NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Unfounded Fears Threaten Energy Success Story

August 25, 2011

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology recently forecast that natural gas production from five American shale reserves would double in five years and triple in 20.  These U.S. sources of gas can transform America's energy outlook, provided lawmakers don't interfere with the process, says Lawrence J. McQuillan, director of business and economic studies at the Pacific Research Institute.

  • Shale formations created from sea basins millions of years ago have trapped oil and gas within them; only in the past century did scientists discover how to unlock them.
  • With hydraulic fracturing, water pressure is used to open up spaces in the rock underground, which allows oil and gas to escape and be brought to the surface.
  • Thanks to this process, the United States now has a potential supply of natural gas for the next century.
  • That's something environmentalists should cheer, because natural gas has lower carbon content than many other energy sources.
  • Instead, environmentalists are using scare tactics to end hydraulic fracturing in America.

At the heart of the controversy is the concern that hydrofracking will contaminate the nation's drinking water.  The procedures for protecting water supplies are well established and effective.  Casing, in the form of steel pipe, is put into place at the top of a well in order to protect groundwater.  If a well needs to be drilled deeper, more casing is mounted so that groundwater continues to be shielded.

  • The mixture used to fracture shale is a benign blend of 90 percent water, 9.5 percent sand and 0.5 percent chemicals, mostly common ones such as sodium chloride (table salt) and citric acid (think orange juice).
  • The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and state regulators have studied the issue; in 2004 the EPA concluded there were no significant environmental risks from hydrofracking.

The energy from hydrofracking can transform the U.S. energy outlook for a century.  Let's not allow groundless fears to destroy our future, says McQuillan.

Source: Lawrence J. McQuillan, "Unfounded Fears Threaten Energy Success Story," San Francisco Chronicle, August 16, 2011.

For text:


Browse more articles on Environment Issues