A fracking ban is hypocritical

Why ban a product that doesn’t exist in Massachusetts?

MEANINGLESS, hypocritical political grandstanding.

Those are words no one should ever use lightly – but they are words that accurately describe a provision of Massachusetts energy legislation now pending on Beacon Hill that calls for a 10-year moratorium on the production of natural gas anywhere in the Bay State through “fracking,” or hydraulic fracturing.

Originating with anti-conventional-energy extremists in the state Senate, the “fracking ban” is easily the most absurd provision pending before a House-Senate conference committee as it works to reconcile legislation promoting faster growth of renewable energy such as solar and wind power.

Why is the “fracking ban” a meaningless act of political grandstanding? “Massachusetts has no natural gas reserves or production,’’ according to the US Energy Department’s Energy Information Administration. The state geologist says the same thing on the State Geological Survey website. Even if there were any oil or gas to produce under state territory, it would require major changes in existing Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection regulations to even make fracking a possibility to consider here. Putting the ban into state law is redundant, unnecessary, politically motivated, a waste of time, and a waste of the paper the legislation is printed on.

Despite relentless efforts by extremists to portray “fracking” as something exotic or dangerous, the reality is that hydraulic fracturing is a proven technology that has been used safely for more than 70 years in more than 1 million oil and gas wells worldwide. The process enhances traditional oil and gas production techniques through injecting pressurized water to create fissures in deep underground shale formations that allow oil and natural gas to flow.

First used in the United States in 1947, the technology has been continuously improved upon since that time, particularly through being combined with horizontal drilling in shale formations. The handling of the water used in fracking is regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency and state agencies under the Clean Water Act.

Why do I add the word “hypocritical” to describe some state senators’ efforts to outlaw fracking in Massachusetts? Every second of every day, more than 6 million residents of Massachusetts are enjoying all the benefits of natural gas produced by hydraulic fracturing in other states, particularly Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia.

The air conditioning that keeps us comfortable all summer? The refrigerators and freezers that keep our food from spoiling and make the ice cubes for our iced tea? More than half of all the electricity we consume in Massachusetts year-round comes from power plants fueled by natural gas. Many days this summer, the share of electricity coming from “fracked gas” is closer to two-thirds, according to data from our regional grid manager, Independent System Operator New England.

More than 52 percent of all homes in Massachusetts now use natural gas as their home heating and cooking fuel, according to the Northeast Gas Association.

In short, Massachusetts literally could not function without the access we enjoy every day to affordable, abundant “fracked gas” produced just a few hundred miles away in the Marcellus Shale.

Meet the Author

Steve Dodge

Executive director, Massachusetts Petroleum Council
For state senators to turn around and seek, as a matter of political symbolism, to ban the very production technique that keeps our homes cool in summer, warm in winter, and powered with electricity year-round is rank hypocrisy. The implication that Massachusetts somehow deserves all the benefits we get from “fracked gas” produced in other states, but is also entitled to engage in the meaningless symbolism of outlawing fracking in our own back yards, smacks of offensive, elitist snobbery.

As our legislators – in typical last-minute fashion – deal with important issues such as consumer data protection, health care, education funding, environmental spending, animal welfare, veterans benefits, civics education, and voter registration, I wonder whether they should be spending their time on meaningless, hypocritical political grandstanding.

Stephen C. Dodge is the executive director of the Massachusetts Petroleum Council.