Most people recognize that America’s recent natural gas boom ignited an energy renaissance with the potential to put this country on a path–should we choose it–toward North American energy independence and economic growth.
But filmmaker Josh Fox is certainly not “most people,” and his documentary Gasland Part II, set to debut on HBO July 8, represents another attempt to discredit the economic miracle of natural gas.
The first installment of Gasland blamed the hydraulic fracturing process used to extract natural gas from rock formations for everything from contaminating drinking water to setting faucet water on fire. Experts have debunked these claims, but that didn‘t stop him from recycling them throughout most of the film.
Fox now blames shale gas drilling for methane contamination. In April, however, Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection concluded that naturally occurring shallow gas was responsible for contaminating well water of three private homes. Also in April, the EPA lowered estimates of methane leaks during natural gas production, prompting environmental group Breakthrough Institute president Michael Shellenberger to remark that this is “strong proof that existing technologies can be deployed to reduce methane leaks.”
What Fox fails to acknowledge is that oil and natural gas companies have used hydraulic fracturing safely for more than 60 years. Far from an environmental threat, cleaner-burning natural gas was actually a major contributor to a drop in U.S. energy-related carbon dioxide emissions, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s June energy report.
Until a few years ago, much of America’s vast supplies of natural gas were inaccessible because they were trapped inside shale rock. Thanks to recent technological advances that combine hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling, the United States now leads the world in natural gas production. All told, North America’s total recoverable reserve of natural gas can supply America’s electricity needs for the next 575 years at current consumption rates.
Every drop of oil and cubic foot of natural gas we can produce in North America is less energy we have to import from Middle East cartels. Much to the dismay of anti-energy activists, North American energy independence requires expanding domestic supplies of oil and natural gas, not windmills and phantom biofuels.
Amid anemic economic growth, hydraulic fracturing empowers America to regain its footing. A recent study by the Institute for Energy Research demonstrates the vast economic benefits of opening up federal lands for oil and natural gas production. A pro-growth energy policy would create 552,000 jobs annually for the next seven years and almost 2 million jobs annually over the next three decades. Expanding oil and gas exploration would generate a $14.4 trillion cumulative increase in economic activity over the next 37 years.
Meanwhile, states that encourage oil and natural gas production reap the benefits. Spanning several Mid-Atlantic states, the Marcellus shale formation contributed more than $12.8 billion to Pennsylvania’s economy in 2011. In contrast, economists estimate New York, which currently bans hydraulic fracturing in its portion of the Marcellus, will lose $11-15 billion in economic activity between 2011 and 2020.
Texas’ Barnett shale play represents another success story.
In 2011, drilling in the Barnett generated an estimated $11.1 billion for the North Texas economy and supported more than 100,000 jobs. Since 2001, nearly 40 percent of the North Texas region’s economic growth is attributable to energy production in the Barnett.
Fox and other anti-energy activists fail to understand that affordable energy is the lifeblood of America’s economy. Over the coming years, the extent to which we harness our vast domestic energy resources will determine our economic destiny. Oil and natural gas hold the key to economic revitalization and North American energy independence. To oppose natural gas is to stand against prosperity.
Thomas J. Pyle is President of the Institute for Energy Research