As former chief of staff and acting deputy administrator of the EPA during the Clinton Administration, I’ve seen how you can protect the environment and grow the economy at the same time. That’s how I know that in developing natural gas, we can maintain this balance and safeguard our environment. The numerous and comprehensive federal and state regulations that govern natural gas development—as well as industry’s own efforts to ensure environmental stewardship – have protected local air, land and water. This is fact.
Yet in my more than three decades working on environmental policy, I have never encountered an issue that is discussed with more passion, and, sadly, far too little truth and science. No doubt, people who live in communities where development occurs—particularly in areas new to development—have questions. And, industry should and does endeavor to answer them openly and honestly.
Unfortunately, what should be a genuine debate over what constitutes appropriate and adequate regulation has devolved into a steady stream of fear mongering by extremists who are held to no standard of fact.
I’ll give you one example. The signature scene in the film Gasland shows a man lighting his tap on fire. What the film’s director didn’t show the audience was that the man’s water well had been drilled through four pockets of shallow naturally-occurring methane. State regulators determined well before the movie was released that the flaming tap water had nothing to do with natural gas development.
Additionally, the film’s charges of mass contamination of the water supply from hydraulic fracturing have been proved wrong. This week, the EPA concluded after extensive testing that drinking water in Dimock, Pennsylvania was safe. Dimock has been a cause celebre for people who want to incite fear over water contamination and hydraulic fracturing.
But again, the facts don’t support their position. The claim that there is no such thing as safe hydraulic fracturing is flatly disproven by more than six decades of its use.
Far from the media spotlight, the Energy Information Administration recently released some very encouraging environmental news. New data shows that U.S. carbon emissions have receded to mid-1990s levels—due significantly to America’s use of its cleaner and abundant natural gas, made possible by hydraulic fracturing technology.
According to an EIA monthly report, for the first time ever, natural gas produced as much electricity as coal. And that’s not all. The safe and responsible development of this vast resource drives economic growth; provides generations of workers with good-paying jobs; produces affordable, clean electricity; and contributes to revenue used by communities and states across the country.
For these reasons, along with its economic and energy security advantages, President Obama and Governor Romney both routinely tout the benefits of natural gas.
The natural gas community is committed to joining in efforts to elevate the public dialogue. This includes participating in state regulators’ public disclosure registry at fracfocus.org. It means public forums to answer community questions. It means partnerships that address local concerns—from upgrading area roads to taking care to ensure wildlife habitats are protected.
The industry is responsible for nearly 3 million jobs and $400 billion in economic activity. Thanks to low natural gas prices, the average U.S. household is expected to have an extra $926 in disposable income each year for the next three years.
As we continue in this important national discussion, there are genuine disagreements on policy. But it is quite another thing to disagree on facts. Our nation’s energy debates deserve better and too much is at stake to let this conversation unravel. American natural gas can be an integral part of a solution that unites our nation behind a cleaner and more sustainable energy path. With a shared commitment to responsible development, it’s time we make full use of this American resource for our economy and our environment.
Robertson is the senior vice president for legislative & regulatory affairs at America’s Natural Gas Alliance, and a former chief of staff and deputy administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency during the Clinton Administration.