When one thinks of “gas companies,” or “fracking,” one may think of massive oil drilling facilities off the coast, or large and powerful corporations.
But when CFACT visited fracking companies at the Allegheny National Forest in Northwest Pennsylvania, a very different picture was presented. CFACT’s senior staff and collegians directors met with family owned small businesses that operated fracking rigs throughout the area. This type of fracking, technically termed “hydraulic fracturing,” is a process by which a mixture of water and sand is used to break up sandstone under the Earth’s surface to release natural gas and oil.
“I was so impressed by the individuals operating the wells,” said Collegians Southern Director Graham Beduze. “Guys are out here in 12 degree weather and snow for over 12 hours doing hard manual labor while water is splashing on them. And all so we can heat our homes.”
These companies have an incredibly small environmental impact. Each drilling operation CFACT visited was in a small clearing with hundreds of trees in every direction. At most, these operators cut down a handful of trees to make the well more accessible. Unlike the common conception of a large permanent structure needed, once this type of drilling is complete, the large trucks roll out, and leave a small well pump.
Despite this small environmental impact, these small businesses have been almost driven out of business by regulations from the federal EPA and PA State Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). One particularly onerous regulation is known as the “Methane Rule,” which was put in place by the Obama Administration to limit methane emissions from fracking facilities. “This rule alone would have cost each operator $10-$15,000 to comply with per facility,” explained Arthur Stewart, secretary of the PGCC, a group created by fracking operators to protect themselves against government overreach. “But the methane released is minuscule. You can put your face right near the collection facilities and be perfectly fine.” Many businesses considered closing down. Then, EPA administrator Scott Pruitt, appointed by President Trump, put the rule on hold.
Another owner-operator explained his frustrations with the State DEP. “I had a small trickling leak of water from my truck, and the inspector fined us $7,000. We fought it in court and got it reduced, but that took months and thousands more in attorney fees.”
Still another operator explained the roller coaster of emotions dealing with the State bureaucracy: “I was driving back from a hearing at the Capitol and called my family. ‘This is it, we’ll have to just pack up the fracking business and do something else,’ I said. But then the Legislature passed a bill to restrict those regulations, and we had new life again.”
Despite numerous studies declaring fracking safe, the limited environmental impact of the process compared even to solar and wind, and the invaluable service of providing affordable energy to those struggling to pay utility bills, fracking has been vilified.
Arthur Stewart articulated the feelings of the owners, the workers, and their families when referring to cities and governments: “We’re just out here clinging to the hope that they’ll need rural America again.”
CFACT will continue to fight for these family owned businesses that are the backbone of America, whether in the sphere of public opinion, testifying at government hearings, or explaining the truth on college campuses across America.