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February 19, 2013

The Energy Potential of Fracking


Say you were a politician and there was a clean and abundant domestic energy source — one that has the potential to create jobs and revitalize local economies. Would you do more to encourage it?

Silly question, you may be thinking. Why wouldn’t you do more to encourage it?

Well, this scenario is more than hypothetical. I’m talking about natural gas, which is proving in these energy-hungry times to be more of a boon every day. The United States has plenty of it, and thanks to technological advancements in directional drilling and hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as fracking, it’s more accessible than ever.

Fracking involves shooting a mixture of water and chemicals deep underground to release the trapped natural gas. Certain states have been using this technique for years, and very successfully. They have sensible rules in place to ensure that companies obtain the gas in an environmentally responsible manner.

Yet the Department of Energy has been delaying decisions to allow companies to export natural gas. Moreover, anti-fracking governors such as Gov. Andrew Cuomo, New York Democrat, have been doing their best to oppose it.

The Empire State has held up new permits for the past four years. Now state officials, citing environmental concerns, have called for yet another round of public health analysis, which likely will bring more public comments, although they already have nearly 80,000.

The delay supposedly will keep the state from being sued by anti-fracking activists. By taking more time, Mr. Cuomo claims, the state has a better chance of avoiding lawsuits.

More likely, it’s a matter of stonewalling by opponents who hope the issue goes away. Whatever the reason, there is a certain irony to hearing the environment used as an excuse to oppose fracking. Natural gas, because it burns more cleanly than coal, reduces carbon emissions by a significant amount.

There are other upsides as well. Consider Pennsylvania and Ohio, which are reaping the benefits of fracking.

In Pennsylvania, this type of gas extraction has been under way since the 1960s, with nearly 100,000 oil and gas wells fracked and no instances of contamination of groundwater. The same clean record is true for Ohio, where more than 70,000 oil and gas wells have been fracked since the 1960s.

All this activity helps the state economies, of course. The Associated Press recently reported that energy companies paid private landowners in Pennsylvania more than $1.2 billion in royalty payments last year alone.

That has made a big difference in the lives of farmers such as Shawn Georgetti, who used to live paycheck to paycheck, putting necessary expenses on credit cards. The royalty payments have eased things considerably. “You don’t have that problem anymore,” he said. “It’s a lot more fun to farm.”

Our national supply of natural gas is not about to run out anytime soon. The United States has more than a century’s worth (at current consumption rates) underground, waiting to be extracted, according to Heritage Foundation energy analyst Nicolas Loris.

This is very good news. If you’ve ever seen a bus or truck roll by with a sign reading, “Powered by natural gas,” you can see the potential. Natural gas is critical for generating electricity, providing about 30 percent of America’s power. It’s also necessary for heating and cooling homes, stoves, furnaces and water heaters.

Natural gas also has several industrial applications. Natural gas and hydrocarbons removed from it provide feedstock for fertilizers, chemicals and pharmaceuticals, waste treatment, food processing, fueling industrial boilers and much more. More vehicles of all sizes are running on natural gas as well.

“The natural gas boom has led to cleaner power and greater energy independence,” President Obama pointed out in his recent State of the Union address. “That’s why my administration will keep cutting red tape and speeding up new oil and gas permits.”

The sooner, the better. Deliberately locking away such a promising energy source is a pointless waste.

-Ed Feulner is president of The Heritage Foundation.

First appeared in The Washington Times.

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