The economic benefits from fracking (hydraulic fracturing of gas and oil-bearing shale) are widely understood. They include reduced oil imports, a lower deficit in our balance of payments, domestic jobs in energy extraction and in manufacturing that uses natural gas as a feedstock.
However, the environmental dangers of fracking are poorly understood and are often presented with the panic of children shrieking at boogeymen. Indeed, air, noise, and water pollution, even an earthquake are possible impacts of fracking, according to alarmists, but the reality is that proper procedures and technology tame those risks.
A shale area bearing oil or gas requires a ten times more wells than conventional petroleum deposit. So, the transport trucks and well equipment create a noisy work area with diesel exhaust, and containment ponds for the water and diluted fracking chemicals.
To frack each well, about 5 million gallons of water (about 70 backyard pools) and a small amount of chemicals are needed. About half of that water is recovered and separated from the natural gas and chemicals when the well starts producing.
For shale deposits in areas lacking water (e.g.in China’s arid areas), hydraulic fracturing is difficult to justify. In a few fracking contexts, carbon dioxide has proven to be a good alternative to water.
When proper cementing is done around the drill casing, and when containment ponds are fitted with leak detection, there are no flaming kitchen faucets or exploding farms to provide drama to movies that need it. Careful choice of water injection sites addresses the remote risk of triggering an earthquake.
The cost of producing a barrel of oil from Saudi Arabia’s deposits is about $10, but the cost of a barrel from shale fracking is closer to $60-$70. At today’s $100 per barrel for West Texas Intermediate, fracking is economic and can remain so unless its opponents introduce another $35 per barrel of regulations.
The EPA allowed biodiesel, a favorite among the hemp-wearing crowd, to be held to lower emission standards, but a court halted that favoritism. There is no such concession on the horizon for fracking despite its clear benefits for ordinary consumers.
Most of us cheer for this American success story but some offshore and domestic interests are annoyed. They invented a narrative of fracking’s evils and are shaping heavy regulatory burdens for the fracking camel.
Alan Daley is a retired businessman who lives in Florida and who writes for The American Consumer Institute Center for Citizen Research. For more information about the institute, visit www.theamericanconsumer.org.