Debate Forum Right, 8/2/11

Government is the problem. Property rights are the solution.

By Mark Luedtke

Mark Luedtke

It’s hard to separate fact from fear-mongering in the fracking debate. Several months ago  I saw a report that the water supply of people in Pennsylvania was contaminated with methane. One man literally lit his water on fire. He blamed this on fracking under his land. He also blamed sick cows on methane released from fracking.

Fracking is clearly the new bogeyman of the environmental lobby. The movie Gasland documents another man lighting his tap water on fire. With President Obama’s Environmental Protestion Agency on their side and these powerful videos, they think they have a winning issue in their fight to cripple energy production in the U.S. What the reports don’t say is methane leaks into the water supply naturally near sources of natural gas. There’s no way to prove fracking caused the contamination of the water supply.

Even though fracking has been going on for 60 years, Vicki Hennessy, from the Green Environmental Coalition in Yellow Springs, explains that the technique has evolved, explaining why fracking has become such a hot issue.

“Until recently, if a well was fracked, it occurred at the base of a vertical well,” she said. “It did not involve horizontal drilling or chemicals, and much less water was needed. This ‘unconventional’ method of drilling, which requires millions of gallons of chemically laced water, has only been happening since about 2004. Most of it has occurred in western states with wide-open spaces — Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Arkansas — and only recently began in the east, where the population density is much greater. This new method of hydraulic fracturing allows a wider expansion of drilling into deep shale layers.”

Two major problems Hennessy lists are drilling companies use of carcinogenic chemicals in the water that end up back in the water table and that the process removes a tremendous amount of water from the water table by trapping it deep underground.

Fracking has also been linked to earthquakes, Hennessy reported, “In Arkansas during the past couple of years, there have been over 1,100 earthquakes related to deep injection wells. The gas company stopped using these injection wells due to public outrage, and the number of earthquakes lowered by 50 percent.”

Gas companies are on the other side of this issue. They claim fracking is perfectly safe with benefits including lower energy prices, less dependence on foreign oil, and jobs. The New York Post reports on an industry-funded study regarding the Marcellus shale field under Pennsylvania, New York, West Virginia and Ohio, “The study estimated that gas production this year would rise by an additional 250 percent and that during the next nine years, Marcellus Shale production could supply 25 percent of the nation’s natural-gas needs.”

Energy companies also tout that clean burning natural gas doesn’t release green house gases into the atmosphere. Hennessy countered, saying, “Although natural gas burns ‘cleaner’ than coal, because of the amount that escapes during the drilling process through leaks, spills, blowouts, accidents, etc., it actually is worse than coal for global warming. Natural gas is methane, which is about 20 times more potent as a green house gas than CO2.”

So we have two powerful special interest groups battling over who controls government’s power to advance their interests at our expense. Political theater is heating up as Obama’s EPA challenges state agencies that support fracking.

Fox Business reported, “The Texas Railroad Commission said Tuesday that Range Resources Corp’s (RRC) natural gas drilling operations weren’t responsible for contamination found in water wells in Parker County, outside of Fort Worth.”

I don’t know whom to believe, but I know one thing for sure: government is the cause of these problems, not the solution.

Hennessy explained how Ohio government overrules the rights of property owners to advance the interests of the gas companies through a process called mandatory pooling, “Drilling companies establish arbitrary ‘drilling units’ which comprise the properties of several property owners. It is within that area that a well (or wells) will be drilled. In Ohio, 65 percent of the property within the drilling unit must be under a signed lease before the company will be given a permit to drill. The other 35 percent of the land is then open to drilling whether or not the property owner signs a lease.”

So if a big landowner near you signs a lease with a gas company, that company could frack under your land without your permission and you’d get nothing.

On the other hand, environmentalists are trying to get government to ban fracking altogether, which also overrules the rights of property owners. New York has already done so.

The solution to this issue is to get government out of the way. Property owners should negotiate with gas companies to allow fracking under their property or not. The gas company should be responsible for all the consequences of its activities, good and bad. If we lived in a free society ordered by property rights instead of government violence, fracking wouldn’t be an  issue.

Mark Luedtke is an electrical engineer with a degree from the University of Cincinnati and currently works for a Dayton attorney. He can be reached at  MarkLuedtke@DaytonCityPaper.com

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