This illustration shows how deep below the Earth’s surface that hydraulic fracturing occurs.
The United States has ample natural
gas supplies to provide the nation's energy needs for the remainder of the
century. The problem is that much of the natural gas is found in deep shale
formations several thousand feet below the earth's surface. Geologists have
known for years that the natural gas was there, but no one knew how to
economically recover it. That has changed with the use of modern hydraulic
fracturing technology combined with horizontal drilling techniques.
Wind and other alternative energy get most of
the attention from politicians and the media, but producing natural gas by
hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking" as it is commonly referred to, is far more
important to America's ability to provide affordable and dependable energy to
heat our homes and power our industries.
Fracking operations to recover natural gas have been done safely and without environmental damage in America dating back to the 1940s.
Fracking is the process of creating
fissures in underground formations to allow natural gas to flow. Horizontal drilling is utilized to access
deep shale formations that contain natural gas. Fluid comprised of 99 percent
water and sand and containing small amounts of chemicals found in common
consumer products is injected into formations to create fissures from which the
natural gas can be economically recovered. The wells are encased in multiple
layers of steel and surrounded by cement to protect groundwater.
Fracking requires the one-time use
of several million gallons of water per well or approximately the amount of
water used to grow 7.5 acres of corn in a season. Much of that water can be
Natural gas is a clean-burning fuel
that emits less greenhouse gas than coal. It also is the fuel of choice for
heating most homes in the nation and is used increasingly to provide
electricity. Natural gas produced in Michigan supplies approximately one -third
of the natural gas used in the state. According to a report prepared for the
American Petroleum Institute by Price Waterhouse Coopers, the oil and gas
industry employs more than 179,000 workers in Michigan and comprises 4.4
percent of the state's economy.
Natural gas is also important to
the increased development of wind power. Due to wind power's unreliability, it
must be backed up by other energy sources. Natural gas peaking power plants are
most often utilized in conjunction with wind because they can more easily be
started up and shut down than can a coal base load power plant.
The development of America's vast
deep shale natural gas reserves is uncertain. Environmentalists and others
contend that fracking could cause groundwater pollution that could lead to
potential drinking water contamination. Lawsuits have been filed to prevent
fracking operations. New York lawmakers have introduced legislation that would
place a moratorium on new fracking operations. Senate Bills 1530, 1531 and 1532
have been introduced by Michigan legislators that would place further
restrictions on using fracking technology to recover natural gas in the state.
But natural gas development
activities, including fracking, are already subject to several federal and
state environmental laws. Regulators at the Michigan Department of Natural
Resources and Environment should be allowed to do their job without political
interference. Fracking operations to recover natural gas have been done safely
and without environmental damage in America dating back to the 1940s.
Safely developing the country's
vast natural gas reserves is critical to both the nation's economy and national
security. It is also important to hold the oil and gas industry to the highest
safety and environmental standards in developing deep shale reserves. Oil and
gas development is never 100 percent free from environmental risk, but fracking
has proven to be a safe and effective technology in helping to meet the
nation's energy needs. Efforts to prevent use of the technology by
overregulation will increase energy costs and decrease jobs.
Russ Harding is senior environmental analyst and director of the Property
Rights Network at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a research and
educational institute headquartered in Midland, Mich. Permission to
reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the
Center are properly cited.