Two significant pieces of good news last week deserved more attention than they received. First, the U.S. Geological Survey reported that recoverable natural gas resources in the northern Plains states are three times greater than previously thought. Second, President Obama's newest secretary of the interior, Sally Jewell, said "we must develop our domestic energy resources armed with the best available science, and this unbiased, objective information will help private, nonprofit and government decision makers at all levels make informed decisions about the responsible development of these resources."
Jewell was referring to hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," the process by which a pressurized mixture of (mostly) water and chemicals is injected into shale rock formations deep underground. The process provides access to natural gas deposits that would otherwise be impossible to reach. The technology has been in use for 60 years in Texas and Oklahoma, but its phenomenally successful use more recently in Pennsylvania to develop the Marcellus Shale and in North Dakota to develop the Bakken formation has sparked an energy revolution in this country.
Big Green environmentalists oppose fracking, claiming it threatens groundwater even though the evidence for this claim is all but nonexistent. Even so, "No fracking" has become a rallying cry even louder than "No nukes." But the Obama administration hasn't quite jumped on the anti-fracking bandwagon. Former Environmental Protection Agency Director Lisa Jackson, for example, called natural gas the "bridge fuel" to a renewable energy future. More recently, Obama's pick for Secretary of Energy, MIT scientist Ernest Moniz, has described water and air pollution risks associated with fracking "challenging but manageable" with proper regulation and oversight.
Natural gas represents a major boon for the nation. It's cleaner than other fossil fuels, cutting carbon emissions by a third to a half. Thanks to fracking, natural gas production is growing more -- and more abundant as a resource, too. Industry sources now put the total amount of recoverable natural gas at 2,384 trillion cubic feet, up from 1,898 trillion cubic feet just two years ago. And that was before the latest USGS report was published. Fracking has also played a major role in reducing U.S. oil imports to the lowest level since 1987. By next year, the federal government reports, imports could fall to less than a third of present usage. As recently as 2005, America imported 60 percent of its oil, mostly from nations opposed to legitimate U.S. foreign policy interests.
Predictably, all of this has Big Green seething. "Tell @BarackObama don't frack the Dept of Energy!" tweeted Josh Fox, director of "Gasland," the film that made opposing fracking a cause celebre on the Left. For all of its claims regarding fracking's dangers, Big Green's real concern is that natural gas is becoming so plentiful and cheap that it will undermine the case for more expensive renewable energy. The fact that a succession of federally subsidized green-energy companies has been going bust doesn't help the critics' cause.
With Moniz's nomination, Obama appears willing to at least minimize regulatory obstacles to fracking and thereby reap the rewards of clean, cheap, abundant domestic energy. Good for him. With American economic growth dependent on energy, it's time to get fracking.