In a recent commentary, Bob Sheak argued that the debate about increased access to domestic energy sources is really a battle between “ordinary citizens against corporations, Republican governors, and Republican state legislatures.”
Sheak’s conspiracy theory ignores the realities driving this issue, rising energy costs and a struggling economy, and seeks to use fear instead of facts.
No one in the country feels the impact of rising energy costs more than the poor and middle class. The regressive nature of energy costs is felt most keenly in budgets for transportation and home heating and cooling. Family budgets are straining under the pressure.
Two things that could help reduce the burden of essential energy are an improved economy and an increase in the amount of energy that is produced domestically.
One of the most promising developments of the past few years is the huge expansion of domestic supplies of clean-burning natural gas. In August experts at the U.S. Geological Survey estimated recoverable natural gas resources of 84 trillion cubic feet in the Marcellus shale formation in the Northeast. (Ten years ago the estimate was just 2 trillion cubic feet.) The potential of another super-giant formation, the Utica Shale, which lies beneath the Marcellus and is both thicker and wider in area, has yet to be determined. And these are only two of the several very promising resources for new energy in the United States.
The advancement of hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” has made tapping the Marcellus, Utica and other oil and natural gas formations economically feasible. Increases in natural gas production have helped lower prices from about $7 per thousand cubic feet to about $4 today, tens of thousands of new jobs have been created, and state and local governments are reaping new tax revenues.
Nevertheless, in well-orchestrated efforts opponents are stirring opposition to the development of new energy from energy-rich shale basins. Their primary tool is fear and their focus is fracking.
Fracking is a technique in use since the 1940s to increase production from oil and natural gas wells. It involves drilling into impermeable shale beds several thousand feet below the surface, then injecting a mix of water, sand and chemical agents to create cracks so natural gas can move to the wellbore.
Opponents like Sheak are conducting public relations campaigns to stoke fears, claiming fracking “could” contaminate drinking water supplies, “could” cause air pollution, “could” harm streams and rivers, “could” affect hunting grounds, and “could” affect human health. They hope their unsubstantiated claims will create enough fear in the minds of public officials to deter the issuance of permits required for drilling operations.
And they are having success, despite the fact that there is no evidence to indicate that fracking technologies are having any such effects. That is not to say that there haven’t been some problems. In the few instances of water well contamination in the vicinity of gas drilling, for example, failure of drill casings or poor drilling techniques have been identified — not fracking — as a cause. State laws and regulations are in place to deal with such problems.
The issue of energy self-sufficiency for the United States has been a point of discussion for decades, even while we have become more and more dependent on foreign sources of energy. Developing the Marcellus and Utica fields here in Ohio and elsewhere, the Bakken shale oil field in North Dakota, the Barnett shale in Texas, and others will secure significant benefits to Americans.
Property owners who lease their lands for development will benefit from lease and royalty payments. New jobs will be created directly and indirectly, conferring economic benefits on communities. State and local governments will realize increased tax revenue. And with more energy produced here at home, consumers should benefit from greater energy security and stable energy prices.
Expanding our energy resources — safely, efficiently, and in an environmentally responsible way — is critical to both growing our economy and bring relief to Ohioans squeezed by high energy costs. This issue is too important to be driven by fear and false information.
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Kevin Holtsberry is a freelance writer, editor and policy consultant based in Columbus.