December 14, 2016

Obama EPA Digs for Strife in Fracking Farewell

An agency that couldn’t find evidence of contamination suddenly discovers problems.

What do the EPA and OPEC have in common? Not much, but they do share at least one goal: Doing whatever it takes to quash America’s shale bonanza. In May this year, the U.S. Energy Information Administration reported that “[t]he United States remained the world’s top producer of petroleum and natural gas hydrocarbons in 2015,” a trend that began in 2012 thanks in large measure to hydraulic fracturing. This has put the historically market-dominating OPEC in a conundrum.

That’s not to say the fracking industry isn’t facing its own trials. Shale manufactures have had to either reduce oil extraction or shut down altogether due to the years-long spiral in global oil prices. And OPEC has a strategy for keeping it that way. According to Emmanuel Kachikwu, the oil minister for Nigeria, “Sixty [dollars per barrel] I think would be ideal. Once you begin to trend past the mid-$60s, you’re going to have a surfeit of shale producers jump back into the market. Technology is improving with shale every day, and so the cost of production is continuing to drop.”

Fair enough. That’s just business, though the strategy isn’t necessarily a long-term lock because of the evolution of shale machinery. But what isn’t fair is the EPA’s gerrymandering on the issue.

A June 2015 EPA draft report shot down some of the environmental concerns over fracking when it declared, “We did not find evidence that [various] mechanisms have led to widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources in the United States.” The final iteration was finally unveiled Tuesday. This time, however, the language is noticeably less amiable.

“EPA identified cases of impacts on drinking water at each stage in the hydraulic fracturing water cycle,” the report now claims. “Impacts cited in the report generally occurred near hydraulically fractured oil and gas production wells and ranged in severity, from temporary changes in water quality, to contamination that made private drinking water wells unusable.”

In fairness, the report does say, “Because of these data gaps and uncertainties, as well as others described in the assessment, it was not possible to fully characterize the severity of impacts, nor was it possible to calculate or estimate the national frequency of impacts on drinking water resources from activities in the hydraulic fracturing water cycle.” Regardless, The New York Times jumped on the news quickly, warning that Trump “must contend with scientific findings that urge caution in an energy sector that Mr. Trump wants to untether.” You mean the scientific findings that showed a different outcome just last year? How convenient.

The EPA is trying to inflict as much damage as possible to the conservative agenda before Obama vacates the White House. The EPA’s change of mind is very similar to the stunt the Army Corps of Engineers pulled when it retracted its Dakota Access Pipeline approval. Fortunately, it’s nothing more than rhetoric. And working class America longs for Jan. 20 — when the government will stop playing games and get the economy moving.

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