As a professional on the land side of the domestic oil and gas industry, I just want to point out one thing: Fracking is used in the production of both oil and natural gas. The conversation is usually framed as one about natural gas production alone, which is incorrect. When talking about producing our domestic oil reserves, fracking is a key component of doing so, particularly in the Rocky Mountain states and up into North Dakota, where fracking has proven to be the “key” to finally unlocking the enormous potential of the Bakken formation, which everyone has known about since the 50s, but only figured out how to tap into successfully in the last decade (with few exceptions).
Kevin Bullis claims that “some environmentalists are comparing fracking not to coal but to solar and wind power, on the assumption that we could easily abandon fossil fuels for renewables. That’s a mistake.” This may be true, but the bigger mistake is what Bullis and others like him are doing: assuming that natural gas is somehow replacing coal. It is not. Even if the United States is replacing some of its energy from coal with natural gas, that coal is not going to stay in the ground. There are coal export terminals planned on the West coast. That coal is still going to be mined and shipped overseas, where it will be burned. So burning more natural gas is not reducing carbon in the atmosphere but is increasing carbon in the atmosphere. The global amount of carbon in the atmosphere is what matters.
And as far as the reduction in air pollution, that is certainly a good thing. But again, that pollution is just being exported somewhere else. I don’t think we should be proud that we’re exporting our dirtiest energy to inflict damage on people in other countries. Continued reliance on natural gas is only going to stall our need to transition to cleaner alternatives now. More importantly, it deincentivizes our country from addressing the cold reality that we simply consume way too much energy for our population. Our main concern should be addressing how to reduce our gluttonous consumption of energy, not transitioning from a really dirty carbon source to a somewhat less dirty carbon source.
And before anyone supports coal or natural gas, they should visit the blown up mountains in West Virginia or the industrialized forests and farmlands of northern and southwestern Pennsylvania. It’s easy to be for these things that provide our energy when you don’t have to live with the localized consequences. It’s quite another when you live at the base of a valley that’s been filled in with the rubble of a blown up mountain where your family has lived for generations. Or to see the forested hills and valleys of Pennsylvania be transformed into industrial wastelands by the natural gas industry. Switching to natural gas is not smart in the long run – it’s simply another short term fix for an addict.
In response to this reader’s comment, I live in Colorado, I’m in the water business, and I take issue nearly everything that was stated. I’m a die-hard liberal, but the misinformation out there on fracking just boggles the mind. No, fracking does not use “significant” amounts of water. The industry’s water needs are very small compared to other industrial and agricultural uses. The oil and gas industry has not outbid farmers for water (can the reader cite even one example?). And the water permanently “lost” as part of the fracking process is really no different than the water that is permanently “lost” (evapotranspired) when you raise corn or brew beer. The same farmers who are leasing their water to the oil and gas industry are mostly the same farmers who are reaping hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars in oil and gas royalties.
I’ll agree that the land use issues are difficult. Drilling activity has intensified in recent years and it does encroach on towns and urban sprawl. That’s really what this issue is all about: NIMBY, etc.
Update from another:
I’m a long time Dish reader, first time writer, and Boulderite. The Colorado water guy who wrote in claiming that oil and gas companies don’t outbid farmers clearly hasn’t been reading the newspaper. Here’s the source, from April 2012 right after the water auction. And here’s the key part:
At the recent auction, Fort Lupton-based A & W Water Service Inc. bid successfully for 1,500 acre-feet of water, paying about $35 per acre-foot. That’s slightly higher than the market price that irrigators pay for leasing water along the Front Range. The average price paid for water at NWCD’s auctions has increased from around $22 an acre-foot in 2010 to $28 this year.
A & W also leases water from Longmont, Loveland, Greeley and other cities—and hauls it to drilling sites.