Taxpayers Are Being Forced To Pay For The Cost Of Cleaning Up Fracking Operations

There’s an old saying all of us probably heard when we were growing up: Be careful what you ask for; you just might get it. And that certainly seems to be the case when it comes to fracking.

Fracking — which is also known as hydraulic fracturing — has been a booming industry across the United States for decades now. But as some companies go bankrupt or move their operations to other places, many residents are finding out the hard way that they’re on the hook when it comes to paying for the cost of cleaning up after the fracking wells have run dry, EcoWatch reports:

“Increasingly, U.S. shale firms appear unable to pay back investors for the money borrowed to fuel the last decade of the fracking boom. In a similar vein, those companies also seem poised to stiff the public on cleanup costs for abandoned oil and gas wells once the producers have moved on.”

Even in North Dakota, which has seen its economy take off thanks to fracking, there’s skepticism about whether or not the trade-off of temporary economic boom is actually worth the long-term cost to communities, with Bruce Hicks, assistant director of the North Dakota Oil and Gas Division, remarking:

“It’s starting to become out of control, and we want to rein this in.”

But perhaps the best example of how fracking can wind up costing more than it’s worth can be found in Pennsylvania:

“Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) says that while it only has documentation of 8,000 orphaned and abandoned wells, it estimates the state actually has over a half million.

“‘We anticipate as many as 560,000 are in existence that we just don’t know of yet,’ DEP spokesperson Laura Fraley told StateImpact Pennsylvania. ‘There’s no responsible party and so it’s on state government to pay to have those potential environmental and public health hazards remediated.'”

And the very nature of how fracking is done means that clean-up costs are dramatically larger than for a normal oil well. Fracking wells can stretch up to 10,000 feet below the ground:

“Because the longer the total length of the well, the more it costs to clean up, the funding required to properly clean up and cap wells has grown as drillers have continued to use new technologies to greatly extend well lengths. Evidence from the federal government points to the potential for these costs being shifted to the tax-paying public.”

In Pennsylvania, the cost of reclaiming a fracking well can run as high as $145,000. That figure is even higher in North Dakota:

“One of the top industry regulators, State Mineral Resources Director Lynn Helms, estimated that wells there cost $150,000 to plug and reclaim.”

The oil and gas industry is following the playbook that has been used for decades by coal companies:

“According to a Center for Public Integrity investigation, more than 150 coal mines (and dozens of uranium mines) have been allowed to idle indefinitely, enabling their owners to avoid paying for the costs of cleanup.

“In April, the Stanford Law Review published the paper, “Bankruptcy as Bailout: Coal Company Insolvency and the Erosion of Federal Law,” which notes that almost half the coal mined in the U.S. is done so by companies that have recently declared bankruptcy.”

Cost is only part of the story when it comes to the damage done by fracking. There’s also the health impact on communities, fracking-related earthquakes, and increased flaring from wells. Cleaning up after the boom has ended, many towns are finding, could wind up costing much more than can ever offset the temporary financial boom they experienced.


Featured Image Via Pixabay

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Andrew Bradford

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