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Ezra Levant: “Not one drop of poisoned water”

As Canada’s best-known Conservative pundit, Ezra Levant provokes discussion and debate wherever he appears. Whether it’s taking a hard look at human rights, political correctness, the ethics of oil, or the political events of the day, he has something insightful to say about everything, and he encourages everyone to think critically—and skeptically—about what’s going on around us. He is the host of Sun TV’s always-controversial daily news program, The Source, the bestselling author of Ethical Oil: The Case for Canada’s Oil Sands, and author of the new book, Groundswell: The Case for Fracking, excerpted below:

All the anti-fracking hype is designed to make you believe that the U.S. government has been asleep at the switch when it comes to monitoring environmental safety. The activists want you to believe that a film director named Josh Fox can grab a video camera and, within a few months of driving around the country, easily expose a catalogue of hazards that all the experienced and educated scientists at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), not to mention all the state regulators, missed.

Fox even implies that U.S. President Barack Obama has been naively misled on the issue by the dastardly oil and gas industry. In July 2013, Fox wrote an open letter to Obama, in which he reminds the president how frequently he’s met with industry representatives. He implores the president to meet with him and seven families who “have all had their lives ruined” by fracking.“We seek to discuss with you the dark side of fracking, a perspective that has not yet been presented to you with adequate weight or emphasis,” he writes. Of course, if anyone knows just how informed the president of the United States is, it must be a crusading New York City filmmaker.

But the Obama administration has proven itself to be no booster of the fossil-fuel industry, and under Obama, the EPA has been no sleeping watchdog. In reality, they have been active and invasive, particularly when it comes to fossil fuels.

The track record of Obama and his EPA, in other words, is one of acute, often even baseless, precaution. Which is important to keep in mind when you read the EPA’s definitive review of fracking and its potential for contaminating groundwater. That is, they have found no proven cases of fracking-related contamination. Exactly zero. Not a single one, anywhere, ever.

“In no case have we made a definitive determination that the fracking process has caused chemicals to enter groundwater,” Lisa Jackson, then head of the EPA, told a reporter in 2012.

And the EPA has been on top of this issue for years, long before Josh Fox and his fashionable anti-fracking celebrity movement came on the scene. In 2004, the EPA released a study representing four years’ worth of the agency’s research into the safety and environmental effects of fracking. It “reviewed incidents of drinking water well contamination believed to be associated with hydraulic fracturing and found no confirmed cases that are linked to fracturing fluid injection into coalbed methane wells or subsequent underground movement of fracturing fluids.” It concluded, “The injection of hydraulic fracturing fluids into coalbed methane wells poses little or no threat to USDWs [underground sources of drinking water].” The study was sufficiently exhaustive, the EPA determined, that it did “not justify additional study at this time.”

The EPA’s long-term research and scientific evidence is the sort of thing that President Obama would rely upon in continuing to allow fracking. And it isn’t just the EPA proving it. On the state level, too, over and over again, these tales of contaminated groundwater have been found to simply have nothing to do with fracking. When Alabama regulators reviewed fracking activity in their state, they came up with the same result: “There have been no documented cases of drinking water contamination that have resulted from hydraulic fracturing operations to stimulate oil and gas wells in the State of Alabama.”Researchers came up with the same goose egg in Alaska: “There have been no verified cases of harm to ground water in the State of Alaska as a result of hydraulic fracturing.” And in Colorado, “no verified instance of harm to groundwater caused by hydraulic fracturing.” And “no instances” were identified in Indiana “that harm to groundwater has ever been found to be the result of hydraulic fracturing.” Kentucky looked into complaints from landowners about contaminated groundwater but the results were predictable. “In Kentucky, there have been alleged contaminations from citizen complaints but nothing that can be substantiated.” In Louisiana, regulators,too, are “unaware of any instance of harm to groundwater … caused by the practice of hydraulic fracturing.”

Fracking has been going on in Michigan for many years; there are thousands of fracked wells in that state. If fracking really did contaminate groundwater, even occasionally, it would surely have happened in Michigan. But investigations there found “there is no indication that hydraulic fracturing has ever caused damage to ground water or other resources in Michigan.” In fact, by 2009 when they reported that, Michigan’s Office of Geological Survey said it had never even received a single complaint or heard a single allegation that fracking had affected groundwater “in any way.”

In Oklahoma, they found evidence of groundwater contamination — from conventional oil and gas projects, that is. But from fracking? None. Despite the fact that “tens of thousands of hydraulic fracturing operations have been conducted in the state in the last 60 years,” they reported. In Tennessee: “No reports of well damage due to fracking.” In Texas: “Though hydraulic fracturing has been used for over 60 years in Texas … records do not reflect a single documented surface or groundwater contamination case associated with hydraulic fracturing.” Drillers have been fracking for oil in South Dakota since the Fifties, and for gas since 1970, and still the state reports “no documented case of water well or aquifer damage by the fracking of oil or gas wells.” Same deal with their neighbours to the west: “No documented cases of groundwater contamination from fracture stimulations in Wyoming.”

The Ground Water Protection Council, a non-profit organization whose membership consists of state-level groundwater regulators and whose very purpose is to “promote the protection and conservation of ground water resources for all beneficial uses, recognizing ground water as a critical component of the ecosystem,” issued a report in 2011 that reviewed fracking in Texas and Ohio. The study covered 16 years of activity, during which more than 16,000 horizontal hydraulic-fracking shale-gas wells were completed in Texas alone. In neither state did regulators identify “a single groundwater contamination incident resulting from site preparation, drilling, well construction, completion, hydraulic fracturing stimulation or production operations at any of these horizontal shale gas wells.”

Not only have regulatory investigations everywhere across the United States found not a single drop of drinking water contaminated by fracking, but it isn’t actually physically possible for something like that to happen. Why? Because in not one single case does a hydraulic fracture even come near the water table.

See, all of this fracturing is happening at nearly a mile, or deeper, below the Earth – that’s where the shale gas is. Water wells don’t go nearly that deep. Typically a well goes down several dozen feet, or maybe even a couple of hundred feet if the water table is exceptionally deep. America’s biggest hand-dug well, the Big Well in Greensburg, Kansas, dug in 1887, goes down 109 feet; the Well of Joseph in Cairo’s Citadel, in the Egyptian desert, goes down 280 feet. Those are deep wells, because they’re built over deep watertables. Water aquifers are often deeper: — they average around 500 feet below the ground. But fracking? That happens thousands of feet below the surface — typically between 6,000 and 10,000 feet underground.

For the gas or the fracking fluid to get into the water table, or even an aquifer, from that kind of depth, they would have to pass upward through millions of tons of rock — like passing through a mountain. In the Barnett Shale, for instance, even the shallowest fractures are roughly a mile below the surface — thousands of feet below any aquifer or water table.

These facts have been on the record far longer than the media and activists had even heard of the term “fracking.” In 1995, the EPA under the Clinton administration — who were no slouches, either, when it came to environmental restrictions — declared that “there is no evidence that the hydraulic fracturing … has resulted in any contamination or endangerment of underground sources of drinking water (USDW).” The EPA had been studying fracking in Alabama as far back as 1989. “Moreover, given the horizontal and vertical distance between the drinking water well and the closest methane gas production wells, the possibility of contamination or endangerment of USDWs in the area is extremely remote.” That was Carol Browner writing, the environmentalist lawyer who served as EPA administrator under Bill Clinton and later became the director of the White House Office of Energy and Climate Change Policy under the Obama administration.

The New York Times recently featured a letter from Yoko Ono, representing her group Artists Against Fracking, in which she repeated the lie: “Industry documents show that 6% of the wells leak immediately and that 60% leak over time, poisoning drinking water and putting the powerful greenhouse gas methane into our atmosphere,” she wrote. “We need to develop truly clean energy, not dirty water created by fracking.”

Industry documents show no such thing. Statistics from environmental regulators show no such thing. Nowhere, anywhere, does any credible scientific evidence exist that fracking has made a single drinking water source “dirty.” On the contrary, a review of tens of thousands of wells, in state after state, and by the most rigorous federal environmental regulators, has turned up a complete blank on any fracking-related drinking-water contamination.

It is no overstatement to say that fracking has proven 100% safe for drinking water in the United States — making fracking probably one of the few resource-based industries on Earth that can actually boast such a statistic. How galling it is, then, that so much of the anti-fracking movement relies on spreading the opposite of that fact — on spreading an outright lie.

Excerpted from Groundswell by Ezra Levant.