NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Hydraulic Fracturing Is a Win-Win for the Environment

March 14, 2012

The recent discovery of vast deposits of oil and natural gas trapped in shale rock formations has revolutionized our nation's short-term, mid-term, and long-term energy outlook.  At the same time, new technological advancements in hydraulic fracturing (also known as "fracking") and directional drilling have made recovery of shale gas and shale oil extremely economical, says James M. Taylor, a senior fellow with the Heartland Institute.

Since these new hydraulic fracturing technologies hit the oil and natural gas fields a few years ago, natural gas production has risen sharply and natural gas prices have fallen dramatically.

  • Natural gas production, for example, rose 50 percent in a single year from 2008 to 2009.
  • Natural gas production costs, meanwhile, have fallen 50 percent since 2008.
  • Regarding oil, most U.S. oil reserves are located beneath federal lands that are off-limits to exploration and production, so proven reserves have risen "only" 10 percent since 2008.

The production of oil and natural gas through hydraulic fracturing techniques is revitalizing state and local economies from the pain of the 2008-2012 economic downturn.

  • As a result of oil fracking in North Dakota's Bakken Shale formation, unemployment in the state is hovering around 3 percent and recent high school graduates can earn six-figure incomes in the oil fields.
  • In Texas, where fracking is a primary reason Texas is leading the nation in oil and natural gas production, the state saw substantial job growth even during the recession.
  • More than 40 percent of the jobs created during the recession were created in Texas.

Without hydraulic fracturing, none of this newfound energy abundance and regional economic strength would be possible.

Natural gas also provides low-emission electricity.  Indeed, natural gas power cuts carbon dioxide emissions in half versus coal power plants, and it cuts the Six Principal Pollutants tracked by Environmental Protection Agency by approximately 90 percent relative to coal.

Many environmental activists are concerned that fracking may harm air and water quality, but these fears are unfounded.  By unlocking vast new natural gas reserves, fracking is playing a major role in environmental improvement, allowing for the affordable generation of electricity with only a small fraction of the emissions produced by coal-fired power plants.  Hydraulic fracturing presents a win-win situation for the economy and the environment.

Source: James M. Taylor, "Hydraulic Fracturing," Heartland Institute, March 6, 2012.

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