The vice president shook up the scientific world Tuesday.
At a campaign stop in Virginia touting the administration’s energy policy, Vice President Joseph R. Biden blamed earthquakes on the extraction of natural gas by fracking.
Industry analysts immediately panned Mr. Biden’s remarks — which are backed by no evidence — about the hydraulic fracturing method that uses water, sand and chemicals to crack underground rock and release vast amounts of fuel.
“We know we can get [natural gas and oil], but we have to do it environmentally soundly. There’s a thing called fracking. They’ve got to go crack the rock in order to get it out. You can environmentally do that well or you can environmentally do that poorly,” the vice president said.
“If you do it poorly, you use up the water aquifer. You can create, in some cases the argument is, earthquakes,” he concluded.
Mr. Biden was referring to a string of minor tremors over the past year in the Youngstown, Ohio, area, including a 4.0 quake that shook the city on New Year’s Eve.
But state officials have confirmed that the temblors were the result of a wastewater-disposal well, not fracking itself. Some drilling firms dispose of the millions of gallons of water needed to frack a well by simply pumping it back into the earth. Others opt for the more expensive method of treating the water and reusing it.
Many environmental groups, and now the vice president, have incorrectly tied the seismic events directly to fracking.
“The worst-kept secret in Washington is Vice President Biden’s penchant for exaggeration … now he’s pretending to be a seismologist,” said Benjamin Cole, communications director at the Institute for Energy Research, a nonprofit energy think tank.
“If [Mr. Biden] paid attention to government geologists rather than winging it on the campaign trail, he’d know that concerns about disposal-injection wells have been tied to minor earthquakes. But this administration has a pattern of distorting the facts about energy production in America,” he said.
Ohio officials shut down the wastewater-disposal well near Youngstown after learning it had been built on a previously unknown fault line. Disturbance of that fault line triggered a rash of at least a dozen earthquakes, which began just three months after the well came on line.
The state’s Department of Natural Resources has now implemented new protocols requiring companies to perform thorough geologic testing before drilling waste wells in order to prevent future quakes.
Despite his reservations about fracking, Mr. Biden said the administration supports domestic oil and gas drilling, but only if the proper safeguards are in place.
He cited forthcoming regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency designed to limit air pollution and potential water contamination from fracking sites — regulations that Industry leaders fear will greatly reduce the nation’s fossil fuel production.
“We are spending a lot of time and money figuring out how to [drill for oil and gas] in an environmentally sound way,” Mr. Biden said.