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Sean Hackbarth A natural gas drilling rig in Bradford County, Pennsylvania.A natural gas drilling rig in Bradford County, Pennsylvania. Photo credit: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg.

The University of Cincinnati has been under pressure ever since news came out that a two-year study by the school’s geology department concluded that there’s no evidence that hydraulic fracturing contaminates groundwater.

Word that there wouldn’t be any publicity of the study because anti-fracking sponsors stopped funding after learning of its findings drew attention from local Ohio news outletsstate officials, and national energy advocates like Energy In Depth and here at Above the Fold.

The university eased some of this pressure by releasing the data and findings of the study in the form of a master’s thesis, a member of the research team. 

The conclusion is clear and straightforward: There is “no evidence for natural gas contamination from shale oil and gas mining in any of the sampled groundwater wells of our study.”

How the University of Cincinnati study was structured makes it a valuable piece of evidence for fracking’s safety. Water samples were taken from wells and analyzed before fracking took place to establish a baseline of the amount of natural gas/methane (CH4) already in the water. Samples were also taken while fracking took place as well as after fracking was finished. By using isotopic analysis--with a stable isotope ratio mass spectrometer the university purchased with a federal grant—scientists determined if methane in the water samples came from natural sources or as a result of fracking.

Jackie Stewart at Energy In Depth pulls out four quotes from the master’s thesis that highlight the study’s findings that fracking didn’t contaminate drinking water:

 “We found no positive relationship between CH4 concentration in groundwater and proximity to active gas well sites, and we found no significant change in CH4 concentration, isotopic composition of CH4, pH, or conductivity in water wells during the study period.” “The water wells were sampled two or more times both before and after natural gas extraction activities began nearby. None of the measured parameters significantly varied in these groundwater wells before or after drilling or natural gas production.” “Over the course of the study, regularly monitored groundwater wells did not undergo a significant change in either δ13C-CH4 or δ2H-CH4 values.” “[N]o relationship was found between CH4 concentration and proximity to natural gas wells”

Other studies have shown that fracking is safe, but a curious wrinkle is this study was partly funded by fracking opponents and relied on the help of a local Ohio anti-fracking group, Carroll Concerned Citizens. When the results didn’t offer ammunition for pushing anti-fracking policies, the study’s funders picked up and ran. Professor Amy Townsend-Small, the head of the study, said:

I’m really sad to say this but some of our funders, the groups that had given us funding in the past, were a little disappointed in our results…. They feel that fracking is scary and so they were hoping our data could point to a reason to ban it.

Stewart notes on EID that the university has submitted the study as a paper to a peer-reviewed, science journal, but scientific publishing can be a long, drawn out process. It could be months or years before we saw the paper. It’s good the university released the research it has so the public can continue to learn that when done safely hydraulic fracturing provides access to abundant energy.

J.D. Harrison Primary ElectionPhoto via iStock

Ohio, Florida, Illinois, Missouri and North Carolina are taking their turn in the election spotlight, as voters in those five states prepare to cast their ballots in the Democratic and Republican primaries on Tuesday. It’s a moment that political pundits believe represents the best (and perhaps last) opportunity for challengers to turn the momentum swelling behind Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, and there will surely be any number of important issues weighing on the minds of voters.

One issue that resonates in all five states? The flood of onerous and overreaching regulations that have in recent years been pouring out of the Environmental Protection Agency.  

In the past year, EPA regulators have floated and finalized several rules that provide little or no environmental or health benefits, that threaten to shutter businesses and eliminate thousands of jobs, and that stretch the agency’s authority beyond recognition (and in some cases, potentially beyond the letter of the law). They include new ozone emissions restrictions, onerous new regulations on coal plants and a radical expansion of the agency’s authority over streams, creeks and riverbeds.

Not surprisingly, given the sweeping nature of these rules, every voter who will head to the polls on Tuesday lives in a state that has been hammered by the EPA’s recent regulations. Here’s a look at how businesses in those states have already been hit hard by the regulations.


A Power Plant, Zapped by EPA Overreach

“John Cooper, a former mechanic in the Marine Corps, has spent the past fifteen years working for Ameren, an energy utility company in the Midwest. He started out as a laborer at the firm’s Meramec power plant in 2000, and in the years since has worked his way up to shift supervisor at that same facility in St. Louis. He now supervises the operation of all plant systems. Soon, there won’t be any systems -- or employees -- left to supervise.”

Lots of People Want to Ditch Waters of the U.S. Rule. Here’s Why.

“Activists are taking to Facebook and Twitter with messages telling EPA to #DitchTheRule, and the Missouri Farm Bureau is taking things to another level with its #DitchCam that spotlights some of EPA’s WOTUS claims with the help of a few mythical people and creatures… The proposed rule wouldn’t just be hard on farmers, it would be hard on businesses, states, and local governments.”


The Wide Canyon Between Carbon Regulations and the Real World

“Some, such as the Tampa-based Seminole Electric Cooperative, went deeply into debt to build the coal-fired power plants U.S. officials demanded years ago, and now they are stuck with facilities that can’t meet the new standards and can’t be easily upgraded or replaced. “We can’t just run out and invest in some new technology,” said Seminole General Manager Lisa Johnson, who oversees an electric grid that supplies dozens of small towns and farming communities across north-central Florida.

Double Whammy: EPA Carbon Regulations Will Mean Higher Electricity Costs, Fewer Jobs

“These potential rules will affect different areas of the country differently depending on what fuel sources they rely on and are able to tap for electricity generation… If you live in the South power region - much of the Southeast from Tennessee to Florida - expect to see the highest increases: $6.6 billion on average annually and $111.4 cumulatively from 2014-2030.”


Two Rules. Two Brickmakers. Immeasurable Damage.

“I try not to think about the irony,” said Janet Kaboth, president of Whitacre Greer, the family-owned brick manufacturer in Alliance, Ohio that in 1980 churned out more than a million candlelight-colored bricks that still stretch from the White House to the Capitol. “It’s frustrating. Very, very frustrating.” What’s threatening Kaboth’s company, which will celebrate its 100th year in business this year, are onerous new regulations finalized last year by the EPA – regulations that business leaders expect to  wreak havoc on an already troubled American industry.

Ozone Standard Would Give a Black Eye to the Buckeye State

“About the only thing worse for Ohio than EPA imposing a stricter ozone standard would be a Michigan win over Ohio State. According to the Center for Regulatory Solutions (CRS), 34 counties in Ohio will not meet federal ozone air quality standards if EPA lowers the standard from 75 parts per billion (ppb) set in 2008 to somewhere between 65 and 70 ppb… For a state like Ohio still trying to lift itself up after the Great Recession, a stricter ozone standard would be a major hit.”


Stricter Ozone Standard Will Make It Harder to Fight Poverty in Illinois

“A stricter EPA ozone standard is bad news for the Windy City, by threatening jobs and making it harder to fight poverty, a report finds… With their significant manufacturing bases, McHenry, Lake, and Kane Counties will be hit particularly hard.

What Will EPA’s Ozone Standard Cost Illinois?

“Proposed changes to tighten national ozone standards could put local jobs at risk and limit opportunities for economic development in Illinois.”

North Carolina

A Bunch of States Tell EPA: Your Carbon Regulations are Nuts

“EPA’s methodology for calculating a unit’s capacity value is completely foreign to the electric utility industry. North Carolina electric utilities develop their resource plans to secure capacity to meet the single coincident peak demand modeled over the planning horizon. In North Carolina, this is typically the summer seasonal peak. However, from time-to-time, North Carolina utilities have observed all-time system peak demands during the winter months. While utilities are obligated to meet the peak demand regardless of when it occurs, they typically must plan for more generation in the summer than winter.”

Job Creators Strike Back against Harmful EPA Overreach (via North Carolina Chamber)

"In a 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court blocked a carbon emission proposal by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that would harm the nation’s job creators and add more red tape to an already burdensome federal regulatory climate. Last year, the NC Chamber joined the National Association of Manufacturers, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and other pro-growth organizations to urge national leaders to stand against this proposal. While the Court’s decision Tuesday will only temporarily block the EPA’s proposal, it provided job creators with an encouraging sign that judicial leaders are exercising a healthy level of skepticism toward the out-of-control regulatory overreach the executive branch has attempted to exert in recent years."  

Sean Hackbarth Train cars of coal outside Price, Utah. Train cars of coal outside Price, Utah. Photo credit: George Frey/Bloomberg.

President Barack Obama is winning his regulatory war on coal, even though public opinion supports it as a beneficial part of America’s energy mix.

It’s not often that a presidential campaign moment is applicable eight years later. In 2008, then-candidate President Barack Obama told The San Francisco Chronicle, if elected president, “if somebody wants to build a coal-fired power plant, they can. It’s just that it will bankrupt them."

Fast-forward to today. The Energy Information Administration (EIA) points out almost 14 gigawatts (GW) of coal-fired power plants were retired in 2015.

eia_powerplantretirements_2015.jpg  Power plant retirements in 2015.Energy Information Administration chart: Power plant retirements in 2015.Source: Energy Information Administration.

There’s no doubt that some of this stems from market forces. The shale boom has unleashed so much natural gas that its price has been driven down, making it a very competitive fuel source for electricity generation.

But no one can seriously argue that the Obama’s regulatory attacks on coal haven’t played a major role. Here’s one example from the Energy Information Administration:

About 30% of the coal capacity that retired in 2015 occurred in April, which is when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) rule went into effect.

This rule was struck down by the Supreme Court in July 2015, but as EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy bragged, the damage was done. "Over 50 GW of affordable, reliable power plants have been shuttered by an illegally crafted" mercury rule, writes Heath Knakmuhs of the Institute for 21st Century Energy.

Another example is the Goliath of regulatory attacks on coal: EPA’s Clean Power Plan. The regulations will force states to abandon reliable coal-fired power plants and reconfigure their electrical systems to reduce U.S. carbon emissions.

Thankfully the Supreme Court delayed EPA from implementing it until all legal challenges were settled. A Morning Consult poll found that by more than 2-to-1 Americans support SCOTUS’ action.

mci_cpp_stay_support_topline_2016-03-08.jpg Morning Consult poll on Supreme Court stay of EPA's Clean Power Plan.Morning Consult poll on Supreme Court stay of EPA's Clean Power Plan.Source: Morning Consult.

Americans must be scratching their heads at this administration’s regulatory onslaught. A poll for the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity found that a majority (54%) of voters support using coal to generate electricity.

americas_power_coal_support_022016.png American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity poll shows a majority of Americans support coal for electricity generation.American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity poll shows a majority of Americans support coal for electricity generation.Source: Morning Consult.

This makes total sense. Coal-fired power plants work. They produce reliable electricity at an affordable price. As families and businesses use more devices like smart phones, computers, televisions, along with the rise of the Internet of Things, the need for dependable electricity will only increase.

President Obama’s eight-year war on coal may have fulfilled a campaign promise, but it runs counter to an economy relying more on electrons and bits than atoms. The public gets this even if the president doesn’t.