Fracking on Federal Lands Should be Encouraged, Not Banned

Published August 17, 2015

In a recent article promoting his Protect Our Public Lands Act, Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) argues the government should ban hydraulic fracturing on public lands. Pocan cites concerns about potential environmental and economic impacts of horizontal hydraulic fracturing, also known as “fracking,” and raises concerns about fracking in national parks. The article has critical shortcomings regarding the environmental and economic impacts of fracking, and it misrepresents oil and gas activity in national parks. 

No serious discussion of the environmental impacts of fracking can omit the findings of the landmark study conducted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), widely considered to be the most complete scientific review of the potential impacts of fracking on water resources to date, yet that is exactly what Pocan has done.  

The EPA report cites more than 950 scientific sources and finds no evidence hydraulic fracturing has led to widespread or systemic impacts on drinking water resources. Although surface spills or leaky well casings have occurred, those impacts are isolated and rare compared to the number of wells drilled. The absence of this information from Pocan’s article is at best a crippling oversight that seriously undermines its credibility.  

Additionally, nearly all Americans – not just energy companies and their immediate suppliers – are reaping the benefits of increasing energy production. The Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimates low gasoline prices will save the average household $675 this year. A study conducted by the Brookings Institution estimates low natural gas prices are saving $181 to $431 dollars per person. 

In Wisconsin, families will save about $259 per person thanks to low natural gas prices. Although these savings may not be much to a congressman, they are an enormous benefit for a single mom with two children living in the Allied Drive neighborhood in Madison, Wisconsin, who will save up to $1,452 because of low energy prices. Fracking made these savings possible. 

Pocan’s article is also highly misleading regarding hydraulic fracturing in national parks. In rare circumstances, there are existing subsurface mineral rights that do not belong to the federal government because private individuals or companies owned these mineral rights before the parks were created and have the legal right to access them, meaning they are “grandfathered in.” This is the exception, not the rule, however, and any oil and gas development in the parks must meet strict federal environmental standards and National Park Service regulations to protect air, water, and wildlife.  

There are 655 million acres of federal land in the United States, meaning the federal government owns 29 percent of all land in the country. Of this land, 262 million acres – almost equal to all the land in Texas and California combined – is under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). BLM lands aresupposed to be used for economic activities such as grazing cattle, forestry, mining, and oil and natural gas development, in addition to recreational opportunities.  

We all want to preserve national parks and scenic treasures for future generations. I used to work in Yellowstone National Park, and I understand the importance of conservation. However, banning fracking on all federal land is irresponsible and bad policy. Oil and natural gas development has occurred safely on federal land for decades, while bureaucratic red tape has caused production of these resources to fall sharply since 2010, declining 10 percent and 31 percent, respectively. 

Instead of banning fracking on public lands, we should be encouraging it.

[Originally published at The Hill]