Since 2005, when the shale gas revolution began, there has been a back-and-forth battle on whether or not people should be hydraulic fracturing (or ‘fracking’) for shale gas underneath U.S. soil. The debate over where, how, and how much shale the nation should start producing in our attempt to become one of the world’s leading exporter of natural gas and to gain energy independence and future wealth is one that definitely needs to be had in the mainstream media. But recent mistakes in the drilling process in comparison to the financial benefits it can provide can make the decision process confusing.
For example, look at how in a matter of a month MSNBC host Ed Schultz has flip-flopped on the matter; In February, he made liberal headlines everywhere endorsing the Keystone XL Pipeline. On his show February 5, 2014, Mr. Schultz endorsed the pipeline not “because it is going to be a big job creator” but –while citing recent oil spills from rail transportation – because it will be “safer” and ease “the pressure on the rail (industry).”
However, look at how Mr. Schultz’ stance changed just one month later to opposing the pipeline; On March 7, 2014, Mr. Schultz urges Pres. Obama to halt initiating drilling on the Keystone pipeline, citing that he had “done more research” and after speaking with more experts and getting more facts on the subject that “he was wrong.”
Piggybacking off Republican claims that the time to drill is now, former Republican Senator and now head of Heritage Foundation Jim DeMint was on NPR’s The Diane Rehm Show (hosted by Susan Paige of USA Today) Monday, March 10, 2014, claiming this:
“Look at wages in North Dakota where they are developing their own energy and their economy is booming.” He continues saying, “what you have is people starting at McDonald’s at $15 an hour with a hiring bonus. If you have a vibrant economy, then you have five businesses competing for one worker instead of what we have got in the country now, (where) one worker is competing for five jobs.”
If these numbers appear to be drastic and realistically unattainable to project on the rest of the nation, you would be correct.
In a CNNMoney article from October 2011, they go on to report that yes, you can make $25 an hour waiting tables; however, you would have to be willing to move to the middle of nowhere! The reason why these numbers cannot be produced nationally is because in places where fracking exists (mostly small, less appealing towns across the nation), these towns have to compete for you to work for them… a program not designed for all U.S. cities. Not saying that that is a bad concept to go for but, for example, in Watford City, ND, they are home to only 3,000 residents where jobs have to compete to get people to move there. That’s not quite translatable if say an oil drilling company wanted to start drilling in the heart of Houston, home to a measly 2.161 million (2012).
So, there definitely appears to be a major (and confusing at times) dichotomy and debate developing on whether or not the mistakes that can come from fracking outweigh the benefits. So let’s look at the numbers.
On one side of the argument, shale enthusiasts do have some amazing numbers backing them up. Here are some examples of why drilling is “needed now:
- The shale gas industry has already created more than 600,000 jobs
- It has reduced consumer costs of products derived from natural gas (plastics, household chemicals, fertilizers)
- Nearly $1.9 trillion in cumulative capital investments are expected to be made between 2010 and 2035
- Annual capital expenditures will grow to $48.1 billion in 2015
- The shale gas contribution to the U. S. gross domestic product (GDP) was more than $76.9 billion in 2010
- Over the next 25 years, the shale gas industry will generate more than $933 billion in tax revenue for local, state and the federal governments
- Savings from lower gas prices, as well as the associated lower prices for other consumer purchases, equate to an annual average addition of $926 in disposable income per household between 2012 and 2015.
Also, notice that there aren’t any numbers related to how much income exporting shale gas could bring to the U.S. Why? Because the earliest the U.S. can even produce liquefied natural gas (LNG) for export is 2015, let alone it will not even be able to begin exporting LNG until 2018. And if the U.S. is to be dependent on other nations to make natural gas a big commodity on the global market, Americans could be waiting decades.
To the other side of the argument, environmentalists put out some alarming numbers as well. Here are a few examples:
- In less than two months, a small rural town in Texas (Azle) experienced over 30 earthquakes due to an increase of hydraulic fracturing in the area.
- Methane, a primary component of natural gas, if released into the atmosphere has approximately 72 times the global-warming potential of carbon dioxide over 20 years (some wellheads appear to be losing as much as 9% of their total output in methane leakage).
- In 2012, Northeast Pennsylvania towns experience flammable puddles and 30-foot geysers from methane leakage through the ground.
- In Ohio, lawmakers placed a ban on hydraulic fracturing after a string of earthquakes, including a 4.0-magnitude earthquake, were found by experts to be cause by the process. In Youngstown, OH alone there had been 11 small quakes in less than 6 months.
So, although there has not been any “direct” links to hydraulic fracturing and the disasters, the alarming connection between the two on a case by case basis seems to outweigh the young and inconclusive empirical and scientific data.
Weighing all of the facts above, is hydraulic fracturing one big mistake? Well, although the debate on whether or not people should be fracking is still a little confusing, one could conclude this: If the outcome to gain energy independence and to become a leader in “exporting” natural gas cannot even be attained in the distant future, are people going to finally learn from the strategy of “drill first, ask questions later?”
By Ryne Vyles