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Fracking: Good Science Vs. Science Fiction | Commentary

The United States is now the world’s largest oil and natural gas producer, having recently overtaken both Saudi Arabia and Russia. Two decades ago, no one would have believed it. The practice of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, has fueled this energy boom. Fracking has unlocked vast amounts of what used to be considered economically inaccessible oil and gas. Increased domestic energy production has benefited the environment, the economy and hardworking families who now enjoy reduced energy prices.

Natural gas provides affordable, clean and abundant energy that heats our homes and cooks our food. U.S. carbon-dioxide emissions have also fallen dramatically in recent years, in large part because of the use of natural gas in generating electricity.

But on Earth Day, we’re likely to hear from the vocal minority who refuse to acknowledge this great success story. Some activists would rather halt our energy revolution in its tracks. Unfounded attacks, misinformation and biased media coverage have spread false and misleading information about hydraulic fracturing.

The Environmental Protection Agency is at the forefront of this hypocritical smear campaign. On the one hand, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy claims “there’s nothing inherently dangerous in fracking that sound engineering practices can’t accomplish.” On the other hand, the EPA is doing everything it can to find reasons to justify new federal regulations.

The EPA has investigated baseless allegations of water contamination in Pavillion, Wyo.; Parker County, Texas; and Dimock, Pa. But in each case, the agency either jumped to conclusions or ceded to political pressure, blaming natural-gas production even before full scientific assessments were completed. The allegations made headlines; the retractions were footnotes.

At the same time, Americans are regularly subjected to stunts performed by activist documentary filmmakers who pose as serious journalists. Although thoroughly discredited, the images of igniting tap water have had a negative impact on public perception of hydraulic fracturing. Scare tactics are used to distort what should be a factual discussion about the environmental safety and benefits of this practice.

Hydraulic fracturing is already effectively regulated at both the state and federal levels. As with any industrial process, technologies continue to improve and industry standards and regulations evolve accordingly. Safeguards are regularly reviewed under the watchful eye of the scientific experts who best understand the local geology.

Hydraulic fracturing has revitalized America’s domestic energy industry and will strengthen our economy for decades to come. It has contributed to a 47 percent drop in the price of natural gas since 2013, benefitting consumers an average of $200 per household each year. Additionally, the economy has seen increased gains of $74 billion per year as a result of fracking.

Accusations of environmental damage are often based on fringe environmental politics instead of fact-based evidence. Scientific experts and top Obama administration officials have testified before the House Science Committee that hydraulic fracturing has never contaminated groundwater. And Department of Interior Secretary Sally Jewell agreed, saying “fracking has been done safely for many, many years.” Jewell also said fracking bans are the “wrong way to go.”

Unfortunately, the New York State Department of Health appears to have relied on such fringe politics in its recent recommendation that the state ban the use of hydraulic fracturing. The ill-advised decision comes after New York environmental regulators found in 2009 and then again in 2012 that hydraulic fracturing could be conducted safely.

At an upcoming hearing, the Science Committee will examine the science behind attempts to ban hydraulic fracturing and the impacts of such extreme policies on local communities.

Safe domestic natural gas production fuels America’s energy needs while having a positive impact on the environment. U.S. carbon dioxide emissions from energy use fell by 12 percent between 2005 and 2012. This Earth Day, I urge Americans to see through the misleading rhetoric and look at the facts. We should not allow a smear campaign orchestrated by extremists to negatively affect America’s promising energy future.

Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, chairs the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology.