One of the big debates in energy today is about the hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” of natural gas deposits. Various groups have already taken entrenched positions and the crossfire of arguments pro and con has begun. For the casual observer the arguments and facts must be confusing as they try to form their own informed opinion.
The discovery of massive deposits of shale gas has fundamentally changed the future energy supply equation for the US. The following chart from the Energy Information Agency (EIA) shows how shale gas will potentially play a more critical role in energy future. By 2035 shale gas will account for more than 46% of US natural gas production. This is a resource that we cannot afford to walk away from. Let’s be careful not to “Nuke” the future of natural gas and our country’s energy security based on often misleading or unproven arguments. We all need to take a responsible and informed approach to shale gas.
I am the first to admit that the exploration and production of shale gas is not without risks. There are certainly a variety of environmental concerns. Legitimate questions are being raised about the potential negative impact on ground water of fracking and how best to handle, recycle and treat the large quantities of fracturing fluids that the process generates.
There have been some highly publicized examples of methane in well water. It’s unclear if any of these cases were due to natural gas fracking or were naturally occurring. But in a world where a picture is worth a thousand words, the picture of flaming water coming out of a home faucet can be devastating to the industry.
I believe these risks associated with natural gas fracking can be mitigated and managed. But the natural gas industry needs to take the lead in making sure producers drill responsibly while meeting minimum standards in production. Regulators need to take a balanced approach that considers the concerns of the industry and environmentalists. In short, all stakeholders need to work together productively. One bad apple can spoil the whole bunch and in this case, one bad driller or one significant incident can destroy an industry.
But the potential for natural gas is too great to let this happen. Natural gas is a relatively clean fuel which complements other forms of energy including renewables. It possesses great potential as a domestically produced vehicle fuel therefore lowering dependence on imported oil. It’s cheap and dependable and with a 100 year domestic supply it gives us time to develop other alternatives. The decision a couple weeks ago to release 30MM barrels of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserves reinforces the need for a domestically produced natural gas.
The continued economic leadership of the US and our standard of living is dependent on dependable supplies of cheap, clean energy. Natural gas is not the perfect form of energy and fracking is not without risks. But compared to any other forms of energy, the benefits continue to significantly outweigh the risks.