The environmental left views the incredible rebirth of the American fossil fuel industry, wrought by unconventional methods (fracking and horizontal drilling), with alarm and disgust. The idea that the United States could easily fulfill all of its energy needs by utilizing its great domestic reserves of fossil fuels arouses their collective anger, and they have been battling this technology via every means at their disposal.
The enviros have run a massive and effective propaganda campaign with documentaries and advertising suggesting that fracking contaminates water supplies and is killing animals and people. They have waged interminable lawsuits at the local, state, and federal level to stop or slow the expansion of the extraction of unconventional oil and gas. And they have used the regulatory agencies -- especially the EPA, Department of the Interior, and Department of the Agriculture -- to halt the use of this technology on private lands and to keep it from expanding onto public hands.
There should be no sniffing at this latter point. The federal government currently owns huge chunks of land, including: 85% of Nevada; 69% of Alaska; 57% of Utah; 53% of Oregon; 50% of Idaho; 45% of California; 42% of Wyoming; 42% of New Mexico; and 37% of Colorado. All of these states are huge repositories of fossil fuel reserves, all crying out for development. But these riches will not ever be developed under this administration.
But the forces of Enlightenment are fighting back against the environmentalist nature-worshipers, and the former are beginning to win some major victories.
Start with the happy news that the EPA has been forced to back off on its aggressive war on fracking. It has withdrawn its lawsuit against Range Resources Corporation wherein, it had alleged that the company was polluting water wells near Fort Worth, Texas.
Moreover, the EPA will now retest water in Wyoming about which it had earlier raised questions.
Add to this the fact that the Agency has tested well water in Pennsylvania, once found to be polluted, and now (like the state's own similar agency) declares the water to be safe, and you begin to sense that the EPA is being forced to retreat from its reflexive hysterical opposition to the new technology.
It will be interesting to see if the EPA's overall report on the safety of fracking, due out later this year, will reflect this new-found moderation.
One good sign is that the extremist environmentalist groups are beginning to come down hard on the EPA, long considered an agency the belonged to them.
What is emerging here is a consensus among scientists that to the extent that gas from fracking gets into a water supply -- and that is relatively rare as it is -- the cause is not the fracking itself (i.e., the injection of water, sand, and small amounts of chemicals into shale to release the gas), but rather wells that are not properly constructed.
The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection recently worked with Chesapeake Energy to come up with a greatly improved well design, which calls for such things as a nearly 14-inch casing extending down 2,500 feet; 5½ inch casing down to the shale formation; and cement shielding around the pipe down to the lowest point before the well turns horizontal. Chesapeake agreed to those improvements (which increase the drilling costs per well by about 10%, or half a million dollars) after one of its wells leaked natural gas into the water supply. But it is important to note that the leakage in this one well occurred before any fracking had been done.
Two recent reports confirm the efficacy and safety of fracking. The first is a report in ScienceNOW that a team of 16 scientists at the University of Texas, headed by Charles Groat, conducted a comprehensive review of the scientific and regulatory in Louisiana, New York, Pennsylvania, and Texas. The researchers -- not funded by any energy company, by the way -- concluded that there is no evidence that fracking chemicals are contaminating water supplies or anything else, nor did they see any need for additional regulations. They called instead for tighter monitoring of existing regulations -- including strengthening well casing and putting concrete around it, to make sure gas doesn't escape.
Then there is the recent study in Environmental Science and Technology Journal. The report shows that fracking has had a dramatic impact on the level of atmospheric CO2 (a "greenhouse gas" often tied to global warming) production: it turns out to lower it!
Why? Well, fracking (and horizontal drilling) have led to a massive increase in the production of domestic natural gas, driving the prices dramatically down. In fact, from 2008 to the present, the price of natural gas has plummeted over 80% from $12 to $2.30 per million Btus (MMBtu). This has led to natural gas being used to generate power formerly generated by coal fired plants. And burning natural gas emits less CO2 than does burning coal.
Fracking is ecologically safe, helps America achieve energy independence, provides great-paying jobs for blue-collar workers in an era of seemingly endless rates of high unemployment, and lowers greenhouse gas emissions. All of those major advantages are enough to make devout environmentalists oppose it. This is because devout environmentalists usually oppose the flourishing of humanity.
Gary Jason is a philosopher and a senior editor of Liberty. He is the author of the new book Dangerous Thoughts (available through Amazon.com).