U.S. CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

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Sean Hackbarth Gas nozzles at a gas station.

Gas prices are something just about every American sees on a daily basis. When they go up, we fret about what we’ll spend less on to make up for the higher prices, and when they fall we think about taking that road trip we’ve been wanting to do.

Over the last few years, thanks in part to fracking, oil production has dramatically gone up and gas prices have gone down.

fred_us_gasoline_prices_2014-2016.png  2014-2016U.S. gasoline prices: 2014-2016


A report from the J.P. Morgan Chase Institute finds that families have more in their pockets because of this.

Researchers examined the spending of 1 million Chase credit and debit card holder and found that middle-income households spent nearly $480 less on gas in 2015 than in 2014 when gas prices fell 25%. That’s “more than a one percent increase in annual income for 60 percent of households” and enough for a half a monthly mortgage payment.

jpmci_mean_drop_gas_spending.jpg J.P. Morgan Chase Institute chart on gas price savings.J.P. Morgan Chase Institute chart on gas price savings.Source: J.P. Morgan Chase Institute.


Lower gas prices have helped lower income households proportionally more. While middle-income households saw a 1% savings, those in lower income households saw as much as 1.4% in savings.

jpmci_quintile_gas_spending.jpg J.P. Morgan Chase Institute chart on gas price savings by quintile.J.P. Morgan Chase Institute chart on gas price savings by quintile.Source: J.P. Morgan Chase Institute.


That savings on gasoline rippled outward to other parts of the economy. The report finds that households spent over $200 of what they saved on restaurants, retail, and groceries.

jpmci_gas_savings_spending.jpg J.P. Morgan Chase Institute chart on what gas prices saving was spent on.J.P. Morgan Chase Institute chart on what gas prices saving was spent on.Source: J.P. Morgan Chase Institute.


Other research has found that households have also seen energy savings from fracking because of increased production of natural gas.  A 2015 Harvard Business School study found that consumers saved $780 dollars in energy costs because of larger supplies of natural gas.

This is another reminder that of how fracking is making Americans’ lives better. It means more American energy, lower energy prices, and more money in families’ wallets. An all-around good thing.

Sean Hackbarth University of Cincinnati main entrance. University of Cincinnati main entrance.

Something fishy is going on at the University of Cincinnati.

Energy In Depth reports that a 2015 study published in the scientific journal, Environmental Science & Technology, showing that hydraulic fracturing exposed people to unhealthy levels of air pollution in Ohio, has been retracted because of an “honest spreadsheet error.”

The math correction “changes air concentrations significantly relative to those reported in the published article. This correction also changes some of the conclusions reported in the original article,” the researchers wrote.

The original version of the paper found Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbon (PAH) “from fracking operations may pose an under-recognized health hazard to people living near them.” The corrected version of the paper, to be published soon in the same journal, now finds that PAH levels are actually “below the U.S. EPA’s acceptable risk level” [emphasis mine].

EID’s Seth Whitehead points out that the study was flawed from the start:

Not only were the study participants recruited by an anti-fracking activist group, the researchers did not use random testing, did not account for sources of Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbon (PAH) other than oil and gas activity, and assumed worst case scenarios in their cancer hazard assessments. A Carroll County landowner also informed EID that some of the highest PAH levels detected by the researchers were collected on his property, which is more than 10 miles from the nearest shale gas well. This completely refuted the researchers’ summation that high PAH levels correlated directly to close proximity to shale gas wells.

An odd thing about this study is how the University of Cincinnati promoted it. As Whitehead notes, the air pollution study was published “just three months after it was completed.”

Contrast that paper to the fiasco surrounding the UC geology department earlier this year when scientists released findings that showed there was “no evidence” of fracking contaminating Ohio local water supplies.

Like the air pollution study, the results were first presented to a local Ohio anti-fracking advocacy group. It was at that event  where Professor Amy Townsend-Small, head of the groundwater research team, acknowledged that anti-fracking funders of the study stopped supporting the research after seeing its results.

Also, unlike the air pollution study, no press release was sent to publicize the water pollution study.

In fact, the water pollution findings remained a local Ohio story until Energy In Depth, Above the Fold, and state officials demanded that the public have access to it. The university conceded by releasing the research in the form of a master’s thesis and stated that it would be submitted to a scientific journal.

It’s been three months since the thesis was released to the public and nearly a year since the thesis was completed and yet the university hasn’t said if or when the findings will be published in a scientific journal.

Why such a rush to publish a study showing fracking is bad but dawdling to publish another study showing that fracking isn’t harmful?

The answer is likely confirmation bias against fracking. People often see what they want to see. If you think fracking is dangerous, you’re inclined to notice evidence of its harm and are less likely to be skeptical of it. And if you come upon evidence that runs counter to your preconceptions, you’re less likely to give it the same weight as it otherwise should.

We see how this played out at the University of Cincinnati. When scientists got results “proving” fracking produced harmful levels of air pollution, it was quickly publicized. EID points out that one of the co-lead authors of the retracted study, Dr. Erin Hayes, took part in an anti-fracking event.

But when another team of scientists undercut the anti-fracking narrative by finding that it wasn’t polluting water, there was little in the way of publicity and research funders walked away from supporting it.

Critical thought is needed to break through confirmation bias—especially at a university or at a peer reviewed journal like Environmental Science & Technology. Scientists have to be careful their judgements aren’t clouded so they miss things like math errors.

Fracking is a valuable technology that has transformed the energy landscape. Scientists at universities and government agencies have found again and again that it safely produces abundant energy.

In policy debates it’s critical that we have good facts for making decisions. Instead of jumping to conclusions, researchers need to make sure the science is done right and that they don’t let their biases get in the way.

Sean Hackbarth Sunset on the horizon in the Chukchi Sea.Sunset on the horizon in the Chukchi Sea off Alaska's coast. Photo credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.

The Obama administration has made it harder to tap into American energy when it will be needed the most. Unintentionally it advances the “Keep it in the ground” movement.

The Interior Department finalized new regulations on oil and gas drilling in the Arctic Ocean, Bloomberg reports:

Energy companies that hunt for crude in icy Arctic waters will have to stash extra equipment nearby and take other potentially costly steps meant to prevent oil spills in the fragile, remote region under regulations the Obama administration imposed Thursday.

The Interior Department estimates the measure will cost as much as $2 billion over the next 10 years, with the bulk of that coming from a new requirement that energy companies have a backup rig nearby to bore a relief well in case of an emergency, at rental rates that can reach a million dollars a day. Those compliance costs could shrink if oil companies agree to pool resources and collaborate on emergency response, following a model that has been used in the Gulf of Mexico since the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster.

This $2 billion cost doesn’t include the value projects not started because of higher regulatory barriers.

Right now, low oil prices are keeping companies from exploring in the Arctic, but that will change.

Tom Walsh, the owner of Petrotechnical Resources of Alaska, told The Hill, “The prices will rebound, and they will come back up, and [companies] are going to have cash again, and they’re going to want to invest again.”

The National Petroleum Council estimates there is 34 billion barrels of oil off the Arctic coast of the U.S. Unfortunately, these new regulations will make it harder to get at that energy.

npc_arctic_energy_potential_800px.jpg National Petroleum Council chart on Arctic energy resources.National Petroleum Council chart on Arctic energy resources.


While not intentional--federal regulators have been putting up obstacles to Arctic Ocean energy exploration years before environmental activists cranked up their demands to a new level of extreme--this action advances the “Keep it in the ground,” anti-fossil fuel agenda.

Raising the regulatory hurdles to energy exploration makes it less likely that companies will take a risk developing energy in the Arctic and locks energy away from energy-hungry businesses and households.

Add this to the administration’s many steps to limit fossil fuel production and consumption:

EPA’s Clean Power Plan Unnecessary regulations on methane A moratorium on coal leases on federal lands Closing off the Alaska Natural Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to development

The next chapter in the Arctic energy story will be seeing if the Interior Department includes Arctic oil and gas leases in its next schedule of offshore lease sales. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) is worried because of how it will affect the future of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline.

“We must continue to fight to boost the throughput in that pipeline, which is vital to the energy security of the United States,” she said at a June Senate hearing on energy infrastructure.

If oil stops flowing by law the pipeline must be dismantled. If that happens, under the current permitting environment it would be nearly impossible to rebuild it—see Keystone XL.

Vast quantities of American energy would then be off limits.

While it’s far away from most Americans and out of mind, locking away energy resources could end up costing American families when that energy will be needed the most.