The United States has become the largest producer of oil and natural gas in the world, surpassing Russia and Saudi Arabia, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
You may have missed this important story. That’s because the media virtually ignored it.
How did the United States reach this goal? Two simple words, which were excluded from the Department of Energy press release and the single U.S. news report I found: hydraulic fracturing, better known as “fracking.”
Fracking has become a dirty word in much of the media because of protests from environmentalists and Hollywood stars about the unproven charges of water contamination and environmental damage.
Fracking uses water, mixed with sand and chemicals, injected at high pressure to create small fractures to remove natural gas and oil — a technology that has been around since the 1940s but one whose use has exploded in recent years.
On a recent trip between Philadelphia, where I live, and Ithaca, N.Y., where I used to live, I saw how one state, Pennsylvania, has benefited economically from the process and how another state, New York, has not.
When you drive on Interstate 476 near Scranton, Pa., you see towering windmills, the “clean” energy solution favored by environmentalists that contributes less than 1 percent of Pennsylvania’s power. But the blades of the wind-powered turbines kill bald eagles and bats, which farmers complain caused a huge increase in insects that the bats would eat. Nearby, more than 1,000 fracking sites have produced the following results, according to the Pennsylvania state officials:
• The jobs pay an average of $62,000 a year — about $20,000 more than the state average.
• A recent study of what is known as the “Marcellus shale” formation which produces the fracked fuel has created more than 70,000 jobs in the past four years and could support more than 200,000 jobs.
• Investment in Pennsylvania’s fracking operations has already reached $4 billion.
• The state’s Department of Environmental Protection gives the industry high marks despite activists’ complaints.
• The city of Philadelphia is benefiting as well, developing a new refining site for Pennsylvania natural gas and for North Dakota oil also derived from fracking.
Meanwhile, on the other side of Marcellus shale region, New York has severely restricted fracking. The Wall Street Journal recently published an excerpt from an article by Fred Siegel, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute’s Center for Civic Innovation. The headline said it all: “Fracking, Poverty and the New Liberal Gentry.”
The article quoted Adelaide Gomer, the Duncan Hines heiress, who directs the Park Foundation in Ithaca. The foundation finances much of the anti-fracking movement in New York. Ms. Gomer wrote in a petition that fracking “will ruin the ambience, the beauty of the region. But, moreover, it will poison our aquifers. We can live without gas, but we cannot live without water.” Seriously, we can live without gas? [Full disclosure: The Park Foundation once supported a professorship I held.]
Ithaca, home to Cornell University, has been described as 8 square miles surrounded by reality.
Here is the reality: With more fracking, natural gas and oil prices will decline. Gasoline prices will drop. The U.S. dependence on foreign oil should decline to 25 percent by 2016 from 37 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. The use of coal will drop with the increased use of a cleaner energy source: natural gas.
But the media persist in supporting the protests because some well-heeled philanthropists, environmentalists and movie stars make unproven claims, despite the obvious advantages of fracking.
Footnote: On the eve of this year’s Big Game, my column on media myths about the Super Bowl can be found at: https://bit.ly/1aHoVBg.
• Christopher Harper is a professor at Temple University. He worked for more than 20 years at the Associated Press, Newsweek, ABC News and “20/20.” He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @charper51