A New Spin on Fracking

It was right after the big meal – we were done shuffling the sides dishes to the left and were just about ready to submit to the food coma.

That is, until I heard my aunt yell in from the other room, “Hey Matt, come in here.”

I slowly moved up from the couch and headed back to the table. Sacrilege I tell you! The minutes after eating a Thanksgiving meal are meant for the couch!

But alas, I retreated back to the food zone and found myself smack-dab in the middle of a heated debate. The topic of this discussion was America’s energy resurgence and, in particular, hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking” for short.

I’ve got a pretty big family, with a good swath of demographic diversification – in other words there were folks on both sides of the American energy argument here.

What is Fracking?

My task was simple –“can you explain what fracking is?” my aunt asked.

And with that, I snatched up 35 minutes of my loved ones lives! It was frack talk at the turkey table!

This anecdote is timely for two reasons…

First, today is Thanksgiving. So while you sit around your table, head to your family’s or just hang out with friends, I urge you to give thanks for America’s energy resurgence and the technologies that make it possible (like fracking!) Truly, this boom could prove to be the most unexpected, beneficial bounties of our lives.

Second, the story is timely because I just replied to a personal email with another round of frack talk.

Today I’d like to share my latest thoughts on the matter. And please remember, I have no hidden agenda here. I found myself in the midst of America’s energy comeback several years ago – at the heart of which are technologies like fracking. I’ve spent countless hours kicking rocks on drill sites, sitting down with engineers in board rooms and reading lengthy research – and you can rest assured the comments below are my honest, “dining room table” feelings.

That said, let’s get down to the latest frack talk!

First up, if you’re unfamiliar with what fracking is it’s a process used by oil and gas drillers to unlock shale formations [For a full rundown, simply click our “what is fracking” video above.]

A quick search on the pros/cons of fracking and you’re bound to find ample backup for both camps.

However, from my experience I see a lot more egregious lies coming from the environmental side than the “big oil” side. Today I’d like to set the spin aside, and keep the record straight.

The latest anti-fracking item that arrived in my inbox was from MoveOn.org…. they wrote:

“Tap water so contaminated you can light it on fire. Cancer-causing chemicals released into drinking water sources. Air pollution. Economic damage. Climate change. These are just some of the effects of hydraulic fracturing”

[Please read the paragraph above again, for effect.]

Ahem. That paragraph is fully-laced with lies. Anti-frackers apparently need to do their homework or wash their mouths out with soap – whichever comes first is fine by me. With the paragraph above, it’s almost amazing someone would put their name on it. Of course it was signed “–Victoria, Manny, Maria, David, and the rest of the team ” so maybe the accountability is spread thin at MoveOn.

Looking at just that recent example, let’s set the record straight, shall we?

First off, tap water has never been contaminated by fracking nor has fracking caused tap water to light on fire. This is a lie and was propagated by the “Gasland” documentary. But if you Google such things as “Gasland debunked” you’ll realize the example of any lightable tap water was not, whatsoever, related to fracking.

Plus, it’s the same answer for chemicals released into drinking water sources. There has been absolutely no known incident of freshwater contamination. And just think about that, there are thousands of shale wells being drilled per year – add em up over the years and we’re talking about much more than 10,000 wells. In which, no attributable freshwater contamination has occurred. None. Zero. Zilch.

As for “air pollution”, that’s a standard issue. Drill rigs, truck traffic and other related industry action will cause regular amounts of air pollution. That’s just the case with any industrial action. There’s also the case of flaring natural gas, that’s certainly an air pollution issue, too. But, again, that has nothing to do with fracking like the sentence above implies.

As for “economic damage”, that’s downright laughable. The benefits to America’s economy from the rebirth of oil and gas are clear. Hundreds of thousands of jobs created or improved, more manufacturing, increased US exports, cheap residential energy and relatively stable oil prices (for stable gasoline prices) — add it all up and America’s energy renaissance is a huge shot in the arm to the economy.

Last but not least “climate change.” This is also a very strange reference, but typical of environmental spin. Here’s the thing: fracking has unleashed massive amounts of cleaner-burning natural gas. And in recent years — directly tied to more energy efficiency and cleaner burning natural gas — the U.S. has been lowering its total CO2 levels. So to say that “fracking” is increasing the risk of climate change is categorically wrong. If anything it’s helping move the needle in the right direction as a bridge fuel.

Add it all up and I think the pendulum has swung a little far in favor of the environmental side of things. And this is coming from a guy that double majored in college, one major being Environmental Economics. Lots of hippies/environmentalists in those classes, to be sure! But nowadays many of the herd has gone astray – the facts are stripped away for agenda-seeking fiction.

Getting back to my water pollution comment above, here’s what I mean…

Recall, fracking never set tap water ablaze, it’s also never (and I mean NEVER) been associated with contaminated fresh water.

Fracking happens 7-10,000 feet below the earth’s surface, while the water table and clean water sources rarely stretch below 500ft. That means there’s over 5,000 feet (approximately a mile) of impermeable rock in between these fracking operations and water sources. (See the nearby image for reference.)

Plug Diagram for Shale Fracking

I was onsite with a big oil company a few years ago asking about how much power each “frack stage” has, as in “what’s the reach of the fracture that’s created?” The geologist/engineer on site said the fractures can stretch, on average, 150ft from the horizontal section of the well. When I asked if they could ever “frack” all the way up to the surface he essentially laughed and said “we wish.” All joking aside, these fracking operations are happening well below fresh water aquifers and other water sources, to an extent that contamination won’t likely occur.

The main concern, from my perch, would be that drilling crews and surface operations need to be careful above ground, because they could do more contamination above ground with a leaky car engine or spill then you could with a fracking stage.

It’s funny, today is Thanksgiving and I remember clearly last year when my family members called me to the table after dinner to explain this situation to them. All it took was a little common sense and explanation to show that America’s shale boom is no more a threat to the environment than any other industry – but yet it’s economic benefit is unexpectedly huge.

Add it all up and the environmental pendulum has swung too far, to the point where groups like MoveOn or others will blatantly lie just to get more people to slap a “stop fracking now” sticker on their bumpers or make a donation. It’s disgraceful.

Here’s another quick anecdote to prove my point…

Years ago we made a video to explain fracking, and posted it on Youtube. Now remember, I don’t have any agenda with this stuff. My point was to make sure that investors, like you and me, knew what they are actually buying in to. I’m a firm believer in making sure you know what a company does before you invest in it. Accordingly, I wanted to share what I learned about America’s new shale revolution — fracking in particular — with anyone interested. Again, there’s no hidden agenda here. I don’t work for “big oil.” I’m just a dude that likes investing in moneymakers – and I like to know HOW the money making works.

But here’s the takeaway. So the video gets uploaded into the ether of the internet. And wouldn’t you know it we start getting all kinds of hate brewing in the commentary, and “dislikes” galore.

Again, I don’t know who these folks are, or what they are smoking – but the plague seems to be contagious. One comment reads “Propaganda in its purest form.” While another says, “this is not the entire truth sir, the negative facts are being censored big time. In other words, its bullshit.”

The commenter is probably referring to the “facts” you’ll find in your MoveOn.org email box.

Yikes.

In the meantime, I frequently muddy my boots and talk to the guys that are doing this oil and gas work all the time. They are all very smart folks. There’s a lot of geology, geophysics, engineering, math and science involved in today’s oil industry.

Frankly I’d love to get some of the geologists/engineers/scientists I’ve talked with in a room with a lot of the gung-ho environmentalists — I think we’d have a very lopsided discussion (in favor of the smart oil and gas folks!)

That’s all I’ve got for today, I thought I’d share some of my dinner table insight – to make sure if any conversation bubbles up at your table you’ll have some talking points to back up America’s energy comeback.

In the meantime, let’s give thanks for cheap, abundant energy and the technology that makes it possible. Otherwise we’d be eating raw turkey on a cold autumn day!

Keep your boots muddy,

Matt Insley
for The Daily Reckoning

Ed. Note: Matt has done his homework. He’s visited several fracking sites and gotten his own boots good and muddy in order to give his Daily Resource Hunter readers the kind of first-hand knowledge you need when investing in resources. If you’re not one of his subscribers, you could be missing out on a variety of investment opportunities featured in every single issue. So before you do anything else this Thanksgiving, do yourself a favor and sign up for the FREE Daily Resource Hunter email edition. You’re portfolio will thank you.