From deep in the heart of Texas comes a story that reminds us why so many people oppose fracking. The Wall Street Journal reported that a water utility is being sued in Denton County because it is building a 15-story water tower. Some oppose the fact that a portion of the tower's water will be solid to energy companies to be used in fracking, though that's not the core cause for the dispute. The main reasoning behind the lawsuit is that a 160-foot-tall water tower is being built in the backyard, so to speak, of a handful of families that don't want that eyesore and its associated noise near their land.
Not in my backyard strikes again
The most fascinating part of the story is knowing the names of the families involved in the suit. One of the lead plaintiffs is former U.S. House Majority Leader Dick Armey. Another of the families suing is that of Rex Tillerson, CEO of (XOM 0.12%)ExxonMobil (XOM 0.12%). Tillerson's company just happens to be America's top natural gas supplier and his company fracks hundreds of shale wells each year.
Tillerson doesn't want the large tower built adjacent to his family's 83-acre horse ranch. The CEO, like many Americans living in rural areas, simply wants to enjoy the rural lifestyle and not see the door open to runaway development and noise that the tower has the potential to bring.
The threat of new eyesores and increased noise levels are the real reasons so many oppose fracking. Who can blame them? In a world filled with noise and an increasingly faster pace of life, the rural lifestyle is one of the few places where many can still find peace and quiet. It truly is a precious gift, and those who possess it don't want to see that lost forever.
Why the industry can't silence its critics
While fracking's critics point to groundwater contamination and health risks, if done responsibly the process has proved to be safe. That said, what no study or evidence can deny is that fracking for oil and gas is a noisy process. The sound of trucks carrying millions of gallons of water, as well as equipment, to the fracking site is just one of the many problems those living nearby must endure. Rumbling trucks are just the start, as the 24/7 drilling and fracking operations that can run for months bring constant noise. That racket has been known to keep many up at night and quite frankly is one of the biggest reasons that the industry will never silence its critics.
For example, a story in Colorado involving energy company Encana (OVV -0.58%) noted that drilling operations there were impacting local residents. Encana built a sound mitigation barrier, but it didn't keep noise levels down enough for some residents. There are many similar accounts from around the country.
For those living outside of bustling cities, noise is something to be avoided. However, a study from New York's Revised Draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement estimated that even at a distance of 2,000 feet (less than half a mile) from the fracking site the noise level could be up to 72 decibels. For perspective, a rock concert can produce more than 110 decibels and diesel truck traffic about 84 decibels. Needless to say, noise at that level 24 hours a day, seven days per week is enough to annoy anyone. It also provides critics a big reason to speak up against the process.
The oil and gas industry has done a lot to prove that the hydraulic fracturing process is safe and getting safer by the day. As true as that might be, the industry will never silence its critics until it figures out a way to make the process quieter. Those who live the country lifestyle do so because it is peaceful; they don't want a drilling rig or water tower erected in their backyard that will disrupt that. So until the industry figures out a way to get its noise levels down, it won't be able to keep its critics quiet, either.