Fractured fairy tales
Greens hate natural gas and fracking, but costly, parasitic wind energy can't live without it
Horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing have boosted shale gas production from zero a few years ago to 10% of all US energy supplies in 2012, observes energy analyst Daniel Yergin. Fracking has also increased US oil production 25% since 2008 – almost all on state and private lands, and in the face of more federal land and resource withdrawals, permitting delays and declining public land production.
In the process, the fracking revolution created 1.7 million jobs in oil fields, equipment manufacturing, legal and information technology services, and other sectors. It will generate over $60 billion this year in state and federal tax and royalty revenues, reduce America's oil import bill by $75 billion, and save us $100 billion in imported liquefied natural gas, concludes a new IMF Global Insight analysis.
A resurgent American petroleum industry could add “as many as 3.6 million jobs by 2020, and increase the US gross domestic product by as much as 3 percent,” says Citigroup's “Energy 2020” report. Fracking is bringing new jobs and revenues to states underlain by shale deposits, and could give our nation over a century of hydrocarbon energy that will keep prices low for fuel and petrochemical feed stocks.
That means more manufacturing and other jobs for millions of graduates and unemployed workers, and new prosperity for the “Rust Belt” and other areas. “Plunging natural gas prices have turned the US into one of the most profitable places in the world to make chemicals and fertilizer,” says the Wall Street Journal. It's also “slashed costs for makers of energy-intensive products such as aluminum, steel and glass.”
It could make North America energy independent and even a net exporter of natural gas. In fact, this amazing new technology could turn the United States into the world's #1 oil producer within just a few more years.
For people still concerned about “catastrophic manmade global warming” (despite 16 years of stable global temperatures), unconventional gas also provides a way to cut carbon dioxide emissions by up to 40% using clean-burning fuel that costs a third less than oil on a per BTU basis, notes Danish economist Bjorn Lomborg. The USA's CO2 emissions are now at their lowest levels in 20 years, because of natural gas, a sluggish economy, and the retirement of 100-200 coal-fired power plants due to an EPA regulatory onslaught that is based heavily on agenda-driven, slipshod and even fraudulent and illegal science.
Logic and common sense would engender unprecedented public, political and even environmentalist support for hydraulic fracturing and expanded oil and gas production. Indeed, that is Governor Romney's perspective and policy. Unfortunately, Team Obama remains largely opposed to domestic drilling, fixated on “renewable” energy, despite having already wasted some $97 billion on wind, solar and algae projects – and poised to unleash a boxcar of new EPA and BLM rules designed to usurp state control and restrict or hyper-regulate fracking on federal, state and private lands alike, win or lose on November 6.
Team Obama justifies its stance by citing public anxiety over fracking. It fails to mention that this anxiety has been nurtured and orchestrated by a host of environmental pressure groups whose existence, monetary sustenance and political power depend on a steady stream of new eco-hobgoblins. Their fractured fairy tales about this game-changing energy technology would be as funny as the Rocky and Bullwinkle tales, if the economic, employment, national security and environmental consequences weren't so serious.
Hydraulic fracturing devastates their mantra that we are running out of oil and gas. It annihilates their incessant assertions that hydrocarbons are the energy of the past, and renewables are the future. In reality, wind and solar cannot live with cheap natural gas (because they cannot possibly compete with it) and cannot live without it (because they only work 20% of the time and need gas as constant backup power).
Consequently, the anti-fracking factions have concocted a hodgepodge of eco-scares, each one more absurd and indefensible than the last.
Burning tap water. Yes, you can ignite methane at your kitchen faucet, if your well was drilled through gas-bearing rock formations and was not properly cemented and sealed to keep gas out. (Eternal Flame Falls in New York's Chestnut Ridge Park is one example of natural methane leakage.) But fracturing zones are thousands of feet below groundwater supplies; production wells use cement and steel casing that extends hundreds of feet below the surface; and sensitive instruments monitor downhole activity, to ensure that valuable gas does not escape into near-surface formations or the atmosphere.
Groundwater contamination. Fracking fluids are 99.5% water and sand. The other 0.5% is made up of chemicals that fight bacterial growth, keep sand particles suspended in the liquid and improve production. The vast majority used today are found in household items that Americans use safely every day – including cheese, beer, canned fish, dairy desserts, shampoo and cosmetic products. New fluids like those developed by FamilyJoule and Halliburton represent the new kinds of entirely nontoxic and biodegradable chemicals that almost all drillers are now using.
Steadily improving technologies, techniques and regulations minimize risks even further. For instance, heavy plastic liners are now commonplace under drilling rigs, storage tanks and containment pits. Along with modern drilling and well casing methods, they help make the likelihood of chemical or salt contamination of groundwater a minuscule fraction of what is posed by winter salting of icy roads.
Wastewater and water depletion. In addition to changing the composition of fracking fluids (and making that information readily available online), to address concerns about water use and wastewater disposal, drilling companies increasingly recycle the water they use. Devon and other companies have recycled hundreds of millions of gallons, and some 90% of water produced in the Marcellus shale region of New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia is now reused. Moreover, the amount of water used in fracking is far less than what is required to grow corn and process it into ethanol.
Earthquakes. Fracturing rocks does cause cracking that can be measured with ultra-sensitive equipment. But these micro-seismic events measure around 0.8 on the Richter Scale, about what is caused by a car passing by. Even loaded dump trucks register only a 3 (the minimum that can be felt by humans), and property damage does not begin until level 5. Deep injection of water for geothermal energy development or enhanced oil recovery operations (or to dispose of petroleum, municipal or industrial wastewater) has caused detectable seismic activity; however, of more than 800,000 injection wells nationwide, only about 40 were actually felt at the surface. Rules and practices increasingly address these injection well issues.
Fracking regulations. State and local regulation and cooperation with industry, constant refinements and improvements in rules and practices, and accommodation to public concerns about water, drilling and fracking fluids, road congestion, community impacts and other issues have been ongoing for decades. That is part of the reason that 2.5 million instances of fracking worldwide (over 1 million in the USA) since 1949 have not caused any serious harm. That's a safety record any industry would envy.
Unfortunately, environmentalist fractured fairy tales cost us energy, jobs, revenue and prosperity – for no ecological benefit. The ultimate irony is Europe, where Big Green opposition to fracking and nuclear power is ushering in a coal-burning renaissance. Germany and other central EU countries will be building 10,600 megawatts of new coal-fired electrical power plants during the next four years!
Meanwhile, green power mandates have already pushed Germany's electricity prices to the second highest in Europe (32 cents per kWh, compared to an average of 10 cents in the USA) – and the average German household faces another big rate hike over the next year. Countless jobs are also at risk.
America has the world's largest reserves of oil, gas and coal. We need access to these deposits, under rational regulations that reflect reality, instead of eco-fairy tales. We need people in the White House, Congress and government bureaucracies who can distinguish between fact and fiction, understand how to produce real energy, jobs and revenues, and don't have an agenda to “fundamentally transform” our nation.
Paul Driessen is senior policy advisor for the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow and Congress of Racial Equality, and author of Eco-Imperialism: Green power - Black death.