May 27, 2014

Watch for hyperbole in Denton fracking ban

Risks are not as large as claimed, but rewards are great.

Denton is at the epicenter of an economic revolution. With its motto “north of ordinary,” the city rests above the Barnett shale, a unique energy gold mine and one of the largest oil and natural gas deposits in the country.

The city government recently voted to impose a temporary moratorium on new fracking wells until September. It appears the city is working to institute a permanent ban on all fracking operations.

It’s understandable for residents to be concerned about industrial operations within their city. However, concerns about fracking are largely misplaced.

Recent studies indicate that Denton families, as well as the city and state governments, all stand to receive big gains from responsible energy development without any significant increase in health risks.

By now, most people have heard that fracking is a process for extracting natural gas and oil from deep underground. It involves the hydraulic fracturing of formations deep in the earth’s rock layers by injecting a mixture of water, sand and chemicals under great pressures to release fossil fuels like natural gas and oil that were unobtainable with traditional extraction technologies.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates that private sector employment grew by just 1 percent nationally between 2007 and 2012. Yet employment in the oil and gas industry over that same period grew by 40 percent, largely due to fracking.

America’s energy renaissance has put the country on a path to energy security that was unthinkable only a few years ago.

Understandably, people living in neighborhoods surrounding the fracking wells in Denton are concerned about protecting their ground water sources from potential contamination from the chemicals used in, or created by, the fracking process.

Indeed, environmentalists offer titillating images in films like Gasland of water spigots spewing actual flaming water. Food & Water Watch, an anti-fracking environmental group, claims that “fracking threatens the air we breathe, the water we drink, the communities we love and the climate on which we all depend.”

With rhetoric like that, it’s no wonder people are worried. However, there have yet been no verified connections between drinking water or air quality contamination and any working fracking wells.

An extensive study of the Barnett shale by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality found “no levels of concern for any chemicals.”

Ultimately, fracking offers Denton residents more jobs, prosperity and tax revenues. These benefits could be had with little actual risk to quality of life. When it comes to fracking, Denton would do well to listen to reason over rhetoric.

Michael D. Stroup is a professor of economics in the Nelson Rusche College of Business at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches. mstroup@sfasu.edu

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