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'Shockumentary' About Groundwater Harms The Real Environmentalism

Op-Ed By MIKE CANTRELL
Published: 9/2/2010
Tulsa World 

Mike Cantrell: In the end, scientifically sound, proven, time-tested practices, and effective regulation will ensure that our groundwater is protected now — and for generations to come.

Any industry that impacts the environment should be held accountable for how it protects our natural inheritance and in particular groundwater, our most precious natural resource.
Likewise, there are many issues that should be openly discussed regarding the safety and the protection of our resources as we strive to locate and produce the energy America needs.

Josh Fox and his shockumentary, "Gasland," have done great disservice to the legitimate environmental movement that most of us embrace.

His film about the "dangerous contamination from hydraulic fracturing" is nothing but distortion. Every instance he so dramatically links to hydraulic fracturing has been investigated by appropriate state and federal authorities (including the Environmental Protection Agency) and found not connected to this procedure.

Of course the agenda of extremists like Fox (and the political environmental groups that fund his work) is to end the production and use of fossil fuels. The vast majority (more than 90 percent) of oil and natural gas still to be found and produced in America must be hydraulically fractured in order to be productive. So to end or seriously curtail the use of this procedure would deprive our country of the energy we need.

While I understand their concerns, working to end the use of fossil fuels in absence of any viable alternative is unrealistic. The reality is that we will need oil and natural gas (either ours or someone else's) for the foreseeable future. There simply are no immediate alternatives at this time - only supplementals.

Hydraulic fracturing, the target of Fox's documentary, has been used for more than 60 years without any reported cases of groundwater contamination. This doesn't mean that there is no risk associated with this procedure, but this hydraulic fracturing is time-tested and proven.

However, it is important that our industry be transparent, forthright, and accountable in discussing the legitimate risk involved with hydraulic fracturing.

The primary reason there have been no reported problems with groundwater contamination from fracturing through the years is that states have instituted a rigorous regulatory regimen. For example, the Oklahoma Corporation Commission developed rules to protect groundwater from oil and gas operations by requiring the setting and cementing of surface pipe in the late 1920s. (That is more than 50 years before the EPA came into existence.)

This pipe is set through the groundwater and cemented in place before the well is drilled into oil and natural gas bearing zones. It is essential to groundwater protection to run an adequate amount of surface pipe through the groundwater table and wrap cement around it before drilling into these zones. It is also necessary to make sure there are no unplugged or improperly plugged wells in close proximity to wells being hydraulically fractured.

In short, companies take extra precautions to ensure the cement around the pipe has "integrity" and absolutely does not leak.

It is Fox's brand of politically motivated, environmental extremism that produces work that makes it a challenge for those of us who, day in and day out, strive to ensure we have the necessary safeguards in place to protect our environment with safe practices.

"Gasland" is so off-base that it will eventually be discredited. In the end, scientifically sound, proven, time-tested practices, and effective regulation will ensure that our groundwater is protected now - and for generations to come.