Lawmakers in Nevada have introduced legislation that would ban hydraulic fracturing, also known as “fracking,” a process that has led to a dramatic increase in oil and natural gas production in the United States. These legislators claim fracking has and will continue to have negative effects on the environment and public health.
Several scientific studies, however, indicate that fracking-related safety concerns are manageable and public health is not at risk.
Approximately 90 percent of the energy consumed in Nevada comes from outside the state and a vast majority of it is from oil or natural gas sources, which are used for transportation and electricity generation. Natural gas accounted for 73 percent of the electricity generated in Nevada during 2015. Nevadans have a choice: responsibly develop these natural resources, thereby putting people to work in high-paying, blue-collar jobs, or purchase them from other states.
Fears that fracking will negatively impact the environment are not supported by the best-available scientific data. In fact, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency conducted a $29-million, six-year study of the effects of fracking on groundwater sources and failed to produce any evidence of a widespread or systemic impact caused by the 110,000 oil and natural gas wells that have been drilled since 2011.
The EPA reported that surface spills and leaky well casings can impact water sources, but instances of these problems are rare compared to the number of wells drilled.
Under current rules and regulations, spills escaping containment must be reported and remediated. According to the available data, these spills are very rare.
Despite these facts, Assemblyman Justin Watkins, D-Las Vegas, who has sponsored the fracking ban, continues to speak as though serious dangers would exist if fracking were to be allowed.
Many people fear fracking in Nevada could lead to earthquakes, however this is also unlikely to occur. Earthquakes did occur in Oklahoma after oil and gas producers injected naturally occurring wastewater into disposal wells regulated by the EPA in such large volumes that it activated existing faults. But these quakes are closely tied to Oklahoma’s specific geological environment. As long as Nevada regulators craft sensible regulations governing disposal, these quakes will not happen in Nevada.
Claims that fracking will cause people to get sick are largely based on studies that have been discredited by state medical professionals. For example, Dr. Lisa McKenzie of the Colorado School of Public Health has conducted multiple studies alleging a link between fracking and birth defects and childhood leukemia, but these studies are so fraught with errors, the top medical officials in Colorado issued a formal statement calling these studies misleading and unreliable.
In fact, scientists and medical professionals at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment collected more than 10,000 air-quality samples near oil and natural gas operations and found no instances where potentially hazardous materials were present in unsafe concentrations. The department also reviewed the available medical literature and determined, “Based on currently available air monitoring data, the risk of harmful health effects is low for residents living oil and gas operations.” Nevada residents should not fear for their health because of fracking.
As Nevada’s moniker as the Silver State indicates, natural-resource development is nothing new for the region. Nevada residents understand oil and natural gas — like the gold- and silver-mining industries — must be regulated responsibly and conducted by businesses that take safety seriously. When done in this manner, these industries can be a vital part of the economic profile of northern Nevada.
Clearly, claims by Assemblyman Watkins, including, “No amount of regulation can eliminate the harmful effects on human health of fracturing,” are not based on sound scientific evidence. As such, Nevada lawmakers should reject the fracking ban.
[Originally Published at the Las Vegas Review Journal]