SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Gov. Gary Herbert said it is time to banish the "myths and misinformation" on fracking, pointing to the state's clean environmental record stretching back more than 50 years.
"We've been doing a pretty good job in Utah," Herbert said. "But we need to have a good faith dialogue and discussion. There are a lot of myths out there and we need to separate fact from fiction."
Herbert's remarks came Wednesday during the opening day of the National Governors Association's second annual policy forum on shale development.
The meeting in Salt Lake City drew governors from across the country, industry leaders, state regulators and academic experts and scientists to discuss the latest in best practices, from sustainable wastewater management, pipeline and rail safety and technology that can reduce emissions.
Herbert said the practice of hydraulic fracturing — widening naturally occurring fractures or fissures in the earth through the injection of fluid to get to the oil or gas — has been done in Utah for well over 50 years without contaminating the environment.
"There's not been one incident with fracking," Herbert said, including soil or water contamination. "I think we are doing a good job."
Fracking, however, has been at the center of a controversial firestorm across the country and around the globe as opponents denounce the practice as unsafe for the environment, asserting it pollutes groundwater and drives up risks of earthquakes.
Nationally, the Bureau of Land Management is in the process of crafting rules on fracking disclosure by industry, something Utah has required since 2012.
Utah has 15,000 oil, gas and injection wells, with about another 1,000 that come online each year. Many of the wells are actually "infill wells" that were dormant for decades but are now producing due to advents in horizontal drilling. Utah has had its share of environmental incidents, however, due to its oil and gas activity, with contamination that has reached the Green River from a well malfunction to a pipeline rupture that despoiled Red Butte Creek.
Herbert said Utah's biggest challenge as an energy exporter is the long permitting time it takes to get fields up and running because of their location on federal land.
It is not just an economic benefit that comes with high paying good jobs particularly in rural parts of our country as is the case in Utah, but it is also a national security issue. We have contention and tension around the world because of the demand for energy.
–Gov. Gary Herbert
"The federal process is four, five times as long as what it takes to get a permit from the state," he said. Federal land constraints also pose transmission challenges, with Hebert noting that the conveyance of oil or gas often has to go around, not across, Bureau of Land Management acreage.
Utah crude oil production was up nearly 16 percent in 2013 over 2012 and was at its highest production level since 1987, but Herbert noted that the majority of that production is playing out on private or state-owned land. He added that states with the best economies — Utah was just named No. 1 in the country for business by Forbes magazine — are states with energy-rich economies like North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas and Oklahoma.
"It is not just an economic benefit that comes with high paying good jobs particularly in rural parts of our country as is the case in Utah, but it is also a national security issue," he said "We have contention and tension around the world because of the demand for energy."
He added that ultimately, Americans want sustainable and reliable energy, an energy source that is affordable and clean.
"This country needs a comprehensive energy policy," much like Utah has a 10-year energy plan, he said.
"We are disjointed in Washington, D.C. I wish we had a 10-year energy plan."
Herbert was joined in the opening session by Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee, who described his state as a recipient, downstream beneficiary trying to make more effective use of the nations' energy boom.
He said his region is facing a 24 percent hike in utility rates and the transition to natural gas from heating fuel has been fought by an odd coalition that includes both industry — which does not want the cheap natural gas to cut into profits — and the environmental community that clamors for wind or solar development.
"We're not there yet, until we are there, natural gas is what we are looking at," as well as hydropower from Canada, he said.
"We are seeing tremendous price fights as our infrastructure has not kept up."
The New England area has been mired with controversy over the region's push to move to hydropower and natural gas for homes, with critics pushing back over new natural gas lines and transmission lines that are stoking concerns over safety and costs.
The energy forum is scheduled to continue Thursday in Salt Lake City.