Don’t let extremists undermine fracking boom

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States are taking the initiative to regulate hydraulic fracturing operations to produce oil and natural gas — and environmentalists, as well as industry, support them.

Colorado just unveiled new rules to limit methane emissions from fracking by using improved well-sealing techniques and technologies, such as infrared cameras. This approach meets the objectives of state officials who understand and regulate industry operations, and it helps attain the goals of responsible environmentalists, though not the pipe dreamers who want the immediate end of all fossil fuel use. Those people persist in obstruction, no matter what the truth.

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On this issue, a clear consensus is forming: State governments should have authority over drilling, including fracking operations. The Environmental Protection Agency has already supported this regulatory shift in states like Wyoming and Pennsylvania.

Yet, certain environmental groups are spreading disinformation to oppose hydraulic fracturing and to derail legislation, such as H.R. 2728, which would give states regulatory authority over fracking. This bill is not about whether fracking is good or bad — which the obstructionists view as a settled question; rather, it is about who should have jurisdiction over the fracking — the state or federal government. 

One myth perpetuated by activists is that fracking emits unsafe levels of methane. But this is an outdated and inaccurate claim. The University of Texas and the Environmental Defense Fund recently released a joint study on methane emission from fracking wells, finding that about 99 percent of methane was captured by a new process called completion. This is significantly lower than the findings of previous studies, and it confirms that engineering and scientific advances in the fracking process have led to drastic improvements in industry’s ability to keep emission levels far, far below levels of concern.

The obstructionists’ newest argument is that fracking leads to “industrialization,” by which they mean “job creation.” States like North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Arkansas have all welcomed industrialization. The shale boom, powered by advances in hydraulic fracturing, has enabled the oil and gas industry to steadily create jobs, even when the rest of our economy has struggled.

Oil and gas jobs have grown by 18 percent in the last five years, compared to just 4 percent for the rest of the economy. By reframing the fracking discussion around so-called industrialization, activists are using loaded terms to divert attention away from the tremendous economic benefits of shale development. This is a rhetorically disingenuous attempt to paint economic growth in a negative light — impressive for its audacity if not for its veracity.

Activists have also asserted that fracking will delay our economy’s transition to “cleaner” fuels, which are in the earliest stages of development, are inefficient, expensive and years from true economic and technological viability.

The activists also ignore the enormous demand for energy in our country and the growing demand around the world. No single source of energy can accommodate that demand; a broad portfolio of energy sources is required. Among the various options for energy, natural gas is broadly recognized as a clean, and plentiful, fuel. It’s no surprise that responsible drilling has broad bipartisan support and the approval of prominent environmental groups, such as the Environmental Defense Fund.

The shale revolution has been an economic game changer for our country. In only a few years, the energy landscape has been reshaped by the discovery of abundant oil and gas unlocked from vast shale reserves. The United States has gone from a major importer of energy to a net exporter. The transformation has been astonishing.

This transformation has been an economic bright spot that contrasts with the rather anemic overall economic picture. New jobs have been created for drillers, pipe fitters, electricians, engineers, truckers, and on and on. And the new money in those workers’ pockets has, in turn, remade main streets from Pennsylvania to North Dakota, as small businesses cater to them. Even New York, which has a moratorium on fracking despite its huge in-state resource, has added 60,000 new jobs, thanks to fracking operations in nearby states. New income has also benefited state treasuries, broadening the tax base and leading to improvements in schools and roads. 

When it comes to fracking, opposition activists don’t want facts to get in the way of their story. But it’s important to recognize that fracking gives all Americans a source of clean, inexpensive fuel, creates jobs and fuels economic growth. Let’s not let disinformation rule the day.

Rafuse, a former energy adviser to the Nixon administration, is principal of the Rafuse Organization, an energy, trade and national security consulting group.