Panelists discuss regulations, studies on fracking

Forrest Milburn

Four panelists discussed the pros and cons of hydraulic fracking during a conversation Saturday at the fifth-annual Texas Tribune Festival.

Hydraulic fracking, an extraction technique that uses water and chemicals to retrieve natural gas from underground deposits, has led the state legislature and local governmental bodies into a legal battle over what they can regulate. In November 2014, about 59 percent of Denton residents approved a ban on hydraulic fracking in the area, citing environmental concerns.

“As a city council, there is very little that we can do to address the issue,” Irving mayor Beth Van Duyne said. “I’ve been charged by my city to stop fracking in the state of Texas, … and it’s a charge I take very seriously. We have a lot of people who are nervous about this.”

Azle mayor Alan Brundrett said his city has experienced numerous earthquakes during his tenure, which some have argued were caused in part by fracking.

Brundrett said fracking is an inconvenient but necessary process to provide power to cities and said he disagreed with the fracking ban Denton passed in 2014.

“We have to get [the resources] from where it is if everyone wants to turn on their lights and heat their homes,” Brundrett said. “So there’s going to be a little discomfort that comes with it. … It’s stuff we have to put up with.”

In May, Gov. Greg Abbott signed HB 40, which the legislature passed intending to clarify what was locally controlled and what was under the domain of the state. The new law effectively made fracking bans such as Denton’s unenforceable.

Todd Staples, president of the Texas Oil and Gas Association, said fracking is only one of many processes used to extract natural gas, although the information being released is causing the general public to view fracking as “all encompassing” of oil and gas.

“Bad information leads to bad policy, and that’s reality,” Staples said. “A lot of what’s being done today is because of bad information from an element that is just anti -oil and -gas and that wants to see oil and gas gone completely.”

Scott Tinker, director of UT’s Bureau of Economic Geology, said fracking can’t be the main cause of earthquakes with magnitudes large enough to be felt throughout North Texas.

“By definition, when you hydraulically fracture something, you are causing earthquakes, but they are little, tiny earthquakes, so … they are very small. You don’t feel them at all,” Tinker said. “They crack the rock deep in the earth, and that’s not what’s being felt.”

Additionally, Tinker said some of the scientific studies released about fracking and their connection to earthquakes are factually misleading and cause the public to believe inaccurate information.

“Science can’t come to a consensus, by definition,” Tinker said. “Science is designed to always question and to always test.”

In response to questions from audience members on fracking’s negative environmental effects on the water supply, Staples said Texas has protections in place to ensure nothing contaminates groundwater.

“I know that there’s been false studies or studies that have been proven to be inaccurate about the water contamination,” Staples said. “And the EPA actually says that when fracking is done within the appropriate confines, there’s not any damage.”

Tinker said a compromise is necessary because of all factors involved

“These things absolutely work together along with the economy,” Tinker said.  “But we have to figure it out.”