Fracking is Back in the Hot Seat

May 13, 2011
Article first published as The Fracking Debate Heats Up Between Natural Gas Drillers And Texas Electricty Consumers on Technorati.

From Austin, Texas to Washington, DC the fight for the future of fracking is heating up. At stake is the future of electricity rates in Texas, the economic future of several large companies and, if the critics of fracking are right, possibly the safety of drinking water coming out of Texas faucets.

On one side there is U.S. Representative Ralph Hall. Hall, who chairs the House Science and Technology committee, grabbed headlines recently by referring to a $12 million Environmental Protection Agency study of methane use by the natural gas drilling industry as a “waste of taxpayer money”. Hall challenged the objectiveness of the EPA and included criticism of President Obama in his pointed remarks referring to a draft study plan as “yet another example of this administration’s desire to stop domestic energy development through regulation”. These remarks are the latest in the ongoing debate on the growing practice of hydraulic fracturing, a process that involves injecting water, chemicals, and sand into the ground to break up rock and release trapped natural gas.

Texas electricity consumers find themselves in the awkward position in the middle. On the one hand fracking is largely credited with driving down the price of natural gas in recent years. For Texans, that translates directly into lower electricity bills, since half of the electricity in Texas is produced from natural gas. Electricity rates in Houston, for example, are half what they were three years ago. Also, many areas of Texas and other parts of the country have experienced an economic boom as drilling companies ramp up production in their areas. A similar effect can be seen in the oil drilling industry which has begun to employ similar techniques.

Yet, if some environmentalists are correct many of these same people could be paying a much higher cost in terms of environmental impact. A recent study released by Duke University indicates increased levels of methane in Pennsylvania water wells near natural gas wells; though it draws no conclusive link between contamination in the wells and the chemicals used in the fracking process.

The study is indicative of the type of mixed signals on the issue that have lead to strong opinions on both sides but no consensus on the issue. The Texas Railroad Commission insists that fracking is safe while the Arkansas Oil and Gas Commission recently put a halt to two wells designed to reinject fracking wastewater into the ground because of concerns over a link with earthquakes in the area.Stay tuned because cheap electricity may be slipping away for Texas consumers.