Research & Commentary: Fracking Not Adversely Affecting Air Quality in Colorado

Published May 30, 2018

An air quality assessment released in March 2018 by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) finds a new oil and natural gas development near Battlement Mesa in Garfield County is a “low risk” for “long-term harmful health effects due to [volatile organic compound] exposure.”

Air Resource Specialists collected air samples between October and December 2017 on behalf of Garfield County Public Health to measure the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) both upwind and downwind of the Battlement Mesa wellpad. The results of these samples determined “all air concentrations of VOCs were below long-term non-cancer health guideline values.” Benzene and 1,3-Butadiene concentrations were “approximately 6-9 times below standard long-term non-cancer health guideline values,” while “all other VOCs were at least 100 times below their respective non-cancer long-term health guideline value.”

This latest study reinforces a February 2017 CDPHE assessment based on more than 10,000 air samples in areas of Colorado where “substantial” oil and gas operations are taking place, which concluded “all measured air concentrations…were below short- and long-term ‘safe’ levels of exposure for non-cancer health effects, even for sensitive populations…. Overall, available air monitoring data suggest low risk of harmful health effects from combined exposure to all substances.”

The hydraulic fracturing (also known as “fracking”) process has transformed the energy outlook of both Colorado and the United States as a whole over the past decade, and the rise of fracked shale gas has been primarily responsible for the U.S. now enjoying its lowest level of carbon-dioxide emissions since 1989. Since 1990, natural gas production in the United States has increased by 50 percent and oil production has increased by 21 percent, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). EIA also notes fracking now accounts for 51 percent of all U.S. crude oil production.

While these CDPHE air quality assessments show the safety of the fracking process, others show its substantial economic benefits.  A December 2016 study conducted  by researchers at the University of Chicago, Princeton University, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology determined hydraulic fracturing activity brings $1,300 to $1,900 in annual benefits to local households, including “a 7 percent increase in average income, driven by rises in wages and royalty payments, a 10 percent increase in employment, and a 6 percent increase in housing prices.” 

This is not the first time an analysis has concluded that the fracking revolution has spawned numerous economic benefits. A study published in the American Economic Review in April 2017 found “each million dollars of new [oil and gas] production produces $80,000 in wage income and $132,000 in royalty and business income within a county where drilling is taking place. Within 100 miles, one million dollars of new production generates $257,000 in wages and $286,000 in royalty and business income.”

A July 2017 report prepared by professional-services firm PricewaterhouseCoopers for the American Petroleum Institute concluded the oil and natural gas industries were responsible for 10.3 million jobs across the country in 2015, amounting to 5.6 percent of total U.S. employment for that year.

“At the national level,” the report notes, “each direct job in the oil and natural gas industry supported an additional 2.7 jobs elsewhere in the U.S. economy in 2015. Counting direct, indirect, and induced impacts, the industry’s total impact on labor income (including proprietors’ income) was $714 billion, or 6.7 percent of national labor income in 2015. The industry’s total impact on U.S. GDP was $1.3 trillion, accounting for 7.6 percent of the national total in 2015.”

The ample oil and natural gas hydraulic enables us to unearth and use are cost-effective and abundant. Fracking technology can virtually ensure the United States is the world’s largest energy producer well beyond the 21st century. Policymakers should not put unnecessary and harmful regulatory burdens on industries such as the natural gas and oil industries, which are safe, responsible, and have had an enormous positive impact on the economy at the macro and micro levels. Rather, lawmakers at the state and federal levels ought to guarantee that the energy sector remains a vibrant and robust market by putting forth policies that breed innovation and stimulate energy production.

The following documents provide more information about hydraulic fracturing.

The Local Economic and Welfare Consequences of Hydraulic Fracturing
This comprehensive study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research says fracking brings, on average, $1,300 to $1,900 in annual benefits to local households, including a 7 percent increase in average income, a 10 percent increase in employment, and a 6 percent increase in housing prices.

Local Fiscal Effects of a Drilling Downturn: Local Government Impacts of Decreased Oil and Gas Activity in Five U.S. Shale Regions
This study from Resources for the Future finds 82 percent of communities in the five largest shale regions in the United States experienced a net fiscal benefit from hydraulic fracturing despite there having been a large drop in oil and natural gas commodity prices starting in 2014.

Impacts of the Natural Gas and Oil Industry on the U.S. Economy in 2015
This study, conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers and commissioned by the American Petroleum Institute, shows that the natural gas and oil industry supported 10.3 million U.S. jobs in 2015. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average wage paid by the natural gas and oil industry, excluding retail station jobs, was $101,181 in 2016, which is nearly 90 percent more than the national average. The study also shows the natural gas and oil industry has had widespread impacts in each of the 50 states.

Fracking Facts: The Science, Economics, and Legal Realities
Hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as fracking, has been employed in the United States since the 1940s. Although innovation has improved the precision of the process, the essentials are the same. Utilizing horizontal drilling, a mixture of mostly water, sand, and trace amounts of chemicals, are used to create fissures in underground shale deposits to allow oil and natural gas trapped in hard rock to move toward the surface to be collected. Activists have blamed fracking and the processes associated with it for emissions of pollutants, earthquakes, and even groundwater contamination, though independent evidence consistently shows these allegations to be false. Leigh Thompson of the Texas Public Policy Foundation argues the evidence supporting fracking bans looks slim when attention is drawn to the facts.

What If … Hydraulic Fracturing Was Banned?
This study is the fourth in a series of studies produced by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for 21st Century Energy. It examines what a nationwide ban on hydraulic fracturing would entail. The report’s authors found by 2022, a ban would cause 14.8 million jobs to “evaporate,” almost double gasoline and electricity prices, and increase natural gas prices by 400 percent. Moreover, cost of living expenses would increase by nearly $4,000 per family, household incomes would be reduced by $873 billion, and GDP would be reduced by $1.6 trillion.

What If … America’s Energy Renaissance Never Happened?
This report by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for 21st Century Energy examines the impact the development of shale oil and gas has had on the United States. The report’s authors found that without the fracking-related “energy renaissance,” 4.3 million jobs in the United States may not have ever been created and $548 billion in annual GDP would have been lost since 2009. The report also found electricity prices would be 31 percent higher and gasoline prices 43 percent higher.

Bill McKibben’s Terrifying Disregard for Fracking Facts
This Heartland Institute Policy Study, written by Research Fellow Isaac Orr, examines how methane emissions are measured, reports the effect those emissions may have on global warming, and discusses several falsehoods journalist Bill McKibben repeats from the discredited movie Gasland. It also evaluates the available fracking alternatives and discusses the relatively small impact new methane-emissions rules enacted by the Environmental Protection Agency will likely have on Earth’s climate.

Compendium of Studies Demonstrating the Safety and Health Benefits of Fracking
This compendium from Energy in Depth features data from 23 peer-reviewed studies, 17 government health and regulatory agencies, and reports from 10 research institutions that demonstrate fracking is linked to numerous health benefits.


Nothing in this Research & Commentary is intended to influence the passage of legislation, and it does not necessarily represent the views of The Heartland Institute. For further information on this subject, visit Environment & Climate News, The Heartland Institute’s website, and PolicyBot, Heartland’s free online research database.

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