First, there was Gasland, a 2010 movie documentary that purported to show how producing natural gas through fracking would contaminate drinking water to the point that you could set it on fire at the tap. This claim was subsequently debunked by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.
Next, coming up in December, is a feature film starring Matt Damon called Promised Land. This movie, too, purports to show – despite all scientific evidence to the contrary – that fracking will turn America’s pleasant farm country into a chemical dump.
Why is the environmental community out to stop fracking?
Just a few years back, it was widely believed that U.S. natural gas production had peaked and was going to decline. It appeared that we had no alternative but to rely more on imports to meet our gas needs – particularly imports of liquefied natural gas, LNG, from the Persian Gulf.
But then a Houston businessman named George P. Mitchell developed a new technique for hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, that has enabled us to release natural gas trapped deep within underground rock formations. Through the use of fracking technologies, we are now able to tap into vast supplies of natural gas currently trapped in huge shales around the country.
With that breakthrough, the natural gas revolution was launched. In 2000, shale was just one percent of this country’s natural gas supply. By 2011, it was 25 percent, and within the next 20 years it could reach 50 percent. Fracking technology has given the U.S. a potential supply of cheap natural gas that could last us a hundred years.
Now, since natural gas has less than half the carbon footprint of coal, and since over 40 percent of America’s electric energy is currently generated by burning coal, isn’t it good news that we will soon have enough natural gas to replace coal as a source of electric power? Won’t that be a tremendous net gain for the environment? You would think so.
Why then are the environmentalists, of all people, so set on spoiling the party? Weren’t they telling us not so long ago that natural gas was the perfect “bridge fuel” to America’s energy future? The hysterical claims that fracking will pollute the groundwater are just that – hysteria. Fracking typically occurs at depths of 10,000 feet deep or more, far below drinking water wells, which are normally less than 500 feet down. Fracking has been used in various forms since the late 1940s, with no evidence that it harms the environment.
The real beef that environmentalists have with fracking is that it will give us an abundant supply of cheap domestic natural gas. That will make renewable sources of energy, like wind and solar power, even less economically competitive than they are today. In other words, environmentalists were all for natural gas when we had to import it from the Persian Gulf, because the costs involved made renewables competitive with gas. But a hundred years’ supply of cheap domestic natural gas? Perish the thought!
So, according to the environmentalists, we are supposed to forego the very significant environmental benefits of replacing coal with gas in generating electricity, and we are supposed to worsen our balance of payments and jeopardize our energy security by relying on imported gas from a distant and potentially unstable part of the world. Why? So that the renewables that currently generate less than four percent of this country’s electric power can be coaxed and coddled and subsidized into generating a somewhat bigger share at some point in the future.
This idea makes even less sense in practice than it does in theory. Wind and solar power have the same flaw. Because there are days when the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow, both of these power sources need a back up of some sort. And the most practical kind of back up for windmills and solar collectors is a generator fueled by – that’s right, natural gas.
So the campaign against fracking will not only prolong America’s dependence on coal, it will actually undercut any major move toward renewables.
By the way, much of the financing for Matt Damon’s anti-fracking movie came from a company that is wholly owned by the United Arab Emirates. The UAE is a major exporter of liquefied natural gas. If the U.S. develops its enormous reserves of cheap shale gas through fracking, it means that we will not only stop buying gas from Persian Gulf, we will be exporting gas ourselves and undercutting the UAE.
So if Promised Land is a movie with a message, American movie goers might want to think about how accurate that message is, and who is bringing that message to their neighborhood theaters.
Hal Gordon, who wrote speeches for the Reagan White House and Gen. Colin Powell, is currently a freelance speechwriter in Houston. Web site: www.ringingwords.com.