In Response to: Fracking Is Not New

After graduating from Princeton in 1994 with an A.B. in mathematics and earning a Ph.D. in 2001 in applied mathematics at the University of Colorado, I spent time in recent years focused on the “Obama EPA” study that James French ’62 cited as “showing no harmful effects of fracking” (Inbox, May 16).

 As Mr. French knows well, the modern spat over hydraulic fracturing began in earnest in Alabama. Energen, where he served as a director from 1979 to 2011 (according to Bloomberg), succeeded in fending off complaints about water contamination from Alabamians living near his company’s fracking operations. The Reagan, Bush, and Clinton EPAs chose to not regulate fracking-fluid injections as underground injections subject to the Safe Drinking Water Act. Using language then-Senator of Alabama Jeff Sessions had introduced in 1999, this practice was codified as law in 2005, the so-called “Halliburton Loophole.” 

Perhaps Mr. French confused the draft EPA study (July 2015) — which stated EPA did not find “widespread, systemic impacts to drinking water resources” — with the final version (December 2016), which deleted that line on the advice of the EPA Science Advisory Board. Marketplace, the popular radio show, revealed that the controversial and unsupported top line had been a rather late addition to the draft. 

Why? The answer goes to the heart of the disconnect between energy policy and climate policy: Maximize oil and gas production, or maximize what we keep in the ground? Hundreds of billions in oil and gas industry debt ride on the answer. So too, the stability of our climate. Indeed, this is not new.

Hugh MacMillan ’94
Seattle, Wash.