Among the cleanest and most promising technologies in energy production doesn’t come from the sun or the wind or the waters. Hydraulic fracturing, a newly perfected way to extract natural gas from the ground, gives American energy a breath of new hope, as our reliance on foreign energy sources has been on the rise. Now this new technology is potentially being subject to new rules and regulations that could stop the process for as long as two years.
The new technology has more than just national security implications for America. In Ohio alone, researchers suggest that the new drilling permits will bring Ohio $14 billion in new revenue and 200,000 new jobs. In an economy barely creating anything, 200,000 jobs sounds like a dream come true, but it’s the real deal. In New York State, where permits are harder to come by and regulations are tighter, even the most conservative estimates still see increases in wages equaling as much as $2.5 billion.
Unfortunately, the Obama Administration has been hot and cold on hydraulic fracturing (known as “fracking” to many). The EPA has been much more cold than hot. Indeed, the EPA is expected in January to release its guidance to states aimed mainly at the new technologies. Titling the guidance part of the “Safe Drinking Water Act”, the rules will add a wealth of bureaucracy and new processes.
For one instance, North Dakota’s Department of Mineral Resources Director, Lynn Helms, has suggested that the new rules on using Diesel fuel in the fracking process could put a moratorium on fracking in his state for almost two years as state officials work to rewrite the arcane and confusing EPA language.
The process itself is a safe one, having been deployed in some form for more than 45 years. The vast majority of fracking materials consist of water and sand. Smaller percentages of diesel fuel are used in cold weather conditions and other additives in other situations. But Chris Faulkner, CEO of Texas-based Breitling Oil & Gas argues that, even in the case that dangerous chemicals were used, any problem is near impossible. He says the process involves drilling down well below the aquifer and all materials are housed in thick steel pipe as they are pushed down the well.
Misguided by a sensationalizing media campaign against fracking and an unscientific documentary (Gas Land), some state officials themselves have been behind efforts to block fracking. New York State has, for instance, put a moratorium on the process and they are already feeling the effects. While their neighbors in Pennsylvania reap the benefits of new jobs and new revenue, New York’s unemployment still hovers at record highs while the only jobs added are low income.
Speaking at an event promoting future fracking bans in New York was Arthur Kremer, chairman of New York Affordable Reliable Electricity Alliance and a former Long Island assemblyman:
“At this moment, the state of Pennsylvania is eating our lunch,” Kremer said outside the hearing. “They’re raising millions of dollars in local communities from hydrofracking. It’s not an industrial wasteland. They are having a great time at the expense of New York State.”
Unfortunately, celebrity voices like Mark Ruffalo resonate better with media and perpetuate common misconceptions about the science of fracking. At the same rally, Ruffalo suggested fracking was somehow responsible for “radioactive” waste, wholly impossible.
Spending just minutes online, critics of the new process could find a nationwide database, created by the Groundwater Protection Council, that offers information about the materials used and safety record of each fracking well in the nation. It shows nothing unsafe and no major problems. Indeed the EPA’s own Lisa Jackson spoke highly of the burgeoning new energy supply some time ago, before the political campaign started against it. In the video she admits that she has no record of any contamination of water from the fracking process.
It’s time for politicians to stop humoring environmental activists and instead lean on scientists to answer these questions. If that happened, the U.S. could reduce its foreign dependence on energy sources, create hundreds of thousands of new jobs, and consumers would see the benefits in their paychecks and on their energy bills.
Zack Christenson is a blogger for the American Consumer Institute who writes on technology policy.