Anti-fracking fringe

The Hill contributor Erik Molvar contends that the vote to ban drilling in Denton, Texas, is indicative of a broader trend of communities rejecting fracking (“Fracking loses an election deep in the heart of Texas,” Nov. 20). But a talking point is only as good as the facts that support it, and in this case, the facts tell a different story.

Most of the wells in Denton are in the southwestern portion of the city. Looking at the precinct results for the election, that part of the city actually rejected the ban by nearly a 2-to-1 margin. While the actual homeowners living closest to the wells were voting in favor of responsible drilling, the ban enjoyed its strongest support from the precincts that include Denton’s two college campuses. Notably, there are few if any wells in those precincts.

Additionally, the precincts with the widest margin of support for the ban also heavily supported Democrat Wendy Davis over Republican Greg Abbott in the state’s gubernatorial race. Abbott won Denton County by 30 points, and won statewide with about 60 percent of the vote. 

Anti-fracking groups have focused on college towns and, in many cases, areas with no existing development to try to enact symbolic bans, using the measures as "evidence" that opposition to hydraulic fracturing is growing. They have succeeded in spinning press coverage out of these bans, and even convinced the media to suggest that support for oil and gas development is eroding in communities all across the country.

For example, they have touted fracking bans in Mendocino County, Calif.; Mora County, N.M.; the state of Vermont; and Athens, Ohio. What ties all of these together? They all generated headlines about fracking being banned, even though there is no significant oil and gas development occurring in any of those areas. In only rare occasions do the stories about these bans include that crucial fact. 

Just this month, the U.S. Energy Information Administration reported that American oil production is at its highest level since 1986, and natural gas production in the United States is higher than it has ever been. America now produces more oil and natural gas than any other country in the world, thanks to the abundant resources unlocked by fracking and horizontal drilling.

If the “ban fracking” movement were truly reflective of shifting nationwide opinions about domestic energy development, and not just a fringe campaign touting symbolic victories to inflate its relevance, we would have become more dependent on imported energy over the last few years, not less. Thankfully, that’s not the case.

From Steve Everley, Energy In Depth, Washington, D.C.; Energy In Depth is a research and education program of the Independent Petroleum Association of America.


Ensuring the smallest footprint in Alaska’s National Petroleum Reserve

On Nov. 13, The Hill posted a piece on its Congress Blog by noted photographer and restoration ecologist Dave Shreffler, titled “Protecting wildness in Alaska’s Western Arctic Reserve.” Alaska Wilderness League has had the pleasure of working with Dave on many occasions, something for which we count ourselves extremely blessed. His many trips up to the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska in the northwest portion of the state have provided us and so many others with a breathtaking glimpse into one of our country’s most wild and remote places — a place truly “untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.”

Beyond being an incredible photographer, Dave Shreffler is 100 percent right when he writes that, “as the federal government moves closer to opening the intact landscapes of northwest Alaska to drilling, it is critical that priority number one be minimizing the impacts of development in one of America’s last truly wild places.” The proposed Greater Mooses Tooth 1 (GMT1) project will be the bellwether for all future development in the reserve, which is why it’s critical that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) gets this right the first time. 

The proposed project is located in the northeast corner of the reserve near the Colville River Delta, the largest and most productive river delta in northern Alaska. GMT1 is also in close proximity to the Teshekpuk Lake Special Area, which includes one of the most productive wetland complexes in the Arctic and is a vital nesting habitat for hundreds of thousands of migratory birds. These are just two of five designated “Special Areas” within the reserve, lands that have been set aside for conservation under Interior’s Integrated Activity Plan. These lands, set aside because their wilderness characteristics, wildlife and subsistence values, make them simply too precious to drill. The BLM must minimize the impacts to these places and preserve the values that make them so unique.

Alaska’s western Arctic is a world-class landscape teeming with wildlife, and the current plan for GMT1 leaves open the possibility that this wild place could one day be home to a system of roads connecting drill sites across the region. The BLM must ensure the smallest possible environmental footprint for GMT1 and any future oil and gas infrastructure in the reserve.

From Cindy Shogan, executive director, Alaska Wilderness League, Washington, D.C.