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Fracking: Securing Our Future Beyond Petroleum

Fracking: Securing Our Future Beyond PetroleumMuch has been made of the environmental impacts of Hydraulic Fracturing, or fracking, a method of extracting natural gas using millions of gallons of pressurized water and chemicals.  Major concerns include methane leakage, water contamination and the dangers of continued reliance on fossil fuels.  While these dangers are arguable, one indisputable aspect of fracking is that the gas it extracts will contribute to domestic security.

The main concern with the US energy supply is foreign-sourced petroleum.  While petroleum products (mostly oil) are used to produce small amounts of electricity in the US, oil is the overwhelming source of energy for the transportation sector. According to the US Energy Information Administration, about forty percent of US energy comes from the use of petroleum, and less than half of that is met by domestic production.  The rest is dependent upon foreign resources.

While Canada is the largest single exporter of petroleum products to the United States — accounting for about 28% of US imports — the ensuing list of exporters is more worrisome.  There are widespread tensions in Middle East, and over 20% of our imports come from Iraq, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia alone.  The largest African countries from whom the US imports petroleum are Nigeria, Angola, Algeria and Libya.  All of these countries have had significant political unrest, if not violent revolution within the past ten years.

Closer to home, major petroleum exporters in South America include Venezuela, Colombia , Ecuador and Brazil, all of which also have their own internal and external pressures causing instability.

oil imports

Many of the largest international petroleum exporters to the US suffer from political instability, have a history of bellicose or violent international relations, or both.  As a matter of national security, it is at best unwise and, at worst, a veritable economic time bomb for the US to depend on these foreign countries for our energy production.  Natural gas, best extracted through fracking, offers just the opposite.

Because to this point oil has been a relatively stable and cheap source of fuel, standard oil-burning engines have been employed through most of the world’s vehicles.  However, natural gas-fueled vehicles (NGVs) have been in existence since the 1930s.  Currently there are over 17 million NGV vehicles worldwide.  In the US, cities including Los Angeles, Dallas and Salt Lake City have changed part or all of their mass transit bus systems to NGVs.

The technology to convert the fuel used in the US transportation sector from a petroleum base to a natural gas base currently exists.  All that we are missing is the will and the investment.  By making the switch, we will be able to sustain our own energy needs, with little to no dependence on outside energy sources.

Which brings us back to fracking.  Some of the world’s largest deposits of shale gas and oil deposits exist in the United States and Canada.  The Energy Information Administration estimates that the US has enough shale gas and oil resources to cover our domestic energy needs for decades.  Fracking is logistically and economically the best way to access these resources.

Environmental concerns surrounding fracking are not to be dismissed.  Tight controls, regulations and oversights should be in place to ensure the least risk of environmental contamination.  Companies employing fracking (or any sort of resource exploration and extraction) should interact with the affected communities, and the industry should be encouraged to continuously pursue safer and more efficient methods and practices.  (The United Kingdom is implementing such a comprehensive national policy).

Where there is energy production and usage, there will also be environmental concerns.  Whenever possible we should demand that the concerns be immediately addressed.  However, we must also confront the realities of global energy supply and security.  It is irresponsible for the US to continue depending upon some of the most troubled states on the globe when we have the means for self-sufficiency inside our own borders.

 

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  • http://Obsoletethinkingalert! david newell

    “Major concerns include methane leakage, water contamination and the dangers of continued reliance on fossil fuels. While these dangers are arguable, one indisputable aspect of fracking is that the gas it extracts will contribute to domestic security.”

    Oh my gosh! “Domestic security”?? What does “Domestic Security” mean when the world biosphere is deeply threatened by such thinking? This type of thinking will soon be obsolete ( I dearly hope), as the wave of GLOBAL CATASTROPHE becomes imprinted on each and every individuals mind, and the thoughts of “us versus them” is replaced by the knowledge that the leaks on YOUR SIDE of the rowboat are MY concerns as well.

    • Scott Shugarts

      Thanks David.

      Last December, AP reported:
      In 1997 there were only a few hundred shale gas wells in the Fort Worth area and the summertime ozone level hit 104 parts per billion, far above the national standard then of 85. By 2012 the number of wells had risen to about 16,000, but preliminary results show the ozone level was 87 last summer.

      Simply, newer wells are not leaking nearly as much as those from 15 years ago. The fracking industry has made great strides in safety and efficiency, and above I state “the industry should be encouraged to continuously pursue safer and more efficient methods and practices.”

      I also reference my previous article on the approach the UK is taking toward fracking. I completely endorse a careful and comprehensive policy approach to fracking — or any kind of energy production – going forward.

      I believe Climate Change and its associated dangers are very real. I also believe the social-political perils of our 21st century planet are very real. I believe the solutions to both problems can only be intertwined.

  • http://www.whiteoakpower.com Bob Reuther

    True environmentalists and responsible members of the natgas industry are on the same side. Natural gas and other renewable energy sources are on the same side. The only ones not on the same side are the fractivists who want everyone to be only on their side.

  • Kees Govers

    This article perfectly exemplifies the short sightedness of our society. Texas, for example is running out of fresh water. The irresponsible use of water for urban sprawl and irrigation in the desert was not enough pressure on the water supply. Now as much as 25% of the water use is for fracking. Lay that on top of the other problems that fracking causes, it more than outweighs the ‘energy security’ that we so crave. Natural gas is at best a stop-gap solution, as is the toxic tar from Alberta and the explosive crude from the ‘Bakken’ (see Lac Megantic, QC). We need to get serious about conservation of resources and renewable energy, not about extracting more junk from the ground.

    Water is earth’s number one resource, without it life does not exist. Fresh water is essential to all terrestrial life. That means our food and that of all other forms of life around us. We can live without petroleum products, we cannot live without fresh water. We need to get serious about securing our water supply and air supply, forget about energy from non-renewables.

    There is a saying around the world “The United States will always do the right thing, when all other options are exhausted” Shale gas is one of those other options. It could potentially leave us with never being able to do the right thing. It is not worth the risk.

  • Scott Shugarts

    Thanks Bob,

    I’m not entirely dismissive of fracking activists. They do have a point in that the industry has been cagey about exactly what chemicals they’re using. There are also very valid concerns about leakage and contamination from older wells. I firmly believe the industry has a responsibility past and future: address the existing pollution concerns and achieve high standards of safety and transparency going forward.

    That being said, I still stand behind my premise that safe exploration and extraction of resources is a vital part of our society’s near and medium term needs.