NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

The Irrational Fear of Fracking

April 22, 2013

Contrary to most climate model predictions, U.S. emissions of carbon dioxide fell by 12 percent to 1995 levels from their 2007 peak. Ardent environmentalists will claim a victory as a result of concerted conservation efforts. However, hydraulic fracturing ("fracking") and horizontal drilling, two newer carbon fuel extraction techniques recently receiving criticism, are the reason emissions have declined, says Jeffrey Frankel, a professor at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government.

  • The reduced emissions levels cannot be from the Kyoto Protocol, which the United States never ratified, or from changes in economic growth, since the emissions have been falling throughout the Great Recession and following growth period.
  • Emissions are lower because fracking and horizontal drilling have led to an enormous increase in the supply of natural gas, which emits only half as much carbon dioxide (CO2) as coal.
  • Electricity production from natural gas is up 37 percent since 2007, while coal's share has plummeted 25 percent in the United States but risen in the rest of the world.

Natural gas extracted from shale deposits not only benefits the U.S. economy, but national security through energy independence and the environment through the reduction of dirty coal-fired electricity plants.

  • Opponents of fracking say that shale gas will sidetrack environmentalists' efforts to use more renewable energy resources like wind and solar power, but proponents claim natural gas is a bridge that will eliminate coal-fired plants while moving toward a more viable option in the future.
  • Environmentalists are concerned that fracking will contaminate local water supplies but the chances of serious damage from a fracking mishap are far less than that of existing crude oil production.
  • Opponents of fracking are afraid of this new technology and prefer the status quo despite the fact that fracking's risks are known and can be mitigated.

Fear of fracking is unfounded and counterproductive to the United States' economic, national security and environmental interests.

Source: Jeffrey Frankel, "Fear of Fracking," Project Syndicate, April 16, 2013.


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