- - Friday, January 18, 2013

Wishful thinking guides today’s federal energy policymakers. The Obama administration is now exploring ways to exert control over hydraulic fracturing technology that has increased U.S. petroleum production — despite federal leasing and drilling delays and moratoriums — even though the states have successfully regulated the practice for decades.

The administration lavishes billions of taxpayer dollars on sun, wind, wave, algae and cornfield energy that they hype and hope will replace fossil fuels. They ignore health and environmental laws in order to green-light these favored technologies, overlooking killed birds and bats, the impact to scenic and wildlife habitats, and harm to people’s well-being from wind turbines, rising energy costs and high unemployment resulting from their actions.

Other policies tilt the playing field against sources they fear and loathe, especially hydrocarbons that provide 83 percent of all U.S. energy, versus 2 percent for biofuel and 1.4 percent for wind and solar.

Whereas renewable energy schemes and scams require tens of billions in annual taxpayer and consumer subsidies, hydrocarbons generate millions of jobs and hundreds of billions of dollars annually in royalties, taxes and economic activity. Yet the administration continues to throw senseless obstacles in the path of fossil fuel production and hinder proposals for a pipeline that would carry Canadian oil to American refineries.

Innovative private companies perfected new fracking techniques in North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Texas and Louisiana, where the federal government ownership of land varies from 2 percent to 5 percent. That would have been impossible in our 13 Western states, where the feds own 30 percent of Montana and 85 percent of Nevada.

Fracking drove U.S. natural gas prices down to $3.20 per thousand cubic feet (or million Btu) today — versus a high of $14 in 2008, and more than $14 in Europe and Japan today. This has yielded cheaper electricity for homes, businesses and hospitals, fuel for natural gas-powered vehicles, and feed stocks for petrochemicals. It also translates into competitive advantages and more jobs, economic productivity and tax revenues.

IHS Global Insight calculates that this revolutionary technology has already created 1.7 million new jobs, pumped hundreds of billions of dollars into the U.S. economy and generated more than $60 billion in federal, state and local tax receipts during 2012 alone. By 2035, it could create another 2 million jobs, rejuvenate American manufacturing, inject more than $5 trillion in cumulative capital expenditures into the U.S. economy, and generate $2.5 trillion in additional government revenues.

Fracked gas has replaced coal in factories and electric power plants, reducing emissions of particulates, sulfur dioxide, nitrous oxide, mercury and carbon dioxide.

Hydro-fracking has also reduced U.S. oil imports and U.S. dollar exports, making Russia, Venezuela and OPEC states nervous that shriveling demand for their oil will reduce global prices and their revenue. It persuaded the United Arab Emirates to bankroll Matt Damon’s recent anti-fracking film, “Promised Land.”

Contrary to Mr. Damon’s allegations, more than 1.5 million fracked wells prove the process is safe. The industry increasingly uses kitchen-cabinet chemicals and recycled saline water that is unfit for agriculture. It has disproved virtually every claim of groundwater contamination. The “controversy” over fracking was manufactured to enrich pressure groups and justify their loathing of hydrocarbons.

Their latest “concern” is that methane leaking from natural gas wells and pipelines could contribute to “runaway man-made climate change.” However, methane represents barely 0.00018 percent of Earth’s atmosphere. Its link to climate change is conjectural at best, and gas that might escape from fracking operations is dwarfed by emissions from termites, cows, landfills, coal seams and far less careful oil and gas operations in developing countries.

This helps explain why many British politicians now support fracking, which would reduce the soaring electricity prices that United Kingdom wind energy mandates and subsidies have imposed on families and businesses. It’s why former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell told Gov. Andrew Cuomo he’d be “fracking crazy” to continue banning the practice in economically depressed areas of rural New York.

Many families there are on the verge of losing their farms. They support gas production to generate jobs and revenues — and ward off vulture environmentalists who are waiting for foreclosures to swoop in and grab their lands on the cheap, to create parks and weekend homes for New York City elites.

By raising interminable objections to safe, proven technologies, radical environmentalists and the Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency hope to raise production costs and prices of fossil fuels. This, they hope, will increase oil and gas prices, making wind, solar and biofuel energy more competitive — albeit at the expense of jobs, economic growth and tax revenues.

Energy policy is about choosing among imperfect sources of power to support modern societies and living standards. No source of energy, anywhere, anytime, has zero environmental impacts or risks.

Rather than wasting billions more taxpayer dollars pursuing wishful energy policies, Mr. Obama, Congress, Mr. Cuomo and governors of other shale-rich states like California and Michigan should pursue energy reality, security and prosperity.

They should let states continue regulating hydraulic fracturing on private land, and make it easier to get drilling and fracking permits on federal land. That would ensure job creation, revenue generation, economic recovery and sensible protection of wildlife habitats and human health from the effects of petroleum, wind, solar and ethanol programs alike.

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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