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The energy potential of fracking

| Monday, Feb. 25, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Say you were a politician, and there was a domestic energy source available that's clean and abundant. One that has the potential to create new jobs and revitalize local economies. Would you do more to encourage it?

Silly question, you may be thinking. Why wouldn't you do more to encourage it?

Well, this scenario is more than just hypothetical. I'm talking about natural gas, which is proving in these energy-hungry times to be more of a boon every day. The United States has plenty of it, and thanks to technological advancements in directional drilling and hydraulic fracturing (or “fracking”), it's more accessible than ever.

Fracking involves shooting a mixture of water and chemicals deep underground to release the trapped natural gas. Certain states have been using this technique for years. They have sensible rules in place to ensure that companies obtain the gas in an environmentally responsible manner.

Yet the Department of Energy has been delaying decisions to allow companies to export natural gas. And anti-fracking governors such as New York's Andrew Cuomo have been doing their best to oppose it.

The Empire State has held up new permits for the past four years. Now state officials, citing environmental concerns, have called for yet another round of public health analysis.

Supposedly the delay will keep the state from being sued by anti-fracking activists. By taking more time, Cuomo claims, the state has a better chance of avoiding lawsuits.

More likely, it's a matter of stonewalling by opponents who hope the issue goes away. But whatever the reason, there's a certain irony to hearing the environment used as an excuse to oppose fracking. Natural gas, because it burns more cleanly than coal, actually reduces carbon emissions by a significant amount.

And there are other upsides as well. In Pennsylvania, fracking has been under way since the 1960s, with nearly 100,000 oil and gas wells fracked, and no instances of contamination of groundwater. The same clean record is true for Ohio, where more than 70,000 oil and gas wells have been fracked since the 1960s.

All this activity helps the state economies, of course. The Associated Press recently reported that energy companies paid private landowners in Pennsylvania more than $1.2 billion in royalty payments last year alone.

Fortunately, the U.S. has more than a century's worth of natural gas (at current consumption rates) underground, waiting to be extracted, according to Heritage Foundation energy expert Nicolas Loris.

Which is very good news. Natural gas is critical for generating electricity, providing about 30 percent of America's power. But it's also necessary for heating and cooling homes, stoves, furnaces and water heaters.

Natural gas also has industrial applications. Natural gas, and hydrocarbons removed from it, provide a feedstock for fertilizers, chemicals and pharmaceuticals, waste treatment, food processing, fueling industrial boilers, and much more. More vehicles of all sizes are running on natural gas as well.

“The natural-gas boom has led to cleaner power and greater energy independence,” President Obama pointed out in his most recent State of the Union address. “That's why my administration will keep cutting red tape and speeding up new oil and gas permits.”

The sooner, the better. Deliberately locking away such a promising energy source is a pointless waste.

Ed Feulner is president of The Heritage Foundation (heritage.org).

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