Noelle Swan

Is Fracking Just a Dirty Word?

In Uncategorized on February 4, 2010 at 12:00 pm

With cap and trade initiatives temporarily sidelined in Washington, the dialogue has changed from emissions reduction to energy independence and job creation. Without missing a beat, the Chairman and CEO, Rex Tillerson, of Exxon Mobil appeared before the House Subcommittee on Energy and Environment on January 20, 2001, presenting hydraulic fracturing as the key to both.

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a process for extracting oil and natural gas from beneath shale by injecting fracking fluid, (water mixed with small amounts of chemicals), at very high pressures into the ground, forcing out fuel. The technology has been around for a century and has been used in Exxon Mobil oil wells for 60 years. Today, 90% of the nation’s oil and natural gas wells already employ this technology.

Why then, is Tillerson campaigning for an already thriving technology?

Tillerson is trying to paint an image of fracking as a technology that helps us achieve energy independence while creating jobs, ensuring fossil fuels keep the lead role in America’s evolving energy paradigm.

This image is more important today than it ever has been in it’s 100 year history.

For the past year, fracking has been under attack.

NPR reported last May that Texas, Ohio and Colorado residents claim that fracking has polluted their wells. These accusations have yet to be confirmed. It is difficult to analyze any link between contamination of well water and fracking fluid because the chemical compounds utilized are carefully guarded industry secrets.

In 2005, fracking was granted an exemption from the Safe Drinking Water Act taking regulation out of the hands of the Environmental Protection Agency. Vice Chair of the Committee on Energy and Commerce, and Colorado Representative Diana DeGette has introduced a bill in the House that would repeal this exemption. Senator Bob Casey of Pennsylvania has introduced a comparable bill in the Senate.

While the passage of DeGette and Casey’s bills would be a victory for the Obama administration’s expressed desire to reverse the policies of the Bush-era EPA, it may not be crucial to the fracking fluid disclosure cause. In the absence of federal regulation, individual states have begun to request disclosure of fracking fluid contents.

Gas executives from Chesapeake Energy and Range Resources have joined the call for disclosure. This stance is an interesting power play. In addition to continuing the heavy role of fossil fuels in America’s future energy paradigm, this also places reform out of the hands and budgets of energy suppliers.

Fracking is performed by independent contractors, including ther firm Americans love to hate, Halliburton. It is these contractors that hold the recipes to fracking fluid. Aubrey McClendon of Chesapeake Energy can publicly declare, “we need to disclose the chemicals that we are using and search for alternatives,” because it is not his company that will bear the cost of such endeavors.

Environmentalists, worry that any disclosure initiated by the industry might be insufficient and hold out hope that Congress will move to bring the process back under federal regulation.


  1. This posture by Chesapeake and Range Resources is the exact same tactic that the oil and gas industry used to keep the EPA from outlawing the use of diesel fuel in the fracturing process some years ago. At that time, the EPA was ready to institute a ban, but the companies agreed to stop using the diesel fuel in a “gentleman’s agreement” which is not binding and certainly not enforceable. So the oil and gas industry is attempting to pull the same type of bait and switch on the American Public again. Promises and handshakes are NOT binding, and unenforceable. The FRAC Act should be enacted into law, and companies should be required to disclose all fracturing additives AND the oil and gas industry should NOT be exempted from the Safe Water Drinking Act.

  2. I think this is misplaced eregny. Most probably, Gov. Cuomo has made his decision, and whatever that decision is, this last minute, unorganized and probably negligible effort is not going to change it. More importantly, whatever his announcement is, we should all have a plan of action. Pick your actions carefully and make them worthwhile, and worth remembering.

  3. As far as I can tell (with a little help from Barbara) the Sierra Club name can be brkeon down into 4 parts.Sierra Club US – The main organization in the US. They have done and are doing some good honest environmentally work. Nothing is perfect.Sierra Club US local chapters – They receive some direction from the US main organization but also operate independentlySierra Club US – The main organization in the US which occasionally operates in CanadaSierra Club Canada – Stole the name from the US organization and has nothing to do with the US organization.If it should happen some day that Ontario tries to put wind turbines in the Great Lakes you may find the Sierra Club US fighting against that.

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