Fracking Phobia Gets Gassed

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Despite the hysteria fomented by propaganda films like Gasland and Gasland II that oil and natural gas hydraulic fracturing is responsible for everything from flaming faucets and polluted groundwater to earthquakes and back acne, the government is now in full retreat on at least two of those claims. (OK, three. I made up the nexus between fracking and back acne.)

Not only has the Environmental Protection Agency punted its studies on the fracking process as a causation of groundwater pollution, but the Energy Dept. also just released a landmark study saying the process isn't responsible for contaminating groundwater supplies.

In fracking, which has actually been used by the industry since 1947, drillers pump large amounts of water, fluids, and chemicals into the ground under high pressure some 10,000 feet below the surface, which causes the rock formations to crack, or fracture (hence the name). The fluids contain proppants -- typically sand like that provided by U.S. Silica  (NYSE: SLCA  )  or ceramic beads such as those made by CARBO Ceramics  (NYSE: CRR  )  -- that prop open the fissures, allowing the gas and oil to flow more freely.

Environmentalists have charged the industry is culpable for the damage done. In one notable example of regulatory overreach, the EPA accused Range Resources (NYSE: RRC  ) of polluting groundwater in Texas to such an extent that kitchen faucets could ignite from gases they were contaminated with. After it imposed a special "endangerment order" on the driller, saying its actions were responsible for at least two houses being "ready to explode," the EPA quickly backtracked and dropped all the charges against Range without explanation (for a government bureaucracy, it's cool to describe 15 months as "quick").

Turns out, Range wasn't responsible at all. Residents had been reporting methane in the water for years before any kind of oil or gas drilling was being done in the area. It was a naturally occurring phenomena but one that had environmental activists even ginning up evidence. In one particular circumstance, which was prominently featured in Gasland II, a court found activists, who were working with the EPA, had hooked up a garden hose to a gas vent and not a water line and lit it on fire in an effort to give the agency a reason to act. The movie's director was apparently snookered (or willfully duped) by a hoax.

Yet oil and gas industry services specialist Nuverra Environmental Solutions (NASDAQOTH: NESC  ) has been telling anyone who will listen that fracking doesn't cause groundwater pollution. The company, which was previously known as Heckmann and is the leading supplier of water to the oil and gas industry, says fracking occurs 10,000 feet below the surface -- and water seeps down, not up, so the probability that it is responsible for the polluted water supplies is negligible.

The DOE study, which injected tracer chemicals into the fracking fluids so they could follow them, confirmed that. It injected the fluids some 8,000 feet below the surface and then monitored for them at 5,000 feet. None were ever detected, meaning that groundwater -- which is typically situated around 500 feet below the surface -- was about a mile away from any potential contamination. 

No doubt those conclusions are behind the EPA's decision to drop its study of groundwater contamination in Wyoming, instead allowing the state to complete it. Originally, the study was slated to be peer reviewed, but after questions about its methodology arose, it decided to abandon it altogether.

Primarily as a result of hydraulic fracturing, the U.S. is awash in natural gas, so much so that it's about to become a major exporter, with Cheniere Energy (NYSEMKT: LNG  ) building the first export facility in Louisiana. Japan will be the key market, too, as it currently pays around $16 per mmBtu for liquefied natural gas and Cheniere says it can deliver it to Asia for around $9.50 per mmBTU. Europe, which currently pays about $12 per mmBtu, will be able to get it for under $8 per mmBtu from Cheniere.

Indeed, it will be natural gas, if anything, that leads to an economic recovery here at home. Because we have so much, its price has remained remarkably low, challenging even the low cost of our other abundant resource, coal. 

And in the wake of these studies showing that we can still frack safely, expect other fears, such as that it's responsible for earthquakes, to fall by the wayside as well.

I'm a big believer in natural gas's ability to drive the economy forward, and this one home-run investing opportunity has been slipping under Wall Street's radar for months. But it won't stay hidden much longer. Forward-thinking energy players like GE and Ford have already plowed sizable amounts of research capital into this little-known stock... because they know it holds the key to the explosive profit power of the coming "no choice fuel revolution." Luckily, there's still time for you to get on board if you act quickly. All the details are inside an exclusive report from The Motley Fool. Click here for the full story!

Read/Post Comments (13) | Recommend This Article (4)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On July 24, 2013, at 6:43 PM, Oilvet wrote:

    Another bad day for the enviro whacko industry and their parasitic bottom feeding lawyers.

    Then when has common sense and technology replace ignorance superstition and greed in their agendas?

  • Report this Comment On July 24, 2013, at 7:38 PM, LOVE2dLAND wrote:

    Gas seeps up not down.

    Your article is a great infomercial.

    For you & you loved ones sake,

    promote Renewable Energy.

  • Report this Comment On July 24, 2013, at 8:01 PM, megalo99 wrote:

    another BS article from fool - quite apropos name btw. you'd have to be one to believe anything written on this site.

  • Report this Comment On July 24, 2013, at 8:11 PM, robb714 wrote:

    environmentalists, communists, potato, potatoe, it's all the same to me....

  • Report this Comment On July 24, 2013, at 8:25 PM, skwimite wrote:

    How unfortunate to read such a biased piece on Motley Fool. From what I've been reading, I tend to think that fracking is a bad idea, but depending on where and how it's done, maybe there's a place for it. It's also funny how everyone is so anti-government until they say something you agree with. Like the EPA would get it right. Right.

  • Report this Comment On July 24, 2013, at 8:50 PM, bogusweems wrote:

    How much did the gas and oil industry pay to have this article written for them ? The earth is just a tool for the mining industry to expand into space !

  • Report this Comment On July 24, 2013, at 11:06 PM, tjake13 wrote:

    If the gas goes up, would it not reach the ground water table?

  • Report this Comment On July 24, 2013, at 11:44 PM, bizislyrs wrote:

    What a garbage article, its when the drillcasings are flawed is where the groundwater pollution comes from fracking. No mention of that, what a surprise

  • Report this Comment On July 25, 2013, at 12:27 PM, ahoythere wrote:

    enough with the facts already... we can't handle the truth.

  • Report this Comment On July 27, 2013, at 7:08 PM, Kimamarie wrote:

    I can't believe how biased this article is, propaganda films ??? Are you saying folks in the films setting facets on fire,having to drink bottled water ect. was all staged ? The writer of this article probably still thinks the world is flat.

  • Report this Comment On July 29, 2013, at 2:53 PM, unclemike7 wrote:

    Just learn to accept the obvious truths and "move on" with your'll live longer and enjoy it more.

  • Report this Comment On July 31, 2013, at 8:04 AM, smacunalum wrote:

    I'm wondering how many of the commenters here are really the some person. Biased? This isn't the only article that has exposed the burning faucets misdirection. The writer is obviously on the side of making money from NG investments which includes fracking. Does that mean he can't state facts that back his position? Does that mean that comments stating opposite opinion, vehemently I might add, are biased as well?

  • Report this Comment On July 31, 2013, at 8:07 AM, smacunalum wrote:

    I meant the "same" person. Damn! It's always samething.

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