It's 'Oh Frack Yeah' for US Oil and Natural Gas

It's 'Oh Frack Yeah' for US Oil and Natural Gas
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Many politicians have taken the extreme position of wanting to ban fracking, claiming that it has done more harm than good to Americans and the environment. This couldn’t be further from the truth — the environmental and economic effects of the shale oil and gas revolution have been decidedly positive. Banning fracking, then, would be a disastrous policy decision — for many reasons.

For starters, fracking saves Americans significant amounts of money. It has doubled American oil production and increased natural gas production by 60% since 2007, dramatically lowering world prices. This windfall of cheap energy has saved America over $2 trillion in lower energy costs over the last decade. Households save an average of $2,500 per year (or nearly $700 per person) on lower heating and electric bills, and gasoline prices are nearly $1.30 lower per gallon. The benefits of that are hard to overstate: lower heating costs save roughly 11,000 lives per year during cold snaps. 

And despite the political target on its back, fracking has been a major contributor to the U.S. economy. Indeed, four million jobs nationwide are supported by fracking and related industries. And considering that America is the world’s largest oil and gas producer (and growing), if fracking were banned, the world economy would shudder. Indeed, this would constitute the largest energy disruption in 40 years. As much oil and gas would be removed from the world market by a major supplier as the 1973 Arab embargo and 1979 Iranian revolution, which doubled to quadrupled world oil prices and led to global recessions

Too, contrary to politicians’ claims that fracking is a scourge of the environment, it has actually helped accomplish several environmental goals. Natural gas, now America’s largest electricity source, emits half the CO2 that coal does and has helped cut coal dependence in half since 2005. Electric power sector CO2 emissions are at their lowest levels since 1985, with increased natural gas use accounting for nearly two-thirds of the decrease. Further, natural gas has significantly lowered air pollution, with the most harmful pollutants collectively decreasing over 55% since the shale revolution began. Overall, this has saved over 25,000 lives by reducing particulate matter that leads to respiratory diseases, stroke and heart disease.

Two prominent objections to fracking concern methane leakage and effects on water. Numerous studies, ranging from Yale to the Obama-era Department of Energy to the U.S. Geological Survey, found no evidence of fracking endangering water quality. Even the EPA had to strain to find examples of how fracking could harm groundwater supply. A more serious concern, then, is that methane — more prevalent in the composition of natural gas than in coal — is a more potent greenhouse gas than CO2. In short, it is, but that’s not the whole story.

Methane’s atmospheric effects are more potent in the short term, but when its effects are evaluated over the standard 100-year outlook, it has half the warming effects as CO2. Misunderstandings of these two matters have been powerful weapons for fracking opposition groups. All of this isn’t to say fracking is riskless. But, with proper regulation and precautions, fracking is safe and can — and has — brought about environmental benefits.

On top of this, becoming the world’s largest producer of the product that fuels the modern way of life has given America new cards to play regarding foreign policy. Increased oil production resulted in spending $1 trillion less in energy imports since 2008, keeping significant funds out of the hands of adversarial countries. Indeed, Russia sees America’s increased oil and gas production as a threat to its energy export-dominated economy and its political leverage in Europe.

Natural gas exports have put teeth into America’s desire to wean Europe from Russian energy dependence. And the Middle East’s and OPEC’s grip on world oil supply is loosening, with American production providing its own domestic cushion to oil shocks. Closer to home, lower world energy prices from increased American production is draining the coffers of Venezuela’s oil revenue-dependent authoritarian regime, helping to weaken its position, defund criminal activities and bolster democratic forces within the country. Additionally, on the humanitarian side, America could use increasing exports to begin to bring millions worldwide out of energy poverty and aid other nations in their pursuit of freedom and prosperity.

While fracking may be controversial, the record is clear. America stands to lose millions of jobs, pay trillions more for energy, forfeit environmental gains and relinquish global leverage. Banning fracking would be a giant step backward.

Jakob Puckett is a policy analyst at the Show-Me Institute and a Young Voices contributor.

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