Fracking Is Not Contaminating Water In North Dakota

Zach Lugibihl, from left, and brothers K.C. and Dusty Sutton, all of Nine Energy Service, prepare to install a blow out preventer July 7, 2014, on a new well south of Stanley, N.D., that has been fracked and needs to be cleaned out before it produces oil. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

At times the opponents of fracking seem so desperate to manufacture ugly headlines about it that they draw ludicrous conclusions from correlations.

For instance, a year ago the National Bureau of Economic Research blamed fracking for a tiny increase in North Dakota’s rate of high school drop outs. But that’s dumb. To the extent that the dropout rate in North Dakota increased alongside the fracking-driven oil boom, it was because of the opportunities for drop outs to make a lot of money in a booming economy.

…blaming surface bring spills on fracking is like blaming automobiles when someone spills some gasoline on the ground at a fuel station.

Any dramatic increase in economic opportunities is likely to increase dropout rates, whether it’s a boom in manufacturing jobs or construction jobs or oil industry jobs. Blaming fracking as the energy development technique which led to an economic boom that, in turn, inspired some kids to drop out of high school is more than a stretch. It’s silly, and more than likely motivated by animus toward fossil fuel energy development.

Something similar is going on with a Duke University study (funded in part by the Natural Resources Defense Council, naturally) which is making headlines today.

“A published and peer-reviewed Duke University study finds that thousands of saltwater and frack flowback water spills throughout the oil patch have left a legacy of toxic contamination, including radioactive soils and polluted streams unsafe for human consumption and aquatic health,” reports Lauren Donovan for the Bismarck Tribune.

You can read the press release for the study on the website for Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment. It almost seems like the folks at Duke have it out for North Dakota. Last year they produced research which described North Dakota’s oil boom as a “loser” for the state, something local officials (including those who were cited by the Duke researchers) disputed.

Anyway, from Duke’s release about this most recent research:

“Until now, research in many regions of the nation has shown that contamination from fracking has been fairly sporadic and inconsistent,” said Avner Vengosh, professor of geochemistry and water quality at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment. “In North Dakota, however, we find it is widespread and persistent, with clear evidence of direct water contamination from fracking.”

Proving that fracking leads directly to water contamination is something of a holy grail for the environmental left. They’ve been making the claim for year, but they’ve been largely unable to substantiate now.

And even this study doesn’t prove a link between fracking and water contamination, because the spills these researchers are citing are surface spills. Specifically spills of brine water.

Yes, brine is a part of the fracking process, but blaming surface bring spills on fracking is like blaming automobiles when someone spills some gasoline on the ground at a fuel station.

Fracking happens thousands and thousands of feet below the surface of the earth. The spills the Duke folks are talking about happen up on the surface. I’m not excusing the surface spills, but blaming them on fracking is specious and calculated more to create convenient headlines for anti-fracking activists than to inform the public.

If we want to have a debate about surface spills, then fine. Let’s have it. But let’s not muddy the waters by tying what happens on the surface with fracking.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and the host of the Rob (Re)Port on Fargo-based WDAY AM970 from noon-2pm weekdays.

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