by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
When the June issue of Commentary hits the newsstands and the Web, you’ll have a chance to read Abby W. Schachter’s 5 1/2-page feature on the controversial practice of hydraulic fracturing — or fracking — for natural gas trapped in shale.
Titled “Energy Independence and Its Enemies,” Schachter’s piece examines both the promise of fracking (at the national level, with no mention of North Carolina’s current debate) along with environmental activists’ vocal opposition to the process.
Among the potential benefits Schachter documents: a clear boon to the economy.
Why is all this natural gas from shale important to the economy? The most immediate result is that it lowers the cost of heating homes. Natural gas used to cost $15 per thousand cubic feet. Today, the cost is $2. “The natural gas glut has pushed down heating bills for millions,” according to Bernard L. Weinstein, the associate director of the Maguire Energy Institute. The federal government estimates that home-heating bills in 2012 will be 25 percent lower than they were in 2008.
The abundance of natural gas has also had a huge impact on the cost of electricity. Weinstein says the average electric bill is “half what it was a few years ago.” According to a recent analysis by Exxon, “an increasing amount of … electricity will be generated by natural gas, which will pass coal as the world’s second-largest fuel source, behind crude oil, by 2025.” An MIT study says the “electricity sector is the principal growth area for natural gas.”
After noting that environmental advocates once touted natural gas as a “bridge” from dirtier fossil fuels to their preferred options of wind and solar power, Schachter notes that today “there is something anathematic to the environmentalist movement and its supporters in the Democratic Party about economic growth and employment that might arise from the harvesting of shale.”
President Obama himself is a perfect illustration of how much the so-called clean, anti-growth, anti-development dogma holds sway over his party. By the time Obama took over the White House in 2009, the “shale gale” was still in its early stages, but its potential was already evident. And yet when the president designed his stimulus package to save the U.S. economy, there was almost nothing in it related to fracking — even though it is a textbook example of a shovel-ready technological product. Instead, obsessed with so-called clean tech, Obama and his Energy Department targeted solar and wind companies for subsidies and loans, with predictably negligible results.