Natural gas is our opportunity for an energy revolution

Not far from my congressional district in South Central Texas, a dramatic economic turnaround is taking place. In what has historically been one of the poorest regions of the State, energy development in the Eagle Ford shale formation has provided thousands of good jobs and a booming local economy. 

Eagle Ford has rapidly become one of the largest oil-and-gas developments in the world. Despite a struggling national economy, per capita incomes in this region have dramatically increased. According to data from the Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis, average per-capita incomes in counties with Eagle Ford shale wells jumped more than 13 percent between 2008 and 2011. Across the U.S., incomes fell. In 2011 alone the Eagle Ford Formation was estimated to generate more than $25 billion in revenue while supporting 47,000 full-time jobs. And industry experts have indicated this is just the beginning. In 2012, oil and natural-gas liquids production topped 700,000 barrels per day, a seven-fold increase over 2011.

At the epicenter of this energy boom are two important technological advances: hydraulic fracturing, commonly referred to as “fracking,” and horizontal drilling. These technologies have redrawn the energy map, unlocking vast amounts of previously inaccessible oil and gas. And this is not only in Texas, but across the country, from the Bakken formation in North Dakota to Marcellus shale in Pennsylvania and New York. 

It’s difficult to overstate the positive economic and geopolitical implications of this energy revolution. According to the International Energy Agency, the U.S. is now on track to surpass Saudi Arabia in oil production by the end of this decade and become essentially energy independent by 2035. The boom in natural-gas production has also benefited consumers who now enjoy reduced prices. According to the Energy Department, natural gas is now almost 70 percent below its 2005 high of $13 per thousand cubic feet. Natural gas provides cheap, clean and abundant energy that heats Americans’ homes and cooks their food.

Natural-gas production has also reinvigorated American manufacturing. Following decades of jobs gains overseas, affordable natural gas has made it possible for companies to reopen their doors and build new factories on American soil. PricewaterhouseCoopers projects the U.S. will see approximately 1 million new manufacturing jobs by 2025, largely due to the availability of cheap energy. All of these benefits provide a powerful lift to America’s otherwise struggling economy. Unfortunately, unfounded attacks, misinformation and biased media coverage have maligned fracking, threatening to stop this energy revolution in its tracks.

At the forefront of this smear campaign is the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Despite more than a century of oil-and-gas oversight at the state level, EPA is doing everything it can to find reasons to justify new federal regulations. EPA has investigated allegations of contamination due to fracking in Pavillion, Wyo., Parker County, Texas, and Dimock, Pa. In each case, the agency jumped to conclusions, blaming natural-gas production even before full scientific assessments were completed. Time and transparency have gradually exposed the weakness of EPA’s claims, and in all three cases, it has had to walk back its initial conclusions. 

As chairman of the Science, Space and Technology Committee, I intend to undertake oversight of the Obama administration’s activities, and will push to restore balance and transparency to EPA. It is critical that good science drives regulatory decision-making. The committee will closely examine EPA’s broader study on hydraulic fracturing and drinking water, as well as the forthcoming interagency research plan. 

Fracking has revitalized America’s domestic energy industry and will continue to strengthen our economy. It is essential that this technology is used in an environmentally safe manner, and that industry utilizes the most scientifically rigorous standards. But we must not allow America’s energy revolution to be strangled by unnecessary regulations, borne out of fear and misinformation. 

Smith chairs the House Science, Space and Technology Committee.