By CASEY JUNKINS
WHEELING, W.Va. - The nation's largest oil and natural gas industry association released a report Thursday which members believe reinforces the Environmental Protection Agency's finding that fracking presents no "widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources."
However, officials with the Ohio Environmental Council remain more concerned about the steps subsequent to the fracking process, specifically as it relates to releasing methane and other pollutants into the air. They are even more anxious in light of President-elect Donald Trump's statements regarding the environment.
Last year, the EPA announced new mandates for oil and natural gas drillers to eventually cut methane pollution by 45 percent by the year 2025. Agency officials believe this compound can be 25 times more harmful to the atmosphere than carbon dioxide when directly vented, but Ohio Environmental Council leaders fear the factor is actually closer to 80.
"If Donald Trump cares about Ohioans who live in rural areas, many of whom voted for him, he should keep these standards in place," Melanie Houston, director of oil and gas for the council, said.
Houston said her organization believes about 4.6 million people in Ohio and Pennsylvania live within a half-mile of some type of oil and natural gas equipment. This could include a well site, a compressor station, a processing plant, a fractionator, a de-ethanizer, a cracker plant, among other things.
"We need healthy air for our children. We have to address this problem," Houston said.
"The industry is going to continue to leak methane and other pollutants out into the air. We need these standards. ... I feel hopeful that the standards will remain in place," Houston said.
"We don't have the end goal of shutting down industry," she continued.
"We believe we can have a vibrant economy and a healthy environment."
Regarding the fracking impact on water supplies, Houston said the main concern is that government regulators and emergency responders are not sure what type of chemicals may be on a particular fracking site. In the event of an accident, this can cause major problems for both humans and wildlife, she said.
"We would like to see the companies have to reveal the chemicals they are using for fracking," she said, again noting the specific formulas are not public knowledge.
Officials estimate it takes anywhere from 1 million to 10 million gallons of water to frack a single well, along with about 4 million pounds of sand, in addition to a chemical cocktail. Frackers inject these materials deep into the earth at a force as high as 10,000 pounds per square inch to shatter the rock in order to release the fuel.
Despite ongoing skepticism from environmental advocacy groups, officials with the Washington, D.C.-based American Petroleum Institute cite a report they released Thursday to bolster their position that fracking is safe. Last year, EPA released a draft of the agency's fracking study, but the complete and final report is expected by the end of 2016.
"The EPA's study on hydraulic fracturing and groundwater protection will be viewed globally and must reflect existing scientific evidence," API Director of Upstream and Industry Operations Erik Milito said. "As the study is finalized and prepared for release by the end of the year, it is critical for any review to focus on the facts and available science.
"While the U.S. has risen to be the world's leading producer of oil and natural gas, industry has also reduced carbon emissions from power generation to their lowest level in more than 20 years making it clear that environmental progress and energy production are not mutually exclusive," Milito continued, emphasizing that burning natural gas instead of coal leads to lower levels of carbon dioxide pollution.
Still, Houston and council officials are not convinced that burning more natural gas will help the environment, as she cited the asthma and breathing problems some who live close to natural gas operations experience.
"We just need to keep people safe. We need to have consideration of those who live in rural areas where they can be exposed to breathing this material," Houston added.