Lee Fuller is Vice President of Governmental Relations at the
Independent Petroleum Association of America ( www.ipaa.org).
MARCH DEBATE RESULTS:
Should marijuana be legal?
VERTICAL HYDRAULIC FRACTURING has been widely implemented
and studied in the U.S. for nearly 65 years. The practice is also strictly regu-
lated. Natural gas development is regulated by six federal laws, including
the Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act, in addition to direct regulation by
states where development is occurring. A recent Secretary of Energy advi-
sory board requested by President Obama, and appointed by Nobel laure-
ate Steven Chu, found “state and federal regulators and companies are
already deeply involved in environmental management [of natural gas development].”
The Environmental Protection Agency has stated that fracking does not pose a significant
threat to groundwater. This has been corroborated by the Departments of Energy and Interior, reg-
ulators in more than 15 states and the Ground Water Protection Council, which launched Frac-
Focus.org, a resource that provides information on the fracturing process on a well-by-well basis.
Does hydraulic fracturing cause seismic events? Stanford University geophysicist Mark
Zoback provides some perspective on this issue. He stated, “The typical energy released in trem-
ors triggered by fracking is the equivalent to a gallon of milk falling off the kitchen counter.”
Hydraulic fracturing technology allows the use of fewer wells and a smaller surface footprint
to produce many times the amount of energy produced in the past. In Pennsylvania, for exam-
ple, 30 percent fewer wells were developed in 2010 than in 2005. Yet Pennsylvania is producing
12 times the volume of natural gas per day that it did back then.
More than 1. 2 million oil and natural gas wells have undergone fracturing since the process
was introduced in 1947. This has produced billions of barrels of oil and trillions of cubic feet of
natural gas, and has generated millions of well-paying jobs and billions of dollars in annual revenues for governments at all levels.
Today, fracturing is reviving the U.S. steel industry and entire regions of the country and
saving U.S. consumers thousands of dollars a year due to lower utility bills and feedstock prices
for manufacturing goods. And stimulation of oil and gas wells isn’t fracturing’s only use; it is also
used in water wells, for geothermal energy and to remediate Superfund sites.
Is the technology’s continued use a good idea? I’d suggest it is, unless you happen to be
someone who’s living in the dark. Or would like to be. C
Percentage reflects votes
received by March 9, 2012.
FEBRUARY DEBATE RESULTS:
Should you be able to opt out
of Social Security?
YES: 53% NO: 47%
Percentage reflects votes received by
February 29, 2012. Results may reflect
Debate being picked up by blogs.
from an expert in the field:
Robert Howarth ( www.eeb.cornell.edu/howarth) is the Atkinson
Professor of Ecology and Environmental Biology at Cornell University.
SHALE GAS IS NEW, with significant commercial production beginning
only 10 years ago. High-volume hydraulic fracturing combined with
horizontal drilling is a recent development that now allows production of
shale gas. More than half of all shale gas production has occurred just in the
last three years. Even in this short period of time, serious environmental
consequences have become apparent.
For each fracking job, drillers force an average of 5 million gallons of
water into a well. Large amounts of chemicals—many toxic, mutagenic or carcinogenic—are
added to reduce friction, stop bacterial growth and inhibit corrosion. In addition, fracking
extracts toxic metals, hydrocarbons and radioactive materials from the shale. Approximately one-
fifth of this fluid flows back to the surface immediately after fracking, with more continuing to
flow over the lifetime of the well, posing significant risks to ecosystems and public health.
Adequate disposal mechanisms for frack wastes have yet to be developed. Surface waters have
already been contaminated by inadequately treated frack wastes, and drinking-water aquifer con-
tamination with methane gas appears to be widespread near fracking operations.
Some view shale gas as a bridge fuel allowing continued reliance on fossil fuels while releasing fewer greenhouse gases than coal and oil. Unfortunately, the claim does not hold up to close
scrutiny, largely due to methane’s role as a greenhouse gas. Natural gas is mostly methane, a
potent greenhouse gas, so even small amounts of venting and leakage matter. In an April 2011
paper, my colleagues and I estimated that between 3. 6 and 7. 9 percent of the lifetime production
of shale gas wells is emitted into the atmosphere as methane. New data becoming available in
early 2012 from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration show that in fact methane emissions are probably even greater than we estimated.
The natural gas industry is already the largest source of methane pollution in the U.S., and
the replacement of conventional gas resources by shale gas is aggravating this. Recent evidence
from the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies demonstrates that if methane emissions are
not better controlled, Earth’s climate system is likely to reach a tipping point in the next 15 to 35
years, leading to a large acceleration in global warming, with potentially catastrophic consequences. It is pure folly to view shale gas as a bridge fuel to a green future. C
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take no position on any Debate topic.