see that the trading of the natural gas and the sale of it being at a really what are now long, long, long historic lows. And what we're seeing from analysts is that they expect, for the foreseeable future, for there to be a lot of stability in the natural gas price, which will bring additional manufacturing and additional jobs to the country because we'll see additional chemical plants and additional manufacturing plants.
MILITOAnd industries like the steel industry are already adding jobs because of the low cost of natural gas. So it provides many, many benefits, but it's just a simple story of supply and demand and the increased supply.
HARDERYeah, just to add to that, one big difference about the natural gas glut that we're experiencing today is the difference between wet and dry gas. And wet gas is what, right now, is more profitable than dry gas. Dry gas is made of mainly methane, and wet gas has other components as well. In fact, it can also be sold for profit, such as ethane and butane.
HARDERAnd so you look at -- throughout the country, you know, there is some shale (word?) in, say, Louisiana that have dropped a lot of their rig counts because it's mainly dry gas. And then, even if you look at Pennsylvania specifically, you have the northeast portion -- northeast and central part of the state is mostly -- is dry gas. So you've seen a slight drop there. And then in other parts of the state, such as the southwest part, it's more wet gas, and that has remained steady.
REHMSo what has all of this meant that is the drop in price, the abundance of gas? What's that all mean for the U.S. energy markets in general, Amy?
HARDERI mean, it's completely shook up the entire market.
HARDERShook up. I can't express enough how much shale gas comes up everywhere I go, whether it's on Capitol Hill, down in Houston. It has really been a game changer, I think, for -- I think, you talk to the environmentalists and some of the residents who live there. It might not be for the better. But then you talk to other people who are creating jobs. I know that Shell announced a couple of months ago its intention to build what's called a ethane cracker facility in Beaver County in Pennsylvania, which will create a lot of jobs.
HARDERBut it -- and use the gas right there in Pennsylvania. And so it's created -- just on a supply and demand, it's really, on a more macro level, shifted the energy supply away from coal, for example, in electricity sector to natural gas.
REHMSo what does that mean for alternative energy, for example? Is nobody paying attention to that?
HARDERWell, to put it simply, not nearly as much. I think there's been a couple of events last couple of years that have really put natural gas on top of the pile of energy sources here in the country. With the collapse of climate change legislation in the U.S. Congress a year or two ago, that's really dampened the prospects of renewable energy, such as wind and solar.
HARDERAnd with prices as low as they are in the natural gas industry, it just makes sense that the utility sector will shift from coal, which burns many more emissions than natural gas, to natural gas rather than, say, wind and solar. That's not to say that they're not growing in certain states that have renewable electricity standards, but it's not nearly much as once hoped.
REHMAnd let's bring Fred Krupp into the conversation. He is president of the Environmental Defense Fund. Fred, how do you view this growing emphasis on shale gas and the development of the Marcellus Shale?
KRUPPWell, first of all, I think that Erik and Amy have put it very well. This is a game changer economically, and new jobs are sprouting up. The Obama administration projects that as many as 600,000 new jobs nationwide could be created because of the prosperity that shale gas brings. Having said that, none of us can afford to have that prosperity come at the expense of local communities.
KRUPPAnd that's where we need to begin to get the rules right. I was listening carefully to Erik who ended his presentation saying, we can do it safely. But the fact of the matter is, unfortunately, we are not yet doing it safely.
REHMWhat does that mean?
KRUPPWell, to put it in personal terms, Diane, last summer I spent time in rural Pennsylvania, Washington County, as a member of Secretary Chu's advisory committee on natural gas. And a mother there told me, and the other panel members, that she's been forced to leave her family farm because of the severe air pollution from shale gas wells. The problem had become so bad that her young son had become ill, and the woman and her son were now living out of their car.
KRUPPThese sorts of health impacts are unacceptable, and they are avoidable. But we can't ask people to trade away their health or the quality of life in exchange for cheap energy. We need to accelerate the clean energy, the renewables in this country, but -- and while we do that, we need to get the tough rules in place on natural gas, so this type of air pollution stops so that...
REHMBut, Fred, the question would be how widespread those health concerns actually are. When you talk about this mother who's forced to leave her home and lived in her car, that is one example, but I wonder just how widespread those complaints actually are.
KRUPPWell, there are a lot of complaints, Diane. And as "Morning Edition" portrayed this morning, we need more comprehensive health studies to find out how many of those complaints are linked to the natural gas operations.
KRUPPBut I can tell you that when Southern Methodist University did a study of air pollution in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, where there are 5,000 square miles, a lot of wells, they found that, although there's 4 million cars driving every day in Dallas-Forth Worth, the natural gas air emissions were as significant a source of air pollution as all of the cars and trucks -- all of the 4 million cars and trucks.
KRUPPSo that is statistical scientific evidence that there's a lot of smog, which has serious health effects, coming from these natural gas operations because the companies are not yet in most states required to capture their air emissions the way Secretary Chu's commission that I was on recommended. We recommended that the operators start to capture these air emissions. Unfortunately, no state -- few states have yet adopted that recommendation.
REHMFred Krupp, he is president at the Environmental Defense Fund. Here in the studio, Erik Milito, director of upstream and industry operations for the American Petroleum Institute, and Amy Harder, a reporter for The National Journal. When we come back, we're going to talk further. We'll take as many of your calls as we can as we talk about fracking and hydrofracking in the Marcellus Shale. Stay with us.
REHMAnd joining us now, as we talk about hydrofracking in the Marcellus Shale, is David Brown. He is joining us from Westport, Conn. He's a toxicologist associated with the Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project. Good morning to you, David.
MR. DAVID BROWNGood morning, Diane.
REHMCan you talk about how many of these areas of hydrofracking in Pennsylvania have been affected and industrialized and thereby affected by fracking?
BROWNWell, I can talk about Southwest Pennsylvania, where we're looking -- we're working in Washington County. It is very, very intense. The county is about 800 square miles, and approximately 700 wells are present, plus associated stations that are there that are used to pressurize the gas. And we estimate that about somewhere between 10 and 20 percent of that population of 200,000 are living within a half a mile of a drilling site or a compressor station or the associated piping that's going on. The area is a gorgeous farmland, which is becoming industrialized
REHMAnd what kind of impacts on health have you seen?
BROWNWe've had -- we actually -- at the center, we look at public health issues, and we ask people to call us or come and see us. And we have a nurse practitioner that goes see them. And we see the impacts that we are hearing from all over the country. We have people who are extremely stressed by the light and the noise at the, probably, the largest, single one as -- that's present, but we have people showing neurological damage. We have people with nosebleeds. We have people with respiratory distress, asthma.
BROWNSome people have intestinal problems. We have people with rashes. And the pattern that we are seeing -- our nurse practitioner is seeing -- is similar to what's being seen in Colorado and in Texas and in other places. So -- and the numbers that are there, it's really hard to say because we don't actually know the number of people who are exposed when there's a failure in the fracking process, or if a failure in the fracking process is what leads to their exposure.
BROWNWhen it does occur for the individuals that are affected, it is devastating. They lose their water sources. They can't shower in their homes. The story of people actually living in their cars is present. So for the individuals that are injured or affected, it's a devastating experience for them.
REHMDavid, what kinds of standards are we using to measure the kinds of problems you're talking about?
BROWNWell, there is no attempt at all at any level -- at the federal level and very little at the state level to look at all at the human health impacts. The standards that are being used are really standards that are inappropriate and out-of-date. They're -- they look at air standards that are set for general compliance across the nation, and those standards are set with the assumption, for example, with ozone. That's the only agent that's there.
BROWNAround these gas sites, there's a tremendous mixture of dozens, if not hundreds, of chemicals that are present in their air. And they're similarly chemicals that are showing up in the drinking water and the surface water in Southwest Pennsylvania and the counties that we have looked at, that I've looked at. And that...
REHMAnd yet you're saying there are no standards by which to measure the health impact.
BROWNThere really isn't...
BROWN...because it's hard to measure the health impact because most of the chemicals, we know what they are, but there's a fraction of the chemicals that are confidential, industrial information, which they have a right to have.
BROWNBut when people are wondering if their water is safe to drink, they can't get their water measured because they don't know what's in there.
REHMAmy Harder, do you want to talk about this?
HARDERYeah, I do. I think there are some standards. I don't think it's quite fair to say that there are no standards at all. At the federal level, the Environmental Protection Agency has been pretty active on this in the last several months. And...
REHMAnd they've been talking about air pollution, had they not?
HARDERThey've been talking about air pollution and also the safety of drinking water in three states, in Dimock, Pa., which is, you know, famous now worldwide, and also in Wyoming and Texas. But on the air side of the equation, EPA announced last month the first ever federal air standards to control this smog-forming pollution that is formed during the fracking process. And that will help, in turn, also reduce methane emissions, which is a big contributor to climate change and other health concerns.
HARDERAnd then the EPA is also conducting a study on the effect fracking has on drinking water, and that is -- the first part of that study is expected to be done this year. I will add, though, that I think the general consensus is EPA might be a little bit behind the ball on reacting to this. I think that study will take -- has already taken, you know, a year or two and has a couple more years to go, and all the while the industry is moving forward. So -- but there are standards, and also at the state level, there are, you know, attempts to make sure that the fracking chemicals are disclosed.
REHMOf course, each state has its own standards.
HARDERRight, right. And that -- on that front, the Obama administration also announced -- just a couple weeks ago, the Interior Department announced the disclosure rules for fracking done on public lands, which is a very important distinction to make because much of the fracking done in Pennsylvania and the fracking done in a state like North Dakota, for example, which is also oil and gas shale, is done on private lands.
REHMAnd turning back to you, Erik Milito of the American Petroleum Institute, tell me what measures the industry is taking to try to mitigate or, indeed, alleviate some of these concerns about water pollution, air pollution, methane pollution that may be making people sick.
MILITOThank you, Diane. And your listeners should be aware that the industry does take this very seriously, and we're committed to operating in a safe and environmentally responsible manner. And to that end, the EPA rule that Amy mentioned is based upon technologies that the industry has developed to capture methane, to put controls on tanks, put controls on the piping to ensure that we maintain the integrity of the system and keep the methane within the production operations.
MILITOThe industry has also come up with strong and robust standards for developing these wells. We've drilled over 1 million wells using the hydraulic fracturing practice since 1947. And there really have been no incidents where there's been a link between the hydraulic fracturing process and contamination of underground water sources. And MIT came out with a study in 2011 of June, the "Future of Natural Gas," which confirms that that...
REHMNo incidents, Amy Harder?
HARDERThere's been a lot of debate around that. I know that the EPA, in reaction to some residents' concerns in Wyoming, Texas and Pennsylvania, that it went up -- went over to those three states and investigated the linkage between fracking and water contamination. And they concluded in all three of those cases that there was no link between fracking and contaminated drinking water.
HARDERThat said, sometimes there are contaminants found in that drinking water, which could be from another part of the drilling -- entire drilling process, which gets lost in the noise. But it's an important distinction to make, and one that the industry points out.
BROWNSo if I could...
KRUPPYou know, Diane, this is Fred just...
KRUPP...chiming in. This is, unfortunately, an all too frequent thing that industry says, and I'm disappointed frankly, Erik, to hear you say it, that there has been no link between fracturing. What Erik means is there's been no link between the fractures in the shale and water contamination. But what he's not saying -- and he knows very well -- is there have been lots of links, hundreds of cases of instances where, on a fracturing well pad site, there has been spills of chemicals that have gotten into the aquifer, or where the casing of the well hasn't had integrity.
KRUPPAnd so methane and other chemicals have gone into drinking water. Just last May, the Pennsylvania DEP fined the Chesapeake energy company that's been making a lot of news recently, $900,000 for Bradford -- in Bradford County for chemicals that were -- gas that was bubbling up in the Susquehanna River. And, similarly, Cabot Oil & Gas was fined $500,000 for gas migration that occurred after Cabot improperly cemented multiple gas wells, you know, a year or two before that.
KRUPPSo there's lots of documented cases even though industry keeps saying very narrowly that the fractures don't cause them. And this really just causes not only me, but the neighbors to get so angry and frustrated that industry fails even to acknowledge their concerns because it undermines any confidence that they're really working to prevent these things from happening again and again when they are in this phony denial that they're happening in the first place.
MILITOFred, I was actually going to get to that, and I appreciate that point. But I want to dispel the notion that it's hydraulic fracturing. And where the industry is moving is towards -- and I think this is another thing the listeners would be interested in hearing -- is about the use of the steel casing and the cement to ensure that we have redundant protective layers in between the well itself and the water sources.
MILITOAnd the industry has come up with the standards. And our document -- it's called API Standard 65-Part 2 -- is a cementing standard that the federal government itself has adopted for use in drilling deep-water wells to ensure that we maintain integrity. And what we've been doing is going out to states and state regulators and educating them and letting them know how the industry is addressing this.
MILITOBecause we understand that while there may not be issues related to the hydraulic fracturing process, we still have to do it right, and we want to make sure that we don't have any incidents. (unintelligible) is Pennsylvania has strengthened its regulations, including new drilling standards back in January of 2011. And it's good that they've increased their number of inspectors and going out there and enforcing it because that's what we need.
BROWNPlease could I jump in for just a moment, Diane?
REHMCertainly, David. Go right ahead.
BROWNWell, first, the question is, are there standards? The -- and I think my point was misunderstood. If your water is contaminated with compounds that are unknown, there can't be a standard for it because the compound is unknown. The second is the standards that we have are being misused. This is a complex of chemicals in a person's drinking water. It doesn't matter what the individual standard is. It has -- they're working together. The public is well aware of this. Are there public wells that are -- are there -- private wells and public wells contaminated? And is their surface water contaminated? Yes.
BROWNIs it being contaminated because of the process of fracking? Or is it contaminated because of materials that are brought up from the fracked area and released into the air around homes and neighborhoods and in water systems? There's examples of that, as we -- as Fred Krupp talked about. There's been fines on that.
BROWNBut if you turn your thought for a moment to the person who's living with wells all around them, who's getting information such as there's absolutely no danger to fracking, we've had a million wells and they're all safe, if their child is sick, their animals have died, they are -- when they send water samples out, that they actually can see the color has changed, they get reports back from the state saying that the water is perfectly safe to drink, they actually lose confidence completely in not just the gas drilling industry, but their health and local and federal officials.
BROWNAnd that is a serious public health problem that's being -- that's occurring. And as we think about technology occurring in two or three years, if your child is sick today, what's going to happen two or three years from now?
REHMIndeed. David Brown. He's a toxicologist, adviser to the Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Fred Krupp, I'm interested in what recourse individual homeowners have. You talked about the example of the woman you met with Secretary Chu, now living in her car because she and the child were sick. What recourse does she have?
KRUPPWell, you know, all too frequently, homeowners are told, well, if this is happening, go to court, go sue. And, yes, there are -- there is the recourse of taking the situation to court. But, far better than that, what we need to have happen is some cooperation here between companies and citizens and government to put strong rules in place.
KRUPPAnd, you know, on a hopeful note, Diane, in Colorado, the Democratic Gov. Hickenlooper has put into place disclosure standards not only for the quantity of the frack chemicals that are put in the water but also the names of those chemicals, as well as how much are put in, and overcome industry's frequent cries of trade secrecy, worked out a system where, you know, many an industry have been able to accept this proposal.
KRUPPAnd even one step further in Ohio now, the Republican governor, Gov. Kasich, who, of course, served for many years in Congress, put forward to the Ohio legislature an even more far-reaching disclosure bill, which would disclose not only the chemicals involved in hydraulic fracturing, but also the very toxic chemicals that are put into the drilling muds when the drill bit makes the hole in the first place or the chemicals that are used in maintaining these well pads and all the equipment thereon. Now...
REHMFred Krupp, you mentioned Ohio.
REHMWhat's happening in Ohio as far as the companies, the industry's allowance to cross a person's land if that person has not signed a lease with the gas company?
KRUPPI'm not up to speed on that particular issue, Diane. I know in many states, including Pennsylvania, we're very concerned that the legislature has overridden the traditional rights of communities to zone these highly industrial activities. And we very much believe that local communities should continue to have their zoning, you know, prerogatives because these are intensive industrial practices.
REHMAmy, do you want to speak to that zoning issue?
HARDERYeah. Just at a macro level, I think one point that you made at the beginning of your show was that the natural gas, the shale gale has moved into areas where there are a lot of people. And that has really -- that's why Pennsylvania is ground zero for this debate. It's not that there's gas there -- there's gas in a lot of places -- but that there are so many people there. And Ohio is another great example of that.
HARDERAnd people don't want a gas well in their backyards, just like they don't want a coal plant or Yucca Mountain, the nuclear waste repository in Nevada. And so every single time you go into these places, you have concerns from residents.
REHMAmy Harder, she's a reporter for The National Journal. Time to open the phones when we come back.
REHMAnd in this hour, we've been talking about hydraulic fracturing. Here in the studio, Amy Harder. She is a reporter for The National Journal. Eric Milito is with the American Petroleum Institute. On the line with us from the NPR studio in New York, Fred Krupp, he's president of the Environmental Defense Fund. And David Brown, he's a toxicologist, adviser to the Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project. I promised we'd open the phones, so we'll go directly to Dothan, Ala. Good morning, Gary. You're on the air.
GARYGood morning, Ms. Rehm, an honor.
GARYIn deference to Mr. Krupp, who is being nice, I want to, first off, talk about the elephant in the room here, which is the idiocy of the industry's self-regulation. You're talking about corporate self-interest. There is no self-regulation that works. Secondly, I travel the country. I've long been an opponent of hydraulic fracturing.
GARYI wanted to point out that in Houston, where they have a large number of wells that surround the city, these wells put out an equivalent amount of smog-producing chemicals and gasses that exceed the amount put out every day by the vehicles we use inside that city. I myself have been driving along highways next to storage tanks and have driven through clouds of gas that have almost rendered me unconscious. Federal land is being leased by federal authorities to private companies.
GARYThis area that we're talking about right now is actually part of the system which filters the water for New York City. They have excellent drinking water. And this is federal land that has now been leased to use by private companies for hydraulic fracture. And the millions of gallons of chemicals, which are nothing but carcinogens, hold an exclusive -- in the Clean Air & Water Act exemption, they are excluded from the Clean Air & Water Act.
HARDERYeah, to that point, to environmentalists, that's known as the Halliburton loophole. And I'm sure Eric has some comments on that. But that comes from a 2005 energy bill that was -- that excluded hydraulic fracturing, and specifically the underground injection process, to be part of the Safe Drinking Water Act unless diesel fluids are used.
HARDERAnd to that point, just last week, I think, EPA announced draft proposals that will guide the use of diesel in the hydraulic fracturing process. I know environmentalists would prefer diesel not be used at all, but that these guidelines could help undo that loophole that some people are not familiar with.
REHMEric Milito, our guest, Gary, on the phone talked about smog in Houston. He also talked about the federal lands and the water going into New York City. How is the industry looking at these issues and trying to deal with them?
MILITOWell, Diane, I think it's important to acknowledge that these activities are very highly regulated at both the federal and state level. The Clean Water Act does apply. Companies must get permits if they're going to discharge waters. The Safe Drinking Water Act applies when a company is going to dispose an underground injection control wells, as well as the Emergency Planning and Community Right-To-Know Act, the Occupational Health and Safety Act. All of these laws apply.
MILITOOn the air side, any emissions from oil and gas activity must remain within the prescribed state and federal limits to ensure the health and safety of local communities. And, ultimately, with the advancements in technology, we are seeing the ability to further and further reduce emissions through the new rules that we're seeing through the Environmental Protection Agency, which the industry, for the most part, is very supportive of.
REHMFred Krupp, do you want to comment?
KRUPPI very much do, Diane. Thank you. The EPA standards that have been referred to a couple of times here are a good first step, but they control less than 10 percent of the air emissions from the industry. They only apply to wells that are being newly drilled. They don't apply to hybrid wells that have produced what Amy referred to earlier as wet gas, in other words, oil and gas. And that's where all the new drilling us happening or much of the new drilling is happening because the price of oil was high.
KRUPPSo the EPA standards cover less than 10 percent of the problem. And when Eric says that any emissions of air pollutants have to comply with federal and state standards, the fact of the matter is that the United States government and no state in the union has any limit on how much methane can be put in the air. And the same is true for many of the other volatile organics that are going into the air.
KRUPPWhile Colorado has done a reasonably good job on air pollution and Wyoming is strengthening its laws, there aren't effective limits in Pennsylvania. So in the Interior Department, when it regulates on federal lands, it just issued, you know, some new rules -- that's truly a step forward -- but no air pollution regulations were issued for federal lands at all.
KRUPPNow, to the credit of some in industry, Shell Oil for one, Talisman for another, their CEOs have called for strong rules because they understand that this whole industry's license to operate is being jeopardized by people who are not capturing the emissions. They're taking advantage of the lack of standards to just vent gasses into the air. Until we have strong rules and until we have industry supporting strong rules, I can understand, you know, why there's such a backlash against this process.
REHMHere's an email from Sarah in Shaker Heights, Ohio, who says, "Many of the rivers in Western Pennsylvania and Ohio feed into Lake Erie, which is connected to the other four. Also, what about the Ohio EPA which banned further drilling contaminants from going into injection wells due to numerous earthquakes around Youngstown?" Amy Harder.
HARDERRight. The earthquake concern has kind of bubbled up, no pun intended, in the last several months in Ohio specifically. And that has kind of taken some people by surprise. But it's -- they're -- again, as we talk about the public health concerns and the methane emissions, I think, around the seismic activity, there's not a lot of data that can say that, you know, definitively, fracking has caused these earthquakes.
HARDERBut at the same time, they seem to be occurring around these fracking wells. So there's a lot of anecdotal evidence but not a lot of hard data to support that. And -- Fred, did you have something?
KRUPPWell, I would just say that, again, the fracking itself isn't causing the earthquakes. But when you inject the frack water into the ground, unequivocally, that is causing these tremors.
KRUPPAnd Ohio deserves credit. They have put into place perhaps the most advanced rules on seismic monitoring. So when you get the little tremors, you can stop before they have the bigger earthquakes. We should have those rules in all the states.
REHMAll right. To Little Rock, Ark. Good morning, Rod.
RODGood morning, Diane. How are you?
RODI wanted to speak briefly to what the industry has done in the past. And during the oil boom of the '80s, I grew up in Lafayette County in Southwest Arkansas. To this day, there are hundreds of uncapped wells there. It was promised to be a boom economy back then. Lafayette County, if you check the numbers from 1990 to 2000, had the greatest level of depopulation in the state of Arkansas, as opposed to Washington County, home of Tyson chicken and Wal-Mart, which had the greatest increase in population.
RODThis decrease in population was due to thyroid problems and things connected to the bromine industry, which is another deep well activity. It comes up. Also, Arkansas has a unique geological structure unlike any other state that lends itself to these chemicals transmigrating underwater, which -- this was noted in the very act that let the industry off the hook. It's like people didn't read it or something.
RODAnd what I'm get -- what I want to -- the larger point that I'm trying to get to is this is a numbers game that was put into place long ago and in places with lower population you don't see near as much regulation, places like Arkansas. In Arkansas, the oil and gas commission, which is supposed to be taking care of these wells that they didn't even cap for oil in the '80s, is now the, you know, fox guarding the henhouse on this gas stuff by an act of our legislature.
RODIn 2009, it was mandated that the industry stock a majority of the positions in a publicly held commission while the governor of Arkansas put his fingers in his ears and walked down the hall while I went and tried to -- you know, it's a plan that none of us seem to be able to alter no matter what we do. And the industry gentleman, who's on your show right now, I want someone to just tell him, shame on you because you know you're lying, and this whole thing is a lie, and it's a big game. It's like professional wrestling.
REHMI don't think that Erik Milito would or perhaps his industry would say he's lying. I think he's presenting the facts as he sees them with the industry's own research. The question becomes: Has the industry gotten out ahead of itself? Has the industry, perhaps, moved too quickly on this area as it has in the past, for example, putting lead in gasoline or developing nuclear power without a place to store it, these kinds of things whose outcomes may only be known realistically to the public after the fact?
MILITOWell, Diane, I think that the area where the industry needs to put a lot of effort is really working with local communities. And we've been trying to do that by getting out in places like Western Pennsylvania and Tioga County and work with community leaders to make sure we're addressing concerns.
REHMBut sort of talking is not just what you need to do.
MILITOBut the talking is leading to changes, changes to address issues like noise and traffic and lighting issues, talking to learn about concerns about housing, how there are needs to make sure we have the infrastructure in place to maintain the population. We've been very active on all these areas, and I would think that we, as a nation, are looking at a future where we're going to need more energy.
MILITOAnd we are going to need more natural gas. And we're able to do it here and do it in a homegrown way and create jobs. And, in Pennsylvania alone, we have to the point where we are supporting 180,000 jobs, and it's a good story.
REHMHow long will they last, do you think, with gas at $2 per thousand?
MILITOWell, these companies are investing in the long term. They understand that demand is going to grow, and, over time, there's going to be increased use in electricity generation. And the forecast show that it's going to be needed at a higher level. And it's using everything around us. Natural gas is a feedstock for fertilizers, for farms. It's -- natural gas liquids are used in making iPads.
REHMBut if you can't live there, if you can't drink the water, if you can't breathe the air, then what happens, David Brown?
BROWNWell, what happens is that you can't live there, is the problem. And if you try to live there, you have to live there with the uncertainty that you don't know whether you're safe or whether your children are safe. Water is mentioned, but I think it's important to remember that when at -- ATSDR, when they looked at pathways where people were actually injured around Superfund Sites, water contamination was responsible for more than 75 percent of the places where people actually were injured.
BROWNSome died, some got cancer, some were indeed sick. And what we have done here, Diane, is get out ahead of the health. There is no public health response to any of the complaints that people have, so they're left with the point -- this is one complaining person, and we don't have any record. But there is no record of public health, people looking for the effects on the population. When you look at the chemicals used and look at the effects that people are getting, they are consistent.
BROWNThe health effects are consistent with these exposures in their drinking water and their air. But if we're going to decide that we need this resource so importantly that we're going to decide that we have to sacrifice the health and safety of a whole segment of a state or a county, then, morally, we have to tell those people who we're sacrificing, and that's what we're doing.
REHMDavid Brown is a toxicologist. He advises the Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Fred Krupp, is that what it comes down to, energy versus human beings?
KRUPPWell, I don't think we have to face that trade-off. I think there are ways that we can get this right. Some folks have called for an absolute ban on fracking, and there are some places that, you know, have put bans into effect. I think we need to get the rules right. I think that's going to be a more effective response because people are now living with fracking. Ninety percent of the new wells that are constructed are fracked, and responsible companies, some are stepping forward.
KRUPPSouthwestern Energy agreed with EDF on a model state law to ensure well integrity. And a lot of those suggestions have found their way into the Ohio governor's proposals in Ohio. There's 14 states, Diane, where 85 percent of our on-shore natural gas is taken from. If we can get the rules right in those 14 states, we can protect citizens who live around them. But it is a big job, and it's not going to come automatically. And I don't think it's going to come through voluntary best practices.
HARDERYeah. Just to build on what Fred said, I think, to get back to the basic discussion of shale natural gas, this shale gale has come into this country in the last four years since about 2007 to 2009. And we need to remember that, you know, we have to power our country on something, and our other alternatives right now are nuclear power and coal-fired power as base load electricity and...
REHMUnless we put more money into alternative sources.
HARDERRight, right. And I was going to get to that, that renewable energy, of course, as well. But natural gas was initially seen as a cleaner alternative to coal-fired power. Now, coal has its problems as well, and we haven't discussed that. But in the environmental world, it is often the lesser of two evils.
REHMAll right. And, Erik Milito, I'll give you the last word.
MILITOYeah. I just wanted to say that we agree with Fred. I think the listener should understand that the industry wants to do the same thing. We want to have effective regulations in place at the state level. And we think we're moving in that direction to make sure we're protecting the people and the environment.
REHMErik Milito of the American Petroleum Institute, Amy Harder of The National Journal, Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund, and David Brown, a toxicologist and adviser to the Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project, thanks to all of you for being here. And thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
Most Recent Shows
Groups who oppose abortion have used fetal personhood laws to chip away at Roe v. Wade. But these laws affect women with wanted pregnancies, as well.
As we come to the end of the third week of the government shutdown over the border wall, Diane talks to Jonah Goldberg of National Review about how we got here and why it is so hard to move on.
Diane asks Robert P. Jones, author of "The End of White Christian America."