Banning fracking, bad idea
Launched in 2005, a combination of fracking and horizontal drilling has been hugely successful in the United States. Specifically, fracking has made America energy independent of foreign gas and oil. Even better, fracking produces cleaner gas to replace coal as a fuel to make electricity.
But now, driven by anxiety over climate issues, the political left continues its attack on fracking. There are troubling signs that such actions could curtail oil and gas production in the United States and perhaps harm our economy.
Fracking is seen as a critical issue to many Democratic voters in the presidential campaign. Bernie Sanders opposes any fracking. Joe Biden, on the other hand, said he would not support a nationwide ban on fracking, but would ban gas drilling on federal lands.
Actually, most fracking is done on private and state lands, not federal lands, and thus would be difficult to stop. Today, thanks to such drilling in shale deposits spanning from Pennsylvania, to Ohio and Texas, natural gas dominates electricity production in the U.S. What’s more, the rise of gas in energy production is the reason why the U.S. is reducing carbon emissions faster than any other country.
So, why do so many want to ban the use of fracking? The short answer is that fracking opponents believe that electric power should only be produced without carbon or other emissions. We can discuss some ways to minimize such emissions.
Let’s start with coal, which for many years produced about 50 percent of the electrical power for America. But with the start of fracking about 20 years ago, the use of coal has steadily moved down to about 25 percent of America’s electricity use.
Huge amounts of carbon emissions are reduced in the U.S. simply by switching from coal to gas plants. Since 2010, hundreds of coal plants have closed, and others are expected to be retired in upcoming years.
Natural gas has half the carbon content of coal. A shift from coal to gas in electricity production has reduced carbon emissions to mid-1990s levels. Without an abundance of inexpensive gas due to fracking, the transition to cleaner burning gas never would have happened. Additionally, the growth of solar and wind power would have been slowed because natural gas is needed as a backup source of power.
Another plus for the environment is the continuing use of nuclear plants to provide about 20 percent of America’s electricity. Nuclear units are free of emissions, and a very large nuclear plant is near completion in Georgia.
Wind and solar power are also emissions-free sources of energy. However, the problem with renewables is they don’t produce electricity when the wind doesn’t blow or when the sun doesn’t shine. Also, a “problem” with most renewables has to do with their apparent need for governmental subsidies.
Fracking is on track to make the U.S. the world’s largest oil and gas exporter. This has benefited the U.S. balance of trade and enhanced our nation’s energy security.
Geopolitically, production from fracking has provided Europe with an alternative to Russian natural gas and put a brake on Vladimir Putin’s efforts to dominate Europe politically and economically. Meanwhile, gas exports to Asia have enabled China and India to reduce carbon emissions and the use of coal in some heavily polluted cities.
Fracking accounts for nearly 90 percent of new U.S. oil, gas and liquid gas production. Importantly, oil will be needed for decades to come in transportation and industry, even as more electric vehicles appear on the scene.
Think about the millions of jobs that fracking has created, along with revenues for governments at all levels and money going to property owners who have received royalty payments for oil and gas production. The economic and environmental benefits from fracking have been enormous.
In short, fracking is a state of the art technology which has enabled America to be the world’s largest producer of oil and natural gas. Fracking is safe and cost effective, and it has dramatically reduced carbon emissions – all in 15 to 20 years. Banning of fracking would be counter effective.
Dr. J. Winston Porter is a national energy and environmental consultant, based in Atlanta, GA. Earlier, he was an assistant administrator of the EPA in Washington.