Ten years ago, energy experts and government forecasters had essentially written off American natural gas, projecting that our imports would double by 2020 due to future (and dramatic) declines in domestic production.
Thanks to American ingenuity, however, the situation has completely changed.
As Steve Hayward describes in The Weekly Standard:
“In mid-December the Energy Information Administration released new estimates of U.S. natural gas showing proved reserves at their highest level since 1967, up 33 percent in the last three years and 62 percent over the last 10 years. Natural gas production in the United States in 2009 (21.6 trillion cubic feet) was the highest since 1973, even though demand was down on account of the recession. The Department of Energy new predicts gas reserves will grow by at least another 20 percent over the next decade, though a number of energy forecasters think reserves will grow by much more, securing a 100-year supply for our needs.”
Hayward also points out the reason for this increase in available natural gas: a drilling technique known as hydraulic fracturing. Also known as “fracking,” the process involves sending highly pressurized fluids (almost all water and sand) thousands of feet underground, well below water tables, to force cracks in shale deposits to release oil and gas.
Contrary to reports in the media and allegations bandied about by anti-drilling activists across the country, fracking is not new. While some of the technology was indeed developed recently (and has allowed producers to unlock trillions of additional cubic feet of natural gas), the process itself has been used for more than a half century. According to industry reports, fracking has been used well over one million times since the 1940s and has helped produce billions of barrels of oil and hundreds of trillions of cubic feet of natural gas.
And it’s clear that fracking is the key to abundant and affordable natural gas production in the future. Hayward further notes that shale gas accounts for about 20% of total U.S. gas production, but it’s projected to account for about half of all domestic production by 2035. The American Petroleum Institute predicts that 80% of new natural gas wells drilled in the next decade will utilize hydraulic fracturing.
But this energy renaissance is by no means guaranteed. Armed with misleading talking points and grossly exaggerated horror stories, activist organizations and their anti-drilling allies in Congress are already working hard to thwart a future defined by affordable and available natural gas.
What follows are a few specific challenges that threaten to hamstring what Hayward aptly terms the “Gas Revolution.”
The FRAC Act and EPA
Lawmakers such as Reps. Diana DeGette (D-CO) and Jared Polis (D-CO) have introduced legislation (the FRAC Act) that would put the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in charge of regulating hydraulic fracturing, even though the practice has been effectively regulated at the state level for decades. In addition to putting the EPA in charge of something it has no business regulating, the bill would force disclosure of the chemicals used in fracking (more on that straw man below). Senators Bob Casey (D-PA) and Chuck Schumer (D-NY) have introduced companion legislation in the Senate.
Congress also recently directed the EPA the conduct a comprehensive study of hydraulic fracturing to assess its environmental impacts. While the study was originally to focus on drinking water impacts, the scope has now expanded to include the environmental footprint of the entire operation, a decision that allows the anti-energy EPA to search for more justification to clamp down on the shale gas revolution. (To get an idea of what happens when the EPA tries to lend its “expertise” to hydraulic fracturing, click here.)
Of course, these anti-fracking developments are grounded more in politics and ideology than in sound science. State regulators already provide the necessary oversight and have set the most efficient standards to guarantee safety. Former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell (D) recently defended his state’s strong and effective regulation of hydraulic fracturing in aletter to the editor to the New York Times, a letter in which he called the evidence in theTimes‘ recent hit piece on hydraulic fracturing a “mighty swing and a miss.” Former President Bill Clinton has endorsed expanded shale gas production, noting the fact that hydraulic fracturing has been used safely in his home state of Arkansas for years. Even Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD), who represents a state that banned fracking, has admitted that states are where the “best practices” are for regulating hydraulic fracturing.
Independent analyses have confirmed these assessments. The EPA has actually investigated hydraulic fracturing on two separate occasions – once under President Clinton and again under President George W. Bush – and found no evidence of the practice contaminating drinking water. Moreover, the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission (IOGCC), a consortium of state energy regulatory agencies from across the country, has declared fracking safe. And if one needs even more evidence, the Groundwater Protection Council (GWPC) released a study [PDF] in 2009 that found it virtually impossible for hydraulic fracturing to contaminate drinking water supplies.
Of course, these conclusive studies aren’t enough to satisfy anti-energy ideologues who relentlessly pursue the evidence they want while ignoring the mountain of facts that contradict them. Reaching for another line of attack, critics allege that the public should be aware of what chemicals are used when a well is fracked, suggesting not only that the chemicals are kept secret but also that only the EPA could force such disclosure. Both claims are demonstrably false. The chemicals are well-known to anyone with access to Google, and most state regulatory agencies have published the information on their websites. The industry itself has even gone one step further and created a new website called Frac Focusthat includes a simplified, publicly-accessible registry of the frack fluids. EPA regulation would thus not only be costly, but also completely superfluous.
Last year, New York City stage director Josh Fox produced a documentary entitled Gasland, which was intended to reveal the numerous environmental hazards of hydraulic fracturing and natural gas drilling across the country. The film relies on thoroughly debunked myths to advance an anti-drilling agenda, but the fact-free presentation has caught the eye of policymakers and organizations alike. Fox has been on major news programs and encouraged anti-drilling rallies across the country, using the content from his film as a launching pad into nationwide political activism.
When the documentary was nominated for an Academy Award, its reach only expanded. Fox’s movie has galvanized people across the country who have always opposed oil and gas production (and, with it, affordable energy supplies), and the noise they have made is making its way into Congress, which is holding frequent hearings on shale gas production.
All too often Congress is captured by the “need” to do something, even if that somethingwould only make the situation worse. And when you consider that the Beltway is populated more with easily-manipulated lawyers than with petroleum engineers and geologists, coupled with the easy-to-access (if grossly exaggerated and, at times, completely untrue) presentation in Gasland, the potential for new destructive anti-energy legislation crafted in response to a popular film is greater than we perhaps would like to admit – Fox’s online army of tens of thousands of anti-fracking activists can easily tell Congress to end hydraulic fracturing through a simple form on Gasland‘s website.
As it stands, Josh Fox and Gasland could do to the natural gas industry what Jane Fonda andThe China Syndrome did 30 years ago to the nuclear industry: use film as a conduit to spread misinformation and fear about a crucial source of American energy and, in turn, completely halt its advancement. Since the 1970s, America has not licensed and built a single nuclear reactor.
Of course, if one is interested in a more objective look at what natural gas production (particularly in shale) can do for a region, a more balanced story can be found in the documentary Haynesville.
Ken Salazar and the Department of Interior
As head of the Department of Interior, Ken Salazar oversees all domestic oil and gas production on federal lands. While the major regulatory hangup for shale gas production will be the EPA, conventional sources of natural gas (including offshore drilling) are still subject to arguably the most anti-drilling administration in history. Since taking office Salazar has, on multiple occasions, canceled leases on western lands, delayed the leasing process for new offshore drilling, halted permitting in the Gulf of Mexico, and refused to provide guidance to operators of rigs that were idled due to President Obama’s economically destructive drilling moratorium last summer. In addition to these regulatory hurdles, the Obama administration has an annual tradition of dragging out a proposal to tax oil and gas companies for not drilling, even if the reason for the lack of production is permitting delays from the Department of Interior.
Salazar’s agency is even considering expanding its reach for the offshore energy industry, a move that has a stated purpose of providing more “safety” but will no doubt increase the cost of producing natural gas (and oil) off America’s coasts.
Much like the EPA, the regulatory leviathan inside the Department of Interior has been growing at a rapid pace since 2009, bloating the size of an already-unmanageable bureaucracy and, in the process, stifling affordable energy production in the United States. If the Obama administration wants its recent embrace of natural gas to be substantive instead of just rhetorical, then the White House needs to end the practice of touting the resource while doing everything in its power to block development, a practice that has been employed repeatedly inside the Department of Interior.
A powerful economy relies on affordable and available energy, and America’s massive natural gas resources will play an integral part in helping our economy recover and grow. Pennsylvania is a case in point: In many areas of the commonwealth the impact of the recent recession was lessened, sometimes significantly, due to the growth and expansion of natural gas production. In rural areas and small towns, hotels are filled to capacity with guests. Local revenues have skyrocketed as small businesses are created and grow to service the influx of new employees. New lease sales for gas drilling mean revenue is pouring into state coffers at an unexpected pace. Jobs are being created at a rate that would make many other parts of the country envious.
Not only is natural gas a fuel to support America’s economic recovery, production of the resource itself means long-term growth and lasting job creation. And with much of the focus now on shale gas, it is important to recognize the vital role that hydraulic fracturing will have for America’s energy future.
The only question is, will bureaucrats and lawmakers in Washington, DC, allow it to happen
See the complete article at http://www.americansolutions.com/dhdn/2011/04/the-challenges-for-americas-natural-gas-future.php .