Hydraulic Fracturing is a process by which wells are drilled thousands of feet into the earth with the intent of breaking up shale rock and collecting natural gases for producing energy. After the well is drilled, huge volumes of fracturing solution (primarily consisting of water and sand) are pumped down to break up the shale and then safely recovered and stored for disposal or recycling. The gas is then collected and the environment restored to its previous state within 120 days of drilling. The entire process is EPA approved and safe, both in terms of the environment and the consumer. This widely used process and huge economic boon, however, is not hugely known or understood. A study performed by the University of Texas at Austin recently discovered that only about 40 percent of Americans recognize the term “hydraulic fracturing” and less than half of those people support hydraulic fracturing in general. However, the fracking of shale gas is monumental for the U.S. economy. Foreign oil imports are now at their lowest in over 40 years thanks to the fracking of shale gas, which is now less than a 50th of the price of oil when measured in equal proportions of BTUs (British thermal unit, a measurement of energy equal to about 1055 joules). This is due to the overwhelming amount of shale gas available (Over 2 quadrillion cubic feet), the refined product being produced (85 billion cubic feet per day in 2014), and the numerous natural gas companies in play domestically (the top 10 producers barely control 50 percent of the market.) With all of these facets of success in the world of domestic natural gas, it would seem as if nothing can stop the rise of fracking.
What’s more, the latest developments in California, by far the largest state consumer of energy, prove shale can and will win the day. For years while the rest of the country was benefiting from the shale boom, California has been forced to import foreign crude oil. This problem arises from a dearth in both liquefied natural gas (LNG) pipelines from shale rich states like North Dakota (a far more expensive transportation option) and LNG train tanker terminals, where the gas is received by rail from other parts of the country. At this point only 500,000 barrels of LNG or 1% of California’s consumption is transported by rail. However, two big victories by energy companies trying to expand and improve energy transportation by rail will definitely increase domestic shale imports. The first achievement was won by Alon USA Energy Inc. and Plains All American Pipeline LP when Kern County officials gave the go-ahead on two LNG train terminals, with the capacity to receive 150,000 and 70,000 barrels a day respectively. The second victory was the dismissal of a lawsuit against Kinder Morgan, Inc.’s rail permits, which will now pave the way for the company to continue the flow of cheap natural gas into the state. All of these developments spell good news for the citizens of California, as more terminals to receive tankers will increase the flow of cheap shale gas coming into the state, driving down oil prices and creating plenty of construction/transportation jobs.
The sad fact is that fracking and shale gas is still under fire from many opponents, who come with a plethora of complaints. First, the entire fracking process is criticized as dangerous and hazardous thanks to documentaries like Gasland and other testimonials that show the apparent side effects of fracking, including flammable water, contaminated air, and irreparable environmental damage. The second case is against the transportation of shale gas because the shipping of LNG by rail is notoriously dangerous, the most recent example being the oil tanker crash 15 months ago in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, where 47 people died. The fear surrounding petroleum shipment by rail and the fracking process has compelled environmentalist groups to protest existing and additional energy infrastructure development, slowing an already painstaking process in the “Sunshine State.” In addition, California rules and regulations have always been strict regarding energy after the Enron scandal, but some California lawmakers want to impose increasingly higher fees on energy companies to help offset the cost of potential derailments. What should be an economic boon for the state is turning into an increasingly sluggish procedure.
Californians should not focus on the unfounded negatives. Many of the environmental and contamination claims are disproven by a report by the Independent Petroleum Association of America, including the ignitable water claim, which actually occurs through natural biogenic methane occurrences. In addition, modern tankers are made increasingly safer, with double hulls 6 to 10 feet apart made of aluminum alloy reinforced with concrete; these new tankers have already run over 100 million miles accident free and are some of the safest tankers on the tracks. The concerned citizens of California should instead concentrate on all the very real positives: tax revenue from increased shale and petroleum business, jobs from the developing energy and transportation companies, and cheaper energy prices for homes and vehicles. All in all, shale gas has the potential to fix a broken California.
Samson Cassel Nucci