By Katie Kieffer
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.