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America is feeling the pinch on our energy supply; from expensive water bills to cringe-worthy prices at the gas pump. That pinch may well be turned into a crushing squeeze, due to the Obama administration’s increased restrictions on oil importation, its moratorium on deep-water offshore drilling, and a host of strict regulations on energy companies. Now, the administration is targeting one more practice that has the potential to revitalize Americas sagging energy sector: natural gas obtained through “hydraulic fracturing”, or “fracking” . The administration and environmentalists are pushing for strict new fracking regulations, morphing natural gas from a clean, reliable, and affordable energy source into a bank-breaking one, pushing us again to foreign hydrocarbons, despite the White House’s promises to decrease foreign energy dependence.
Fracking allows the production of natural gas and oil from rock formations, typically between 5,000 to 20,000 feet underground . The operator drills deep into the ground and injects a high pressure fluid to create fractures in the rocks . To keep the fractures open in order to release and collect the natural gas, “proppant” is mixed into the injection flow. Proppant is a “particulate material,“ meaning the fluid is mixed with particles like sand or ceramic grains . The fractures remain open and the natural gas is harvested.
Environmentalists and Democrats have severely criticized fracking, claiming it results in toxic waste and water contamination. After the process is completed, the injection fluid is removed from the natural gas well, and some fear that this will contaminate drinking water . The post-fracking fluid contains a high salt level, dissolved solids, oil, chemicals, and added materials (such as sand or ceramic grains) . Many worry that the waste fluid will contaminate the water table. Many also worry that methane gas, found in the water supply in areas close to rock formations that hold natural gas, will leak into the water table.
Toxic waste and water contamination are not the results of fracking, as Democrats and environmentalists claim. According to a Pennsylvania State University study, waste water will not contaminate its surroundings when it is drawn out of the well because the cement casing prevents contamination . The fluids used are composed of water, grains of sand or ceramic, and some chemicals . The same chemicals can be found in household goods, such as emulsifiers in ice cream . The argument for water contamination appears feasible, as high pressure fluid mixed with chemicals is injected deep into the gas wells. But as the wells are thousands of feet beneath the earths crust, the fluid is injected into an area well below the water table . Unless the chemicals climb up towards the water table, violating the law of gravity, fears of water contamination from injection can be laid to rest.
Allegations that fracking is a dangerous process that turns drinking water into flammable liquids are overblown. The EPA in a 2004 report declared the process safe, and that further study was unnecessary as “no unequivocal evidence” of a health risk was found . It is normal for some level of methane to be found in drinking water in areas near shale beds . Matthew Broullete, of the Pennsylvania think tank the Commonwealth Foundation, reported that roughly 40% of Pennsylvania wells have some level of naturally occurring methane gas . Methane-laced water is a “pretty easy” issue to treat via a ventilator well cap or an aerator system, according to water reserve specialist Brian Swistock of Penn State University .
Increased regulation of fracking is not only bad for American consumer, but wholly unnecessary. A 2009 Energy Department report stated that chemicals used in fracking had been adequately disclosed and were available on the OSHA website . The only purpose more regulation and governmental oversight would have is to make fracking difficult and more expensive to carry out, decreasing the supply of natural gas in the marketplace while simultaneously raising its price. The FRAC Act, pushed by the Democrats in 2009, would allow natural gas wells to possibly be re-classified as injection wells, thereby putting them under Federal jurisdiction in states without approved regulations. The bill never came up for debate and was cleared from the books, but it may be reintroduced . Federal regulation will only enlarge the power, size, and budget of the central government while raising costs for consumers. The extra regulation will add around $100,000 to the cost of each new gas well dug. The American Natural Gas Association has already declared that states have sufficient expertise to oversee fracking operations, which they have done for over 50 years, so why require federal regulations? Are state agencies not educated well enough to form appropriate fracking policies themselves? Do they lack brain power, while federal agencies do not?
Fracking technology is providing us with a way to divert our path away from an energy famine by safely and cheaply harvesting clean and abundant natural gas. It can heat our houses and power our buses. Arguments of toxic waste, too little regulation, and contaminated water ring hollow. Domestic energy is overregulated and foreign imports are being severely curtailed, while wind, solar, and hydro power are all costly, unreliable, and difficult to store. Why should we throw away our last chance at a cost-effective and clean energy source through excessive regulation, simply because of misinformation?