Our nation is just 235 years old. And since 1950 the U.S. population has more than doubled from 151.3 million to 311.8 million. Over the same period, every U.S. president has advocated energy autonomy and the need to free ourselves from a petroleum-based economy powered by Middle Eastern oil. Energy diversification with reliable nuclear energy, natural gas, coal, and any other viable and proven sources simultaneously serves these long-held economic and security aspirations. But how do we make aspirations something more than wishful thinking?
Advances in drilling and fracking are "transforming America's energy landscape" according to a (June 25) editorial in the Wall Street Journal. It said that "as recently as 2000, shale gas was 1% of America's gas supplies; today it is 25%." And, "the shale boom is also reviving economically suffering parts of the country" such as Pennsylvania. But their neighbors in upstate New York, living in the economic wasteland along the Pennsylvania border, have been less fortunate since the Empire State imposed a ban on fracking.
Just as the Bakken oil fields have become an economic catalyst for North Dakota, so too has the Marcellus Shale formation become a potent engine for Pennsylvania. That shale stretches from upstate New York through West Virginia and represents 35 percent to 40 percent of the total U.S. shale gas resource. How important is it? The Future of Natural Gas, a research study conducted by MIT, offers a comprehensive perspective for this discussion.
MIT notes that "Natural gas is a major fuel for multiple end uses—electricity, industry, heating—and is increasingly discussed as a potential pathway to reduced oil dependence for transportation. In addition, the recent realization that the producible unconventional gas resource in the U.S. is very large has intensified the discussion about natural gas as a 'bridge' to a low-carbon future."
Additionally, the MIT study said: "Shale development requires large-scale fracturing of the shale formation to induce economic production rates. There has been concern that these fractures can also penetrate shallow freshwater zones and contaminate them with fracturing fluid, but there is no evidence that this is occurring. It is essential that both large and small companies follow industry best practices; that water supply and disposal are coordinated on a regional basis; and that improved methods are developed for recycling of returned fracture fluids.
"The environmental impacts of shale development are challenging but manageable," the report said. "Research and regulation, both state and Federal, are needed to minimize the environmental consequences."
Yes, drilling and fracking for shale gas makes sense. With appropriate checks and balances, development of our natural gas from shale should enable us to meet growing demand with clean, reliable, and affordable energy.
About Gregg Laskoski Senior Petroleum Analyst for GasBuddy.com
Jon Olson Associate Professor in the Petroleum and Geosystems Engineering Department at the University of Texas at Austin
Daniel Simmons Director of State Affairs at the Institute for Energy Research
Chris Faulkner Founder, President, and CEO of Breitling Oil and Gas
Lee Fuller Vice President of Government Relations for the Independent Petroleum Association of America