Technology for a healthy economy

Hydraulic fracturing (HF) is a safe, proven method for increasing energy development. If allowed to grow with horizontal drilling, it could position the U.S. as the preeminent energy superpower -- creating career-path jobs, a healthy economy, and bolstering energy security.

While other industries sputtered after the 2008 recession, oil and gas surged. Today, the industry injects $1.2 trillion into the economy — supporting 9.8 million American jobs.

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In the 21st century, there may be no more significant innovation in energy than the fusion of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling. HF makes it possible to tap shale deposits, kindling the U.S. energy renaissance.

According to National Geographic, HF boosted U.S. oil production to near historic highs — more than 9 million barrels a day — close to Saudi Arabia’s 9.6 million. The U.S. is on pace to win the No. 1 ranking by 2020.

In expanding production, HF and horizontal drilling provide multiple benefits: jobs, lower utility rates and cheaper gas prices. Whereas one conventional well could produce daily up to 1,000 barrels, an HF well can pump 5,000.

A 2010 Pennsylvania State University study estimated that investment into natural gas extraction in the Marcellus shale region contributed 44,000 jobs to Pennsylvania’s economy. The shale boom and low-cost natural gas are also lowering power rates for manufacturers, opening the door for more good-paying jobs.

Hydraulic fracturing produces much-needed public revenue for federal, state and local governments. The nonpartisan Tax Foundation found that, since 1981, governments have collected $1.95 trillion in taxes from the oil and natural gas industry.

In fiscal 2014, the federal government collected $3 billion in royalty revenue alone from onshore and Native American oil and gas operations. For every dollar the government spends administering the federal onshore oil and natural gas program, companies return $54.12 in royalties and leasing revenue to the American taxpayer.

States benefit tremendously. For example, Western states collected $9.25 billion in 2013 taxes, royalties and fees. Cities, counties and Native American tribal governments use them to sustain schools, universities, public hospitals and public safety.

Since the 1940s, hydraulic fracturing has been safely and effectively applied to more than 1.2 million wells in the U.S.

In June, after an exhaustive four-year study, the Environmental Protection Agency reconfirmed its safety. The 998-page report “did not find evidence of widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources.”

A top EPA official noted:

“The number of documented impacts to drinking water is relatively low when compared to the number of fractured wells,” said Thomas Burke, deputy assistant administrator of the EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

The study examined over 950 sources and reported no threat to drinking water. According to the EPA, it is the “most complete compilation of scientific data to date.”

The findings validate studies going back to 1995, when the agency researched Alabama wells and found “no evidence that the hydraulic fracturing at issue has resulted in any contamination or endangerment of underground sources of drinking water.” In 2004, another EPA study found the risk to the water supply to be negligible: “Injection of hydraulic fracturing fluids ... poses little or no threat to [underground drinking water].”

Top officials, including President Obama’s former secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar, have consistently vouched for its safety. Similarly, former EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson and former Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Director Bob Abbey stated that hydraulic fracturing has not been proven to have caused a single case of contaminated groundwater.

With constant turmoil in the Middle East, led by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, Iran’s saber rattling in the Strait of Hormuz, conflict in Syria and other threats, U.S. energy security is once again critical. 

Twenty percent of U.S. oil imports — 2 million barrels per day — are from Persian Gulf countries. Consequently, America’s imported oil is at risk. The good news: With hydraulic fracturing, we have enough to protect consumers from price volatility; there should be no need to rely on the Persian Gulf.

Additionally, HF has positioned the U.S. to help supply our allies with natural gas, giving them an alternative to Russia. Oil would be next if President Obama would exercise his statutory authority to lift the antiquated export ban on U.S. crude.

In March, the BLM imposed unnecessary, heavy-handed rules to shackle HF on federal and tribal lands. More red tape kills new jobs and prompts layoffs in the energy industry. Obstructing HF also undermines our recent gains in energy security. At a time when Iran, Russia and other competitors are engulfed in turmoil, these new rules would weaken U.S. energy independence. Fortunately, a federal court in Wyoming has blocked the rules pending the legal challenge.

States are better equipped to regulate oil and gas, and most already apply rigorous standards. Water and geological conditions often differ among states. The one-size-fits-all BLM rules would only sap production without any practical environmental benefit.

In sum, hydraulic fracturing is a safe and effective technology that could vault the U.S. to premier status as an energy superpower. If allowed to grow, oil and gas development would create career-path jobs, help build a healthy economy and ensure energy security. Congress should strongly support HF and block the administration’s failed anti-energy agenda.

Pearce has represented New Mexico’s 2nd Congressional District since 2011 and from 2003 to 2009. He sits on the Financial Services Committee.