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Summary: Benefits Of Shale Gas Fracking

Hydraulic fracturing (fracking) is a sixty-year-old industry; however, in recent years availability and innovative fracking processes have created a boom, rendering the U. S. economy less vulnerable to alarming oil prices. “In 2009, the United States finally outpaced Russia to become the world’s top natural gas producer” (Walker). And now the nation enjoys many benefits inclusive but not limited to lower fuel prices.

When done well, fracking provides energy security for the United States, a friendlier environmental footprint than many other fossil fuels, and much needed economic development; however, not done well, it leaves a plethora of economic, environmental, and health concerns which call for stringent government regulation. Nonetheless, hydraulic fracturing represents the best solution to Americas energy problem, but only when paired with much needed government oversight and regulation.

After many years of energy dependency, the U. S. now enjoys the prospect of energy security, thanks to Hydraulic Fracturing. Previously, the Middle East, entrenched with complex turmoil, has long been the major supplier of fossil fuel to America; however, due to the fracking boom, dependence on Saudi Arabia and other OPEC nations for fossil fuel is no longer an issue.

The U. S. as an abundant supply with rich shale deposits crisscrossing across the country, including Monterey Shale in California; New Albany Shale in Illinois; Niobrara Shale in Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, and Wyoming; Antrim Shale in Michigan; Eagle Ford Shale, Pearsall Shale, and Barnett Shale in Texas; Utica Shale in New York; Caney Shale and Woodford Shale in Oklahoma; Conesauga Shale and Floyd Shale in Alabama; Gothic Shale in Colorado; Bakken formation in Montana and North Dakota; Marcellus Shale in West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio and New York; Haynesville-Bossier Shale in Louisiana; Chattanooga Shale in Tennessee; Mancos Shale in New Mexico and Colorado, Fayetteville Shale in Arkansas; and the Devonian shales extending across Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, Ohio and along Lake Erie.

From 2005 to 2011, one deposit in Fort Worth, Texas has increased production from half a trillion cubic feet to 4. 9 trillion cubic feet of shale gas per year, the Barnett Shale Basin (Sovacool). And currently, the United States produces 60 percent of its oil usage, with experts expecting complete U. S. energy independence by 2025 (Coloradobiz). It is believed that the Marcellus Shale basin alone can provide all U. S. energy needs for forty-five years (Sovacool 250), solidifying the nations energy independence. Environmental benefits from fracking are also plentiful.

Professor and litigator, Hilary Goldberg, no fan of hydraulic fracturing, admits that there are many groups who see fossil fuels produced by fracking as a clean and plentiful energy source (Goldberg, Williams and Cours). Director of Energy Technology, Sovacool, confirms the benefits of shale gas carbon emissions by comparing the emissions of sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides, and mercury from shale gas to other fossil fuels, corroborating lower emissions and confirming that shale gas leaves a much “cleaner environmental footprint” (Sovacool 253) than fuels like oil and coal. When asked if fracking is environmentally conservative, Robert Howarth of Cornell University says:

Global warming is a serious issue that fracking related gas production can help to alleviate. In a world in which productivity is closely linked to energy expenditure, fracking will be vital to global economic stability until renewable or nuclear energy carry more of the workload. . . Replacing coal with natural gas in power plants, for example, reduces the plants’ greenhouse emissions by up to 50% (Howarth, Ingraffea and Engelder). Corroboratively, the drop in greenhouse gases nationally is attributed to older power plants converting to cleaner natural gas and wind turbines. Reflectively, U. S. emissions show a continual decreased since 2001 and currently set at 16 percent, which is a twenty-year low.

In contrast, China’s emissions, laden with oil and coal, are continuously climbing and currently sets at 25 percent (Coloradobiz 5). Likewise, research at MIT shows that shale gas also “reduces emissions from the electricity sector by 17 percent” (Sovacool 253). And, though a subject of heated controversy, environmental evidence concerning fracking and drinking water, issued by the Environmental Protection Agency’s 2004 report, confirms that there is little to no risk that “fracking would cause contamination of underground drinking water” (Goldberg, Williams and Cours 6). Similarly, past U. S. Department of Energy employee and 20-year ExxonMobil Executive, Bruce McKenzie, is quick to praise the economic benefits of fracking saying “fracking is very, very safe. . . quifers, the underground rivers that provide drinking water, are about 100-200 feet below the surface.

The gas-producing shale rock formations tend to be 5,000 to 6,000 feet below the surface. So you need to make sure that the well you drill to pump the water and chemicals through the shale to fracture it and release the gas is sealed properly, and that’s not a hard thing to do” (Bambrick). However, the most glowing environmental praise may come from William Press, of the president’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology in the United States. He says, “America will only achieve the ambitious climate change goals outlined by President Barack Obama. . . y encouraging wide-scale fracking for natural gas over the next few years” (Sovacool 254).

Similarly, environmental proficiency parallels evidence of solid economic benefits. The plethora of economic evidence supporting hydraulic fracturing begins with an overview of recent drops in automobile fuel costs. Probably the most observable economic benefit to Americans, dropping gasoline prices fell from over $5 per gallon in 2009 to under $2 per gallon today; however, this represents only a minor change compared to the overall picture. According to the Globe & Mail, fracking “has generated tens of billions of dollars and reduced energy bills and fuel imports” (Esch).

In agreement, Adjunct Professor of International Business at Tufts University, Dr. Bruce Everett, verifies that since the fracking boom “natural gas has become incredibly inexpensive. . . prices going from $10 or $11 per cubic feet 10 years ago down to $3. 77 now” (Bambrick 6). Since the fracking revolution, natural gas prices dropped 47 percent below market estimates. Consequently, consumer gas bills dropped $13 billion annually from 2007 to 2013, while diverse energy consumers, such as commercial, industrial, and electric power consumers, enjoyed an annual average of $74 billion in economic gains. (Dews) And economic benefits also effect individual earnings through new jobs and property leases.

In 2000, one small town’s landowners in Pennsylvania began receiving anywhere from $1,500 to $500,000 in royalties for mineral rights and access to surface land, a substantial increase from their usual per capita annual income of $18,285 (Fisher). Twelve years later, Pennsylvanians reported earnings of $1. 2 billion in fracking royalties (Sovacool 249-250). Similarly, fracking has impacted the U. S. job market. Recently six states with fracking facilities reported unemployment rates below 4 percent, and as low as 2. 6 percent in North Dakota (Brandau); rates is far below the national 5. 1 percent average. This expanse of job opportunities is astounding.

One study shows the generation of 57,000 jobs by the Marcellus Shale in 2009 and another shows the generation of 100,000 jobs by the Barnett Shale in 2011 (Sovacool 254). And the numbers multiply, because every job in the oil and gas industry reportedly supports 6. 9 jobs elsewhere (Triplett). Amanda Woodrum, a researcher for Policy Matters Ohio says, “We have seen in communities across all five states increased retail and food consumption, higher educational enrollment rates and larger tax revenues via severance and property taxes in the first couple years of drilling” (Remington). However, as lucrative as the benefits of fracking are, there are serious issues plaguing hydraulic fracturing that cannot be overlooked.

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