Hydraulic fracturing (fracking) has been around for decades with little or no environmental problems, and it is a key to the nation’s energy independence through stepped up use of plentiful natural gas supplies in transportation, oilman-turned-clean transportation advocate T. Boone Pickens told a National Press Club luncheon Tuesday in which he tackled a wide-ranging set of energy, environmental and political issues with fellow billionaire and CNN founder Ted Turner.

For his part, Turner expressed some concerns with fracking to the Washington, DC, crowd, but deferred to Pickens’ expertise on the subject, noting he is “an oilman and I am a television guy.” Pickens said he fracked his first well in the 1950s and went on to use the technology in more than 3,000 wells without any contamination of domestic water supplies or other environmental mishaps.

Pickens said he thinks the bulk of the concerns now being expressed are misguided and centered on the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania and western New York, which he characterized as still very new to the process. He suggested that states like Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas where the practice is better known are not raising any issues. As an aside, he also blasted the big oil companies as being well run international giants with no interest in seeing the United States develop a long-range energy policy that would promote fewer oil imports.

In response to a question about a Cornell University report alleging that gas fracking may result in more greenhouse gas emissions than burning coal in power plants (see Shale Daily, April 13), Pickens said there is no question about the relative cleanliness of natural gas, calling it the “fuel that cleaned up California” through the conversion of buses, trash trucks and other heavy equipment from diesel to natural gas as a fuel.

In fracking thousands of wells, Pickens said he “never had one well with any kind of problem.” The potential problem of contaminating domestic water supplies, he said, is a physical impossibility with most fracking taking place “two to three miles below” the fresh water supplies that are up in the first 1,000 feet underground.

“I worked in the biggest aquifer in the world from Midland, TX, to the South Dakota border, across eight states and drilling more than 3,000 wells, and we would drill down 10,000 to 15,000 feet, way under the fresh water sand. You tell me how a frack job two miles down can get back up into the fresh water. I never had it happen, and I don’t know of anyone else who had it happen.

“If you notice, all of the complaints are coming from Pennsylvania and that’s in the Marcellus, and how long have we been developing [that play]? About three years. They’ve drilled over 800,000 wells in Oklahoma, Kansas and Texas, and fracked those wells, and I don’t know about any lawsuit or complaint. Why is it all in Pennsylvania and western New York?”

Pickens said there is a need for political leadership that will check the facts. He thinks it is straightforward and uncomplicated if people take the time to look at what is really happening.

Pickens made his fortune in the oil business, but in 2008 he unveiled his “Pickens Plan” to cut America’s dependence on foreign oil by more than one-third within 10 years. The plan calls for shifting the nation to using domestic renewable sources and natural gas as a transportation fuel (see Daily GPI, April 7; March 31; July 9, 2008).