Sheila McNulty US natural gas producers defend ‘fracking’

For US natural gas producers, hydraulic fracturing has been among the most important inventions to grow production in recent years. It has enabled producers to use water to break rocks and tightly packed sand formations to create channels to enable natural gas to flow through and up to the surface to bring to market.

Yet the process is now under threat, given environmentalist concerns that it contaminates drinking water. And, as water becomes an increasingly precious resource, more and more people want to ensure it is saved for critical uses and the quality retained.

The House Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources held a hearing this week on this increasingly controversial process – at which both sides were heard.

But for the energy industry, this was just one more example of how US lawmakers are threatening domestic energy supplies in the rush to preserve the environment.

The industry argues that without the oil and natural gas it produces, the wheels of the country could not keep turning.

As the Independent Petroleum Association of Mountain States put it:

Changes to current federal law concerning hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, would diminish the ability to reach President Obama’s stated energy goals of increasing energy security, increasing renewable energy and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The natural gas produced is the cleanest of the fossil fuels, and fossil fuels, they argue, are still needed to meet the US’ energy needs. They back up renewables, such as wind and solar, for times the wind does not blow and the sun does not shine. And they limit the need for more polluting fuels, such as coal.

The industry argues that hydraulic fracturing is performed tens of thosuands of times each year, with an exemplary safety record, and there are no documented cases of contamination to drinking water.

The process, combined with horizontal drilling, has enabled energy companies to develop reserves not previously deemed possible. Indeed, US natural gas production has skyrocketed with the processes.

Related links:

Rush for natural gas drives output in US (FT, 28/07/08)