Cheap Natural Gas and Its Enemies

A vast reservoir of clean-burning natural gas could be available at reasonable cost in the coming years, freeing us from some of our dependence on imported energy. Yet there are those who  consider such a development a threat.

A small group of billionaires (and mere multimillionaires), formed under the aegis of the Democracy Alliance, has amassed a great deal of political influence in America on behalf of the Democratic Party and Democratic politicians. Among the more important members of this "club" are George Soros and his liberal allies, Herbert and Marion Sandler. The latter two are billionaire beneficiaries of the mortgage bubble who timed their exit from the savings and loan industry before the bubble popped. They went on to fund (with George Soros) the Center for American Progress -- otherwise known as Obama's "idea factory."

One other venture that the Sandlers started is a media group called Pro Publica -- an outfit supposed to "engage in investigative journalism" and provide its findings to larger media outlets for greater impact. These "exposés" are provided at no cost to newspapers (and others), who, in an era of cutbacks, are happy to have good copy written by respected journalists. Free material is a no-brainer.

But why would the politically active Sandlers suddenly enter the media world? Perhaps it's because they realize the political and financial benefits that can flow from influencing the news. We may be seeing a sample of this type of handiwork now.

Among the first "exposés" Pro Publica undertook was an attack on energy companies for developing the Marcellus Shale, a vast natural gas reservoir stretching across several states. The "exposé" focused on putative environmental effects that might result from tapping these reserves. The technology used to unleash this natural gas from the shale in which it is trapped is called "fracking." Energy companies inject water, sand, and drilling fluids into the rock to "crack" it and release the natural gas. The potential for this technology is huge: America is a vast storehouse of this type of gas. Much of this is located not just in the Marcellus formation, but throughout the Rocky Mountain states. Also, the Barnett Shale region of Texas and the Bakken Shale region of North Dakota are rich with this type of natural gas.

Fracking is a proven technology. Energy experts are now predicting this technology will help free us from dependency on foreign sources of natural gas. The quantity is so vast that there is even potential for substituting natural gas for petroleum in cars and trucks. Natural gas is a clean-burning fuel that can replace coal in electric power plants. Already, the impact of this technology is beneficial. The prospect of this huge resource being tapped for years to come has brought down the price of natural gas, both in the spot market (where it is priced now) and in the futures market (where it is priced for future delivery). Indeed, the price has come down so much that the publicly held exploration and production companies that focus on natural gas have seen their share prices weaken.

Exxon Mobil was so entranced with the prospects of this technology that it has offered $31 billion dollars for XTO Energy, an energy company that has vast reserves of shale gas that can be tapped at a relatively small cost through fracking.

But there is one potential snag in the deal: Exxon can walk away if laws are passed that restrict the use of fracking. These laws would be a response to claims that fracking can harm the environment. Already, Representative Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts), Chairman of the House Energy and Environmental Subcommittee (of the Energy and Commerce Committee -- the Russian-doll nature of Congressional committees and subcommittees can be mind-boggling) has called hearings into the Exxon-XTO deal. He will focus on the environmental concerns related to air pollution and water contamination (fracking uses water).

Now how coincidental is it that the Sandler-funded Pro Publica focuses on "fracking" as their inaugural topic? The Sandlers have no apparent experience in or knowledge of the energy industry. Why not have Pro Publica focus on other investigative topics -- say, the savings and loan crisis and the malefactors of great wealth who made out like the proverbial bandits? We know the answer to that question, but maybe we have an inkling of why Pro Publica has been pushing the "fracking" story, and why Democrats in Congress are going along with the media/political campaign.

George Soros is a pal and ally of the Sandlers. He also owns major stakes in energy companies that don't rely on shale gas for their revenue. These companies would be harmed and become less profitable if shale gas were released onto the market in the vast quantities industry experts believe are available through fracking. He also owns a major interest in InterOil, an energy company that has discovered a vast natural gas find in Papua New Guinea. The potential of that find is enormous and could lead to a very profitable export of liquefied natural gas to the American market.

However, the potential value of InterOil and Soros's other investments would suffer if the vast reserves of shale natural gas that lie below much of America are tapped. Furthermore, Soros operates through a hedge fund domiciled overseas. We cannot know who his investors are. They are rumored to include some of the world's petrocrats, who also have a vested interest in ensuring that America's own energy resources remain undeveloped so that we can send our billions to them...but of course, only Soros insiders know.

Did Soros foresee the problem that shale natural gas might pose? He is a legendary investor who sees risks and reward years before anyone else. That is how he made his billions. Did he ask the Sandlers to have Pro Publica focus on fracking? Is he now using his vast influence with the liberal wing of the Democratic Party (symbolized by Congressman Markey, also a pal of one of those petrocats, Hugo Chavez) to derail the potential of fracking? Will Soros use his influence with Barack Obama to command the Environmental Protection Agency to focus on the environmental consequences of fracking? Is he behind efforts by Senator Feingold (D-WI) to give the EPA more power over water resources throughout America?

Of course, this is all conjecture. After all, George Soros and company are not the type of people who leave e-mails on servers or fingerprints on their plans.

Ed Lasky is news editor of American Thinker.
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