I strongly in favor fracking for what I consider good environmental, economic and geopolitical reasons. Let me explain my trifecta.
Start with environmental. U.S. CO2 emissions are lower than they were ten years ago, in fact lower than any time since the mid-1990s. Gas replacing coal is a big factor. Natural gas is the cleanest of fossil fuels in almost every way. Renewable forms of energy are developing very rapidly. Inexpensive natural gas may slow its development a little, but not significantly. Using gas is reducing emissions faster than renewables could be developed and deployed to do the job. As prices come down and networks are built, renewables will replace most fossil fuels and the overall footprint will have been less. Recall that deploying technology is as important as developing it. Things take time.
Fracking has environmental costs, as do all forms of energy exploration. But those costs are lower than the alternative fuels – the real alternatives at this time and the next decade. Water problems can be addressed and mostly have been. The bigger problem with fracking comes with new roads and increased traffic in rural areas. This is serious, but – again – we have to compare to real world alternatives. I love forests and do not wish to see any destroyed. However, I also know that fracking has relatively small footprints and forests return. This is not forever.
Economically, there is no doubt fracking is great. It has pumped more money into the U.S. economy than all the fiscal stimulus and has been part of almost all the good new jobs created since the great recession. Inexpensive fuels is helping bring industry back to the heartland. Beyond that, gas is a feedstock for things like fertilizers and chemicals, so it goes even farther.
I saved the geopolitical part for last, since it also includes ecological and economic factors. As I wrote, I am confident that renewable alternative energy source will be dominant within a few decades. This means that much of the world’s fossil fuel resources will remain in the ground, unused and made much less valuable. If this happens, I want it to happen to not in America. Let the fossil fuels that lay under places like the Middle East or Russia stay unused and “wasted.” Let American sources be used while they still have value. Let’s use it like it’s going out of style, because it is and let others get stuck with the excess inventory.
This points to another geopolitical benefit. Much of the world’s exportable concentrated fossil fuels lays under unstable places, places often not friendly to us. With our American energy boom, they just do not matter as much anymore. Think of how much more acute would be the problems with Russia or Iran if they could much more effectively deploy the energy threat. It is bad enough as it is. It could be worse.
The great thing about fracking is that natural gas and oil it produces tend to be widely dispersed. This spreads the wealth and diversifies risk, instead of having it all under a few easily threatened places.
I am aware of the risks. There is no life w/o risk; I am also aware of the benefits.
If there were natural gas under my land, I would permit fracking. I would be very demanding in terms of where the pads should be located, how the roads should be maintained and how the natural communities should be respected and restored, but I would let it happen. I think this is the smart play for our country generally. Do it right; do it with a larger margin of error than we think we need. Spend the extra time and money to ensure protection. But do it – because the benefits far outweigh the costs. A century from now, when we have transitioned to a cleaner energy economy, we will look back and see that using fracking as a bridge was a smart idea. By that time, the forests we replanted will be vibrant. Some will be “old growth” and some plantation forests will have grown, been harvested and be growing again. Signs of fracking will be curiosities like those stone wall that once separated cultivated fields and now have forests on both sides.