An Open Letter to the Oil and Gas Industry: The Ethical Case for Fracking

Published December 12, 2011

Those of you in the oil and gas industry are no doubt familiar with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s claim that fracking is a potential source of groundwater contamination, and that a moratorium on the use of fracking should be enacted until EPA can study it to death. (Note: For lay people, hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” is a technique used to increase oil and gas yields in petroleum-bearing formations. It involves injecting fluids at high pressure into the formation to increase its transmission properties.)

This step—one EPA has been hinting about for months—will be another nail in the energy industry’s coffin if its representatives do not step up and oppose this utterly unwarranted accusation. Will you rise to the challenge?

EPA and its allies in the environmental movement and media are claiming there is now a reason to believe fracking has contaminated the groundwater in certain wells in Wyoming, even though the use of fracking was generally considered safe and noncontroversial for the past 50 years. This is an out-and-out fabrication, which in time will be exposed. But if a moratorium is imposed before the truth comes out, energy production in the United States will suffer another serious setback. Lifting the moratorium may take years and millions of dollars in campaign contributions.

If the energy industry doesn’t step up—in a specific way, this time—EPA will probably get away with this. The scientific data supporting the safety of fracking are overwhelming, but science alone is not enough to stop the “what if … what if … what ifs” of the environmental lobby. There are innumerable ways to twist and distort scientific and economic data to advance the environmental activists’ agenda, stop fracking, and continue their attempts, via EPA, to cripple energy production in the United States.

The specific argument needed is an unequivocal ethical stand defending the use of fracking technology, thereby taking the high ground away from the environmental lobby. Only philosophical or ethical arguments can cut off this sort of nonsense at its root.

The ethical arguments are based on truth-telling and fairness. A moratorium on fracking is justified only as a way to slow or stop the development of new energy resources in America. It has nothing to do with protecting human health. Those reporting the story and those advocating a ban on fracking must be confronted with that truth again and again. The other side is cynical and willing to say anything to advance its anti-energy campaign.

Because it is impossible to “prove a negative,” the energy industry cannot prove beyond any doubt that fracking is “safe,” any more than car, cell phone, or soap manufacturers can prove their products are “perfectly safe.” It is profoundly unfair to hold producers to impossible standards. It is profoundly unethical to pretend to be protecting human health when the true objectives of those mounting the anti-fracking campaign are entirely different.

The philosophical arguments for fracking are based on the role of energy and freedom in creating and preserving a prosperous society. The energy industry must not apologize for the products and services it produces, but instead must educate the public that energy is the Master Resource (as Julian Simon wrote); it makes possible virtually all other goods and services that we need to prosper. Energy is at the root of all production, and inexpensive energy is the way out of poverty for millions of people.

The attack on fracking is a naked attack on energy, and an attack on energy is an attack on America’s prosperity and the free-enterprise system that helped bring it about. The other side knows this; it is their rationale and motivation. Shutting down fracking is a means to this end. Their allies in the media know this and hide the true agenda from their readers. It is up to industry to make the argument itself, repeatedly and in every possible venue. Because if the attack on fracking is not about public health, as the other side says, what is it about? It is, in fact, an ideologically driven campaign against our lifestyles, our values, and our future.

This administration is out of control; there is no need to belabor that point. We can’t be everywhere at once trying to put our fingers in the dike to keep the dam from bursting. However, each of us can put our fingers in the dike in areas we specialize in, and the energy industry MUST now do this in its area of expertise.

Regards and good luck,

Dr. Jay Lehr
Mike Gemmell
Joseph Bast

Jay Lehr is science director of The Heartland Institute, Mike Gemmell is a hydrogeologist specializing in groundwater resource and contamination investigations, and Joseph Bast is president of The Heartland Institute.