Thanks to technologies such as hydraulic fracturing, the United States is the world's largest producer of natural gas. But while domestic natural gas and oil production continues to increase, opponents of the new technology continue to become more desperate.
The environmental lobby, which condemns natural gas drilling, once praised natural gas as a "bridge fuel" to a new "energy economy." Now anti-energy activists are intensifying their rhetoric and taking their anti-natural-gas attack to Washington. On Saturday, anti-energy activists are rallying in the nation's capital to "stop the frack attack." But it's hard to understand what they are complaining about.
Until just a few years ago, the vast reserves of natural gas and oil were unreachable because those resources were trapped in shale rock. Geologists knew the resources were in the rocks, but they did not have the capability to extract the resources efficiently. Today, because of the combination of new technological advances in horizontal drilling combined with hydraulic fracturing, the United States is taking advantage of new natural gas and oil production.
Natural gas and oil companies have used hydraulic fracturing for more than 60 years. Despite being used in more than 1.2 million wells, there isn't one confirmed case of groundwater contamination. That is a pretty impressive safety record, and it makes you wonder what anti-energy activists mean when they talk of a "frack attack."
One of the reasons hydraulic fracturing increases natural gas and oil production and has a strong safety record is that it is regulated by every state in which it is used. Many states also require companies involved in those operations to disclose the chemicals used in the extracting process. In addition, the Obama administration released its own set of federal-government-sanctioned regulations earlier this year.
The rapid expansion of natural gas drilling also has brought enormous benefits to communities and states. In Texas, for example, the oil and natural gas industries support 2 million in-state jobs, accounting for 24 percent of the state's economy. In Oklahoma, workers in the refining industry earn an average hourly wage that is almost 50 percent higher than the national average. Oklahomans also enjoy some of the cheapest electricity and gasoline in the country, thanks to the state's steady energy production. Meanwhile, North Dakota has become one of the biggest economic success stories of the natural gas boom; the state has the lowest unemployment rate in the country.
Hydraulic-fracturing naysayers also are refuted constantly. Former Mayor Calvin Tillman of Dish, Texas, for example, once infamously claimed that pollution from hydraulic fracturing was responsible for elevated levels of benzene in residents' bloodstreams. This claim later was thoroughly debunked. When the Texas Department of State Health Services investigated, its tests showed the "only residents who had higher levels of benzene in their blood were smokers. Because cigarette smoke contains benzene, finding it in smokers' blood is not unusual."
Despite the claims of anti-energy activists, study after study shows that hydraulic fracturing is safe. To date, the federal government has not produced a single study showing any groundwater contamination from hydraulic fracturing. When the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a preliminary report in 2011 suggesting hydraulic fracturing polluted the water in Pavillion, Wyo., peer reviews soon disputed the EPA's assertion. An independent review of the EPA's report found that the agency not only had used unapproved analytical methods but also had flat-out misinterpreted the data. Since then, the EPA decided to conduct more research before advancing any further claims about the groundwater in Pavillion.
The Stop the Frack Attack rally is just the latest street-theater distraction from the real human face of this story: countless Americans benefiting from inexpensive energy produced here at home, thousands of additional jobs and a new energy future. If we want to be fair in discussing the human impact of natural gas drilling, let's discuss how it creates jobs, how state and local economies are growing again because of new energy exploration and how energy prices are dropping for all consumers. That's a cause worth rallying for.
Thomas J. Pyle is president of the American Energy Alliance.