Frack, baby, frack!

By Katie Kieffer


Shale rock. Image credit: “Shale” by Ty on Flickr via Creative Commons.

I have a slam-dunk plan for creating jobs: Frack, baby, frack. Move like Shaq. Let’s beat the buzzer, Shaq-style, and score points for the U.S. economy. Frack Attack!

Like basketball referees, ratings agencies Moody’s and Fitch Ratings are signaling they may join Standard and Poor’s in calling a foul on the U.S. economy. The good news is that we can move toward recovery by fracking shale for gas and oil—producing energy and creating jobs simultaneously.

Fracking only recently became a profitable extraction technology.  In 2003, a Texas speculator named George Mitchell bucked conventional wisdom. He discovered that he could force impenetrable shale rock thousands of feet beneath the earth’s surface to give up its methane (natural gas is primarily methane) by combining horizontal drilling with hydrofracturing. In 2007, natural gas company Range Resources perfected Mitchell’s discovery and developed a cost-effective technique to commercialize fracking.

America’s shale-gas cache is the Marcellus Shale Deposit, a 575-mile formation extending through four states, primarily Pennsylvania and New York. Marcellus is arguably the second largest shale-gas field in the world.

Fracking is an economic boon: Pennsylvania landowners who once struggled to make ends meet have signed six-figure leases with shale drilling companies. In addition, landowners earn 12-to-15 percent of the royalties from the gas extracted from their property. Marcellus brought Pennsylvania 18,000 new jobs in the first half of this year alone. Pennsylvania leaseholder Rick Baker told the New York Times: “We need this natural gas to keep functioning. There are still people sitting in bars waiting for the steel mills to reopen.”

States like North Dakota have experienced historic economic growth now that fracking technology has also made it possible to recover oil from shale. North Dakota’s Bakken formation holds over 24 billion barrels of shale oil. The Institute for Energy Research reports that North Dakota’s GDP is now nine percent above the national average while its unemployment rate is far below average.

Fracking is safe. Nevertheless, the EPA and the media claim that shale companies keep the fracking chemicals they use “top secret” and that these chemicals could contaminate groundwater.

Fracking fluid is roughly 99.5 percent water and sand; the remaining 0.5 percent is a combination of three-to-12 chemicals at low concentrations. The New American cites Department of Energy evidence showing that: “the fluids are well known and rigorously regulated.” Furthermore, there is zero scientific evidence confirming that fracking contaminates groundwater. Syracuse University hydrogeologist Don Siegel told TIME Magazine: “I don’t think it’s scientifically plausible to suggest that could happen.”

Certainly, since commercial fracking technology is still new and revolutionary, there are kinks to work out. In particular, Pennsylvania’s unique geography and dense population present challenges for disposing of the fracking wastewater or “flowback” that travels up each Marcellus shale well along with the methane; even the shale-gas industry desires to perfect the disposal phase of the fracking process.

Yet even the flowback disposal “challenge” offers another lucrative opportunity for the U.S. economy because global capitalists are increasingly finding ways to safely and profitably extract minerals, oils, fats, chemicals and nutrients from wastewater. Basically, groundbreaking technology exists to render wastewater both profitable and sustainable.

Water technology venture capitalist David Henderson told the New York Times: “Wastewater is a very bad name because there’s a lot of value in wastewater. [In Singapore, for example] the word ‘wastewater’ doesn’t exist. They call it ‘new water.’ They call their wastewater plants ‘water reclamation plants.’ And I think that’s an interesting shift in mentality.”

Fracking technology was developed by private sector entrepreneurs; I think we should offer the private sector a chance to solve its challenges. Radical EPA regulations will merely repress America’s ability to benefit from fracking, kill job growth and hike energy prices.

An extra-Congressional agency like the EPA is far too capricious to be trusted with regulating fracking technology. In fact, the New York Times has reported that the EPA has repeatedly suppressed and altered its scientific findings on fracking for political reasons.

The EPA is now working on a study to determine the safety of fracking, however the results will not be complete until the end of 2012 and the EPA’s report based on the study will not be finished until 2014. If the EPA is seriously concerned that fracking causes water contamination, why is it taking over two years to release its report? This is a long time to wait and it delays potential controversy until after the 2012 election so that President Obama does not have to fight environmentalists to regain his office.

Let’s frack our way toward creating the jobs and affordable fuel that the economy needs to recover. If we move fast like Shaq—fracking for natural gas and oil—we can beat S&P’s downgrade buzzer.

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  1. keltin says:

    The possibilities for mining natural gas in shale is tremendous in our country The Marcellus Shale I'm very aware of, because i have experience working in this formation and specifically in the environmental protection arena. The benefits of using this developing technology vastly outweighs any of the minor problems that have been identified, even considered.

    As a unit, the Marcellus is as large as Katie stated, and there are many other Permian and non-Permian shales in the US (primarily in the east half of the country) that can also contribute to the energy independence of the US, reducing the potential for extorting US policy, having us support or do things we shouldn't. At the very least, we wouldn't be funding the terrorism that avowedly is pointed right at the heart of the US and western civilization.

    A couple of technical issues: Most of the time the fracking occurs extremely deep in the earth, far below what we would ever use for drinking water. Extremists in the environmental field are trying to say that fracking causes earthquakes that can damage structures or even kill people. Poppycock. Any ground subsidence and movements cannot be tied to these activities except by loons that like putting together Hollywood sci-fi films.

    Good article, Katie, keep them coming!

  2. eric says:

    First off i have to ask if an energy company paid you to write this article? Although i do not endorse the EPA by any means, putting special exemptions for large fracking companies like Halliburton into the 2005 Safe Drinking Water Act stating that they do not have to disclose information on the chemicals they use is downright silly. I wonder how much the Lobbyists had to pay to accomplish that????? As far as your 12 chemicals statement it is widely known that over 750 different chemicals have been linked to fracking with such terrible ones as benzene,toluene,xylene and napthal. Just one of your so called 12 chemicals would be a bad idea to pump into the ground close to precious aquifers. Coal bed methane wells use 50,000 to 350,000 gallons of water per well and shale wells use anywhere from 2 to 10 million gallons of water per well. These numbers raise huge concerns with the dewatering of our precious aquifers. Just thought your readers should be exposed to a different opinion on this matter.
    What i did take away from your article was that it was written by one of the cutest girls i have ever seen=)

    • Kris says:

      Where are you getting your fear of fracking contamination? There is NO scientific evidence that fracking contaminates drinking water/groundwater. None. Also, as Katie points out, the chemicals are WELL KNOWN, HIGHLY REGULATED, and used at extremely low concentrations to make up only 0.5 % of fracking fluid. Fracking is safe and it's already well-regulated. Moreover it is a technological breakthrough that will create jobs, lower the cost of energy and free us from dependence on foreign oil. I 100% agree with Katie!

  3. Lodzia says:

    You are so correct! If we could only do this, we would be able to take many people off unemployment!

    Keep up your well thought out and interesting writing, Katie:)

  4. Sophocles says:

    Fascinating, especially the potential use of the "waste" water. However, I think we should move more like Kobe or Nash rather than Shaq.

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