John Locke report: Fracking risks mostly fear-mongering

On the eve of statewide public hearings on fracking, the conservative John Locke Foundation in Raleigh has fired off a report to ease public concerns about the alleged health and safety risks of shale gas exploration.

The report, “Facts on Fracking,” dismisses charges commonly lodged against fracking as mere hocus-pocus, and accuses critics of fear-mongering and misinformation.

“The process of hydraulic fracturing has been used in over a million wells without a single confirmed incident of drinking water contamination,” the report states. “Numerous studies have found no link between hydraulic fracturing and groundwater contamination.”

The hearings get underway in Raleigh on Wednesday to accept public comments on 100-plus rules developed over the past two years by the N.C. Mining and Energy Commission. The rules will be forwarded to the state legislature in January, and the state’s fracking moratorium is expected to be lifted several months later to clear the way to exploration and drilling.

A number of North Carolina residents are worried by the prospect of fracking and say the practice will inject harmful chemicals into the state’s aquifers. While groundwater contamination claims remain disputed, the most common sources of contamination have come from surface spills, well blowouts and other accidents.

The foundation’s report seeks “to separate the facts from the noise” and closely tracks energy industry positions about fracking as environmentally safe and economically beneficial to local communities.

But it goes farther and questions the moral integrity of some fracking critics. It blames public concerns about shale gas drilling on “a public campaign based on instilling fear through imbalanced reporting, sensationalized half-truths, and even outright lies.”

Specifically, it cites a 2012 Texas District Court ruling that found a landowner had conspired to spread fear and alarm by connecting a garden hose to gas vent, not a water line, to make it appear that the water was contaminated with methane and flammable.

The report also cites a Texas State Health Department study finding that residents of a town called Dish were not exposed to levels of pollution and contaminants at levels higher than other parts of the country. The report was issued after the town’s mayor publicly blamed fracking on his children’s nosebleeds and asthma.

A common industry response to fears of fracking chemicals is that that many of the substances are found in common household cleansers, creams and lotions.

The foundation not only restates that defense, but also includes an appendix with a 3 1/2-page list of innocuous consumer products and the fracking chemicals they contain.

Examples include: Earthy Friendly Window Kleener, Grecian Formula 16, Downy Fabric Softener, Pampers Sensitive Wipes, Burt’s bees Babe Bee Diaper Ointment, Purell Instant Hand Sanitizer, Colgate Toothpaste, Palmolive Dishwashing Detergent, Softsoap Baby Wash, Efferdent Denture Cleaner, among others.

“Researchers have demonstrated how easy it is to generate significant public support for an absurd ban of an unfamiliar-sounding chemical,” the report said.