Facts, not fears, should gov­ern frack­ing

About shale gas de­vel­op­ment do not serve the public in­ter­est

The Washington Times Daily - - Opinion - By Paul Driessen

It’s been called a “game changer” for good rea­son. Hor­i­zon­tal drilling and hy­draulic frac­tur­ing, or frack­ing, is be­ing used suc­cess­fully in the United States and else­where to coax oil and nat­u­ral gas from shale and other rock for­ma­tions that pre­vi­ously re­fused to yield their hy­dro­car­bon riches.

In less than two years, this old but rapidly ad­vanc­ing tech­nol­ogy has oblit­er­ated long-stand­ing claims that we are run­ning out of petroleum. In­stead, the United States finds it­self blessed with cen­turies of oil and gas.

By mak­ing more nat­u­ral gas avail­able, frack­ing has re­duced the price for this clean-burn­ing fuel to less than $3 per thou­sand cu­bic feet (or mil­lion Btu), com­pared to $8 a few years ago.

Nat­u­ral gas also is sup­plant­ing coal for electricity gen­er­a­tion. Be­cause of ex­ces­sive new EPA reg­u­la­tions, many U.S. coal-fired power plants are shut­ting down. Re­place­ment plants are far more likely to be gas-pow­ered than nu­clear, es­pe­cially in the near term.

That makes heat­ing and electricity more af­ford­able for fam­i­lies, hos­pi­tals, gov­ern­ment build­ings and busi­nesses and makes feed­stocks less ex­pen­sive for mak­ers of plas­tics, fab­rics and other petro­chem­i­cal prod­ucts. It also trans­lates into thou­sands of jobs cre­ated or saved.

Although few en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists will ac­knowl­edge it, nat­u­ral gas also pro­vides es­sen­tial backup power gen­er­a­tion for in­ter­mit­tent wind and so­lar projects. With­out such backup, electricity gen­er­a­tion as­so­ci­ated with those projects will plum­met to zero 70 per­cent to 80 per­cent of the time.

How­ever, cheap nat­u­ral gas also makes it much harder to jus­tify build­ing re­dun­dant wind tur­bines and so­lar pan­els, which re­quire large sub­si­dies to gen­er­ate far more ex­pen­sive electricity just five to eight hours a day, on av­er­age, while killing large num­bers of rap­tors, mi­gra­tory birds and bats.

Amid these pos­i­tive de­vel­op­ments, the Sierra Club and other en­vi­ron­men­tal pres­sure groups are spread­ing un­founded fears about this proven tech­nol­ogy. Us­ing words like “reck­less,” “dan­ger­ous” and “poi­sonous,” they say un­reg­u­lated com­pa­nies are op­er­at­ing with lit­tle con­cern for eco­log­i­cal val­ues and caus­ing can­cer, earth­quakes and ground­wa­ter con­tam­i­na­tion.

The claims have fanned bor­der­line hys­te­ria and prompted Mary­land, New York and other states to launch drawn-out stud­ies or im­pose mora­to­ri­ums that will post­pone drilling and the ben­e­fits it would bring. Facts are sorely needed.

Drilling and frack­ing have been reg­u­lated care­fully and ef­fec­tively by states for decades. As stud­ies by the Univer­sity of Texas and var­i­ous state agen­cies have doc­u­mented, there never has been a con­firmed case of ground­wa­ter con­tam­i­na­tion caused by frack­ing. Even En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency (EPA) Ad­min­is­tra­tor Lisa P. Jack­son ac­knowl­edged that to a con­gres­sional panel.

These an­a­lysts, drilling com­pa­nies and even an En­vi­ron­men­tal De­fense Fund ex­pert now say frack­ing has not played a role in any of the rare cases where meth­ane has got­ten into drink­ing water.

In­stead, the cause gen­er­ally has been a fail­ure of “well in­tegrity” — the re­sult of im­proper cementing be­tween the well bore­hole and the steel “cas­ing” and pipes that go down through aquifers and thou­sands of feet deeper into gasladen shale for­ma­tions.

The so­lu­tion is rather straight­for­ward: bet­ter stan­dards and pro­ce­dures for cementing ver­ti­cal pipes in place, and test­ing them ini­tially and pe­ri­od­i­cally to en­sure there are no leaks.

Frack­ing flu­ids like­wise fail to match the “toxic” and “can­cer­ous” op­pro­brium al­leged by anti-drilling cam­paigns. More than 99.5 per­cent of the flu­ids con­sist of water and sand. The other 0.5 per­cent is chem­i­cals to keep sand par­ti­cles sus­pended in the liq­uid, fight bac­te­rial growth and im­prove gas pro­duc­tion.

Although in­dus­trial chem­i­cals once were used, al­most all of to­day’s are vegetable oil and chem­i­cals used in cheese, beer, canned fish, dairy desserts, sham­poo and other food and cos­metic prod­ucts.

As to “earth­quakes,” barely de­tectable “tremors” have been mea­sured oc­ca­sion­ally near frack­ing op­er­a­tions and wastew­a­ter-dis­posal in­jec­tion wells. How­ever, call­ing these snap, crackle and pop noises and move­ments “earth­quakes” is akin to giv­ing that la­bel to rum­blings from trains and ce­ment trucks.

Frack­ing could help pro­vide a far more se­cure, af­ford­able, de­pend­able and clean fu­ture than ever would be pos­si­ble with wind or so­lar power.

By ex­pand­ing oil and gas de­vel­op­ment, it could make North Amer­ica the world’s new en­ergy hub. Mid­dle East­ern sheiks, mul­lahs and min­is­ters of the Or­ga­ni­za­tion of Petroleum Ex­port­ing Coun­tries would lose eco­nomic, po­lit­i­cal and strate­gic power. Threats of Rus­sian pipe­line clo­sures would no longer in­tim­i­date East­ern Euro­pean coun­tries. Politi­cians ev­ery­where would waste less money on “re­new­able” en­ergy boon­dog­gles.

Mean­while, though, fear cam­paigns are pre­vent­ing some of Mary­land’s poor­est coun­ties and fam­i­lies from en­joy­ing the eco­nomic ben­e­fits of Mar­cel­lus Shale de­vel­op­ment. Bal­ti­more’s Sage Pol­icy Group cal­cu­lated that frack­ing in Western Mary­land could re­duce en­ergy costs, cre­ate thou­sands of jobs and gen­er­ate mil­lions of dol­lars an­nu­ally in rev­enue for the state and Al­le­gany and Gar­rett coun­ties.

Other stud­ies have cal­cu­lated sim­i­lar ben­e­fits for New York, Ohio, Eng­land, Poland and other regions that are blessed with shale de­posits.

Hy­draulic frac­tur­ing tech­nolo­gies are proven. Reg­u­la­tions to pro­tect drink­ing water are in place and im­prov­ing steadily. Louisiana, North Dakota, Penn­syl­va­nia, Texas and other states are show­ing the way for­ward. Those that have not yet opened their doors to re­spon­si­ble drilling, frack­ing and pro­duc­tion need to re­place anti-hy­dro­car­bon agen­das and fears with facts, op­ti­mism and sci­ence-based reg­u­la­tions.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.