Today, Bookpleasures.com is pleased to have as our guest, Chris Faulkner author of The Fracking Truth: America's Energy Revolution: The Inside, Untold Story.
Norm: Good day Chris and thanks for participating in our interview
Please tell our readers a little bit about your personal and professional background.
Chris: It’s tempting to say I’m a good old Texas boy and leave it at that. I’m guessing that I’m not what most people think of as a good old Texas boy, though. I didn’t come from a family of oilmen. I’ve been an entrepreneur since my teens, I’ve studied biomedical engineering, business, mathematics and information sciences, and I got into the oil and gas industry by way of a computer program I designed to better locate oil and gas plays. I truly enjoy a good challenge, and what’s more challenging than the oil and gas industry?!
Norm:Why did you feel compelled to write The Fracking Truth?
Chris: I was frustrated! Okay, yes, I work in the oil and gas industry, so, of course, I have a personal and professional stake in how the practice of fracking is used, how it is perceived and how it is regulated.
But there’s been so much myth and misinformation about fracking that has permeated the mainstream media, and the industry has been so late in joining the conversation, that I just couldn’t stand seeing only part of the story – the worst-case scenario part – being told over and over again.
I’ve been out there on the front lines for years, sharing information about fracking with any media outlet that will listen, presenting the facts to our government and even the UK parliament, chatting with folks who have a beef against fracking, visiting at length with people who live in the communities where we operate, and I’ve made some headway with some folks who are willing to listen to the facts, but it’s not enough.
In a long-form format like a book, I’m able to really go into depth with the history of fracking, what it has meant for the industry and the country, what it can mean to the health of millions of people all over the world, and how it can help us bridge the energy gap between today’s sources and tomorrow’s alternatives.
Norm: What would you say is the best reason to recommend someone to read your book? What do you hope to accomplish with your book? Whom do you believe will benefit from your book and why?
Chris: I hope people who have read the book will recommend it to others because it tells the whole story, because they feel others can learn something from it, because they think it makes some valid points and because they feel like it’s a good resource for learning about this industry.
I like to think that anyone with an interest in where we get our energy can benefit from reading it, but definitely people who would like to know more, who would like to go deeper than what they see in the media, and even people who think they already have all the facts and are dead-set against fracking, could come away with a different perspective.
Norm: Where did you get your information and ideas for your book?
Chris: Well, I draw a lot from personal experience, but also just plain research. I really felt strongly that everything I discuss in the book had to be backed by whatever research is available, and you can see that it is heavily footnoted throughout. I didn’t hide my personal perspective or opinions, but when talking about the facts, I backed it up through extensive research.
Norm: It is said that writers should write what they know. Were there any elements of your book that forced you to step out of your comfort zone, and if so, how did you approach this part of the writing?
Chris: After 10 years in this industry, I know it pretty well. What I have the hardest time grappling with is the motivations of the anti-frackers. I hear what they’re saying and I agree with so much of it! I want to help protect our environment, too, but I’m also very pragmatic and I have a really hard time understanding how people can be so doggedly against something that just makes so much sense!
Norm: What was one of the
most surprising things you learned in creating your book?
Chris: I was surprised by how difficult it was to hone it down. There’s so much information and so much I want to say that it felt like I could fill volumes, but I didn’t want to turn off potential readers with a library of collected facts.
Norm: How concerned should we be about fracking as there are many individuals who believe it is unsafe? As a follow up, what do you say to those who claim that fracking is the rape of Mother Earth.
Chris: Talk about a loaded question! Don’t hold back – tell me how you really feel!
All kidding aside, I think it’s perfectly valid that people question any industrial practice that has potential for adverse environmental and/or health impacts. What I can’t quite understand is why, when the studies are concluded and the consensus is that well-regulated fracking does not pose a significant risk, people will then choose to ignore the data, try to claim that it was flawed or deliberately skewed, and continue railing against the practice.
Using highly pejorative words like “rape” only serves to further inflame people without informing them. It’s true that there have been some bad actors in the industry, especially early on, and those operators should absolutely be held accountable for any damage they’ve caused. But it’s also true that much of the hype and hysteria over fracking has been built on misinformation and outright lies. Somehow, the misinformation and the lies have caught the rapt attention of the media, but not the facts.
For example, those images of a flaming kitchen faucet in Josh Fox’s Gasland documentary have been a favorite backdrop on the evening news for any story related to the industry. But how many of those media outlets shared with their viewers the fact that the EPA conducted several studies and found that fracking had not caused the methane in the home depicted in that scene?
In fact, what the EPA found was that the well had been dug too deep and had crossed naturally occurring pockets of methane – something that has been happening for as long as there have been water wells and long before the first fracking operation. There were a lot of other instances of Fox playing fast and loose with the truth in Gasland, but no one seemed to care. In his sequel, he upped the ante by showing a garden hose spewing flames. The only problem with that was that the hose wasn’t even hooked up to a water faucet; it was hooked to a gas vent.
But here’s the thing: studies, data and facts are dry, dull and boring, and not easily depicted in a visually interesting way for TV news. The oil and gas industry is big and very profitable, and has made some very highly publicized and damaging blunders like the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf Coast, and has typically done a tragically poor job of responding to its own missteps. We’re an easy target.
Norm: Is using our water worth it for going after oil and gas? If so, please explain.
Chris: Yes! I can’t say that emphatically enough! Yes, using water to produce oil and gas is definitely worth it – though I will also say that many companies are very actively exploring and already using methods that use little to no water because water is not always available from region to region and water is not always the best material for extraction of oil and gas.
Let me just illustrate my point by reminding you and your readers how much water we use in other applications, as compared to the water used in fracking. A typical fracking operation can use between 2 million and 4 million gallons of water. That’s about how much a single golf course uses in a summer month. An Olympic-sized swimming pool uses about 4 million gallons of water through an average summer. Thermoelectric power uses more than 6 billion – that’s billion with a “b” – gallons of water per day. The livestock industry consumes more than 60 million gallons of water per day.
Now, let’s look at what fracking – and all the water it uses – has done for the U.S. The industry represents about 8 percent of U.S. GDP and supports around 10 million jobs. In the 33 states that allow fracking, it has cut unemployment rates to as low as 2 percent while significantly boosting salary levels. While some states were declaring bankruptcy during the great recession, states like North Dakota and Pennsylvania were recording budgetary surpluses. They stand to gain in the hundreds of billions of dollars in tax revenues over the next several decades, thanks to fracking. That’s just a taste of the economic windfall from fracking. Fracking has also turned this country from an energy importer to a net exporter in the space of only about five years.
When you’re seeing the growing crisis in Iraq, Russia’s incursion into Crimea, and the situation in Libya, and you see what happens to oil and gas markets in response to each of this crises, the necessity of developing your nation’s ability to insulate itself becomes more and more clearly critical. Fracking has done and is doing that for us. As the U.S. produces more oil and gas and can export more of these resources, our exports can help stabilize world markets.
Norm: You mention in your book the “Halliburton exclusion.” What is this all about?
Chris: The “Halliburton exclusion” or “Halliburton loophole” is a trade secrets exemption in the Energy Policy Act of 2005. This was an act that was signed into law by President George W. Bush, a former oilman, at the urging of Vice President Dick Cheney, who was a former CEO of Halliburton.
I mention it in the book because I think it’s one of the reasons industry has had such a hard time dealing with the onslaught of claims and accusations against fracking. The Halliburton loophole isn’t to blame. That’s not what I mean. Industry is to blame, actually. Rather than explain what’s in frack fluids so people could look into specific elements of concern—and so industry could address concerns about specific additives—most operators used the Halliburton exemption to protect “trade secrets” and refused to disclose what’s in their frack mixtures. Well, that just left imaginations to go wild. The anti-frackers could say pretty much anything they could dream up about what might be in those frack mixtures.
The good news is that the industry is finally moving toward more and more transparency. First, we had FracFocus.org, a website where operators voluntarily list all their frack additives – and many companies started doing it on their own websites – then ExxonMobil agreed to disclose risks associated with its fracking operations, and then Baker Hughes announced that it will begin disclosing chemicals used in its fracking fluids.
Norm: Bill McKibben, who has been called by the Boston Globe probably the nation's leading environmentalist and who is the founder of the international climate change group 350.org, had stated in an interview posted on Znet in 2012: “Fracking is really important because it’s this discovery of a new wave of carbon-based energy forms at a time when we already have far more than scientists say we can safely burn. Knowing that, it makes no sense to go out and rip apart the countryside looking for more.” How would you reply to this statement?
Chris: Well, it’s a confusing statement, for starters. One of the loudest and most enduring protests against further exploitation of oil and gas is that they’re not renewable, yet here’s Bill saying we have far more than we can consume. Oh, I know he qualified his statement with “safely,” but here’s what I don’t get about statements like that: there’s no alternative, “clean” energy source that can meet the world’s needs. Not now, not for decades. Even the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) predicts that non-hydro renewable sources of energy, despite all the subsidies we can throw at them, won’t account for more than 16% of electricity generation by 2040.
In the meantime, coal and wood are the world’s top choices for energy, and the pollution those hydrocarbons produce is killing millions of people. Right now. That’s because right now millions of people are exposed to particulate matter from soot produced by burning wood and coal for heating homes and cooking food. That particulate matter is inhaled and absorbed into the bloodstream, and it kills more than 3 million people a year (Centre for Policy Studies).
And right now we have the technology and we have the far cleaner resource of natural gas that could save lives while reducing the world’s carbon emissions. The Centre for Policy Studies sounded as frustrated as me in its report, noting: “The main dangers of shale gas can all be addressed by regulation to ensure that development is done using industry best practice, with heavy fines for malefactors. But why is shale gas needed in the developed world—a world that can afford to pay the premium for solar and wind? The fundamental reason is speed. Europe can develop shale gas far more rapidly than it can move to solar and wind, largely because of the low cost, the absence of an intermittency problem, and good existing gas infrastructure. To the extent that shale gas replaces coal, it will save hundreds of thousands of deaths each year, lives that will be lost if we choose the slower and more expensive transition to renewables.”
Use of natural gas in place of coal in the U.S. has already cut carbon emissions, even as natural gas consumption rose. We can do that all over the world, protecting people and the environment, until the alternative energies are ready for prime time. I just cannot fathom why anyone would be so opposed to something that can help so many people and help the environment. It doesn’t make sense.
Norm: Where can our readers find out more about you and The Fracking Truth?
Chris: Thanks for asking!
Norm: What is next for Chris Faulkner?
Chris: There’s still a lot of work to be done. We’ve just released a documentary about fracking called Breaking Free, and, of course, the book. I’ll be following up on those efforts with more of everything—talks, interviews, articles, presentations, every avenue available to dispel the myths and discuss the reality of fracking. I have another creative project in the works, as well, but am not yet at liberty to disclose its nature. There’s a little tease for you!
Norm: As this interview draws to a close what one question would you have liked me to ask you? Please share your answer.
Chris: You asked if extracting our oil and gas resources was worth the water, but not whether it’s worth the risk.
I just want to say that every energy source comes with its own risk. Hell, everything we do comes with risk. You can actually overdose on too much water. With anything in life, it’s a matter of balancing the risk versus the reward. As far as fracking polluting groundwater, the risk is actually pretty low. Frack fluids are composed of about 90 percent water, 9.5 percent sand, and 0.5 percent chemical additives. Those additives are typically acids, surfactants, and biocides, which sounds really scary, but they are the same types of chemicals you find in antifreeze, swimming pool cleaner and other common applications. But that’s not even the point. There’s pretty much no risk at all that any of the frack fluids injected underground will migrate back up to groundwater aquifers. It simply doesn’t happen. The risk with frack fluids is in the handling of them above ground, and even that has been minimal. Believe it or not, there are very strict regulations in place with very tough penalties for any company that mismanages its frack fluids or frack flowback water.
Now let’s talk about the risks of the cleaner energy alternatives. Hydroelectric dams displace 80 million people worldwide; destroy wildlife habitats, marshlands, agricultural lands, and forests; and they altar the water both above and below the dam, killing off species unable to adapt to the changed conditions of their habitats. Windmills kill hundreds of thousands of birds and bats, included endangered species, every year. Solar panels fry thousands of birds and millions of insects, and production of solar panels is one of the dirtiest processes around, requiring huge quantities of rare earth minerals. That’s not to mention the fact that we don’t yet have an environmentally friendly and economical way to store the energy generated by windmills and solar panels.
I could go on and on – that’s why I wrote the book! – but I’ll leave it at that.
Norm: Thanks once again and good luck with all of your future endeavors
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