- - Sunday, November 18, 2012

Horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing have boosted shale gas production from zero a few years ago to 10 percent of all U.S. energy supplies in 2012, observes energy analyst Daniel Yergin. It has increased U.S. oil production 25 percent since 2008, 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 could make North America energy independent and turn the United States into the world’s number one oil producer in a few more years.

For people still concerned about “catastrophic manmade global warming” (despite 16 years of stable global temperatures), hydraulic fracturing helps cut carbon dioxide emissions, using clean-burning natural gas that costs a third less than oil per BTU.

Common sense says hydraulic fracturing should garner widespread public, political and even environmentalist support. Several states have banned it, however, and the Environmental Protection Agency and Bureau of Land Management are poised to unleash new rules that could usurp state control and restrict or hyper-regulate fracking on federal, state and private lands.

They justify the bans and regulations by citing public anxiety over fracking - but fail to mention that this anxiety has been nurtured and orchestrated by environmental pressure groups whose fractured fairy tales about this technology would be as funny as the Rocky and Bullwinkle tales if the economic, employment, national security and environmental consequences weren’t so serious.

Some of these “fairy tales” include:

Burning tap water. You could ignite methane at your kitchen faucet if your water well was drilled through gas-bearing rock formations and not properly sealed to keep gas out. Fracking zones are thousands of feet below groundwater supplies, though. 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 percent water and sand. The other 0.5 percent are chemicals that fight bacterial growth, keep sand particles suspended and improve production. The vast majority of these chemicals can be found in household items that Americans use safely every day - including cheese, beer, canned fish, dairy desserts, shampoo and cosmetic products. In addition, heavy plastic liners are now common under drilling rigs, storage tanks and containment pits. Along with modern drilling and well casing methods, these liners help make chemical or salt contamination of groundwater far less likely than from winter salting of icy roads.

Wastewater and water depletion. In addition to changing the composition of fracking fluids to address concerns about water use and wastewater disposal, drilling companies increasingly recycle the water they use. Today, far less water is used in fracking than 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 passing car. Even loaded dump trucks register only 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, enhanced oil recovery operations, or disposal of petroleum, municipal or industrial wastewater have caused detectable seismic activity. Yet of more than 800,000 injection wells nationwide, only about 40 were felt at the surface.

Fracking is subject to multiple regulations. State and local regulation and cooperation with industry, constant refinements and improvements in rules and practices, and accommodation to public concerns about water, fracking fluids, road congestion, community impacts and other issues have been ongoing for decades. That is part of the reason why 2.5 million instances of fracking worldwide (over 1 million in the U.S.) since 1949 have not caused any serious harm.

Unfortunately, environmentalist fairy tales about fracking cost us energy, jobs, revenue and prosperity for no ecological benefit. The ultimate irony is Europe, where opposition to fracking (and nuclear power) is causing Germany and other central EU countries to build 10,600 megawatts of new coal-fired electrical power plants during the next four years.

Meanwhile, green power mandates have pushed Germany’s electricity prices to the second highest in Europe (32 cents per kWh, compared to an average of 10 cents in the U.S.) - putting countless jobs at risk and leaving German households staring at another big rate hike next year.

America needs access to its oil and gas deposits under rational regulations that reflect reality, instead of eco fairy tales. The White House, Congress and government bureaucracies need to distinguish between fact and fiction, understand how to produce real energy, jobs and revenues, and stop trying to “fundamentally transform” our nation.

Paul Driessen is senior policy adviser for the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow and author of “Eco-Imperialism: Green Power, Black Death” (Merril Press, 2012).

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