Don’t ban fracking

Raymond Keating Chief Economist, Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council
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The policy debate rages over fracking, a process for extracting oil and/or natural gas from rock.

Fracking has been used successfully and safely for decades, but that does not stop the environmental Left from trying to stop the process. It also does not stop various politicians from listening to such activists, and creating roadblocks to increased domestic energy production.

In New York, Governor David Paterson vetoed legislation earlier this month that would have imposed a moratorium on fracking. That was good. Unfortunately, he also signed an executive order that placed a narrower moratorium into effect for a longer period (until July 2011), thereby keeping the issue alive for his successor, Andrew Cuomo, to decide.

In Pittsburgh, the city council in November passed a first-in-the-nation ordinance banning fracking within the city limits.

Why does fracking and natural gas matter? The Energy Information Administration just published a background brief on shale gas that offers some important insights, including:

• “Over the past decade, the combination of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing has allowed access to large volumes of shale gas that were previously uneconomical to produce. The production of natural gas from shale formations has rejuvenated the natural gas industry in the United States.”

• “Of the natural gas consumed in the United States in 2009, 87% was produced domestically; thus, the supply of natural gas is not as dependent on foreign producers as is the supply of crude oil, and the delivery system is less subject to interruption. The availability of large quantities of shale gas will further allow the United States to consume a predominantly domestic supply of gas.”

• “Natural gas from shale resources, considered uneconomical just a few years ago, accounts for 827 trillion cubic feet of potential natural gas resources (or roughly a quarter of total U.S. estimated resources), “more than double the estimate published last year.”

• Shale gas resources are expected to increase in the future.

• “Hydraulic fracturing (commonly called ‘fracking’ or ‘hydrofracking’) is a technique in which water, chemicals, and sand are pumped into the well to unlock the hydrocarbons trapped in shale formations by opening cracks (fractures) in the rock and allowing natural gas to flow from the shale into the well. When used in conjunction with horizontal drilling, hydraulic fracturing enables gas producers to extract shale gas at reasonable cost.”

Clearly, fracking is an economic plus — both in terms of investment and jobs involved in the production of domestic resources, and providing more affordable energy to U.S. businesses and consumers. Obviously, any positives on the economic front are most welcome these days.

But what about the environmental issues? Well, a 2004 EPA report found: “In its review of incidents of drinking water well contamination believed to be associated with hydraulic fracturing, EPA found no confirmed cases that are linked to fracturing fluid injection into CBM wells or subsequent underground movement or fracturing fluids. Further, although thousands of CBM wells are fractured annually, EPA did not find confirmed evidence that drinking water wells have been contaminated by hydraulic fracturing fluid injection into CBM wells.”

For good measure, natural gas burns cleaner than other fossil fuels.

By the way, the debate in New York and Pennsylvania over the use of fracking is about the Marcellus Shale in the eastern United States, which some estimates say could produce 500 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

In the end, policymakers need to ignore the scare tactics that are used by extremists to halt the production of any fossil-fuel-based energy resources in this nation, and allow businesses and investors to expand U.S. domestic energy production.

Raymond J. Keating is chief economist for the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council. His new book is titled Warrior Monk: A Pastor Stephen Grant Novel.