Late last month Chesapeake Energy Corp. quietly tested a new method of horizontal hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” on two well sites in Ohio. The new process uses about 10 percent of the water of typical fracking, relying, instead, primarily on carbon-dioxide foam to crack natural-gas-rich shale rock deep below the earth’s surface.
Given that one of the usual environmentalist refrains on hydraulic fracturing is that the process uses too much water, one might imagine Chesapeake’s move would have garnered some praise from the “green” contingent. But if one thought as much, one doesn’t know environmentalist groups. The response from the Natural Resources Defense Council last week, for example, via Senior Policy Analyst Amy Mall, was to ignore the matter of water entirely. “It could be safer. It could be better. But it doesn’t reduce all the risk,” Mall said.
Environmentalists have long slammed domestic energy’s supposed wanton waste of natural resources, depicting oil and gas companies as insatiable behemoths spitting out the bones of the landscape once they ravage it. Though Chesapeake is remaining largely mum on the pilot testing of the new fracking method, a 90-percent reduction in water use is nothing to sneeze at - least of all from an environmentalist viewpoint. So why the silence from “greenies”?
Simply put, now that there may be a “fracking” method out there that uses so much less water, it is likely becoming clear to such organizations and their constituents that politically, the water issue may soon become a non-starter. So environmental groups are regrouping - and, to give credit where credit is due, the Natural Resources Defense Council regrouped fairly quickly, shifting the focus of their anti-fracking campaign entirely to human safety.
But there’s no denying these groups have essentially demanded a reduction in hydraulic-fracturing water, and noisily. Last November, in a statement about protecting “Colorado from [f]racking” by calling on the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission to disclose the amount of water it used in natural-gas extraction, Clean Water Action Program Director Gary Wockner said, “Let’s go right to the source and have the drillers and frackers report their water use so that Colorado knows how much additional stress this will place on our rivers and farms which are already being drained and dried up.” An April 2011 Pennsylvania Green Party statement on hydraulic fracturing in the Marcellus Shale reads, in part, “[H]ydraulic fracturing squanders our precious water resource.” In November, former Sierra Club lobbyist John Smithson wrote in a Charleston Gazette op-ed: “[I]n West Virginia, we are letting gas drillers waste trillions of gallons of fresh water, to harvest what will be only a few decades worth of natural gas. Not only are we wasting trillions of gallons of potable water, we're also depositing millions of gallons of toxic chemicals in underground storage sites. This wastewater is lost forever. It can never again be used for anything.”
Conventional energy can make all the strides it dares undertake – at significant cost and allegedly at environmental groups’ behest - but it will never satisfy its environmentalist critics. The great irony of these mammoth organizations is they apparently exist only to oppose: When their demands are met, their focus shifts to the next perceived calamity. How many great ideas or groundbreaking plans of action has even one of the numerous international environmental organizations envisioned, much less put into action? None. The truth is these organizations lack any real message other than “No.” Ironically they depend for continued existence, media coverage and funding on the very people and industries they rail against. Behind the curtain lurks … nothing.