All too often it seems we are inundated with bad news – or, at least, presumably bad news – about the impacts of domestic energy development, particularly hydraulic fracturing. We see headlines every day that suggest this proven and tightly regulated technology is damaging local communities and the environment.
Of course, the stories are rarely based in scientific facts (or even a basic knowledge of the processes discussed), and the real track record of shale development speaks for itself: more than 1.2 million wells hydraulically fractured, without a single proven case of water contamination.
Still, those who are eager to write attention-grabbing headlines and sensational reports often win the day, as a recent University of Texas study demonstrated quite clearly: two-thirds of all stories about hydraulic fracturing are decidedly negative in tone. Thus, against that backdrop, it’s worth noting that the past week has actually been dominated by good news – great, even – for those who support responsible domestic energy development.
The first item was a new poll released early last week that found 57 percent of Americans support the use of hydraulic fracturing. Only 22 percent oppose the process, which means nationwide support exceeds opposition by a more than two-to-one margin (sorry, Mark Ruffalo). The poll fits nicely with other recent surveys, such as one by Harris Interactive that found 66 percent of Americans believe the economic benefits of natural gas far outweigh any concerns about environmental impacts, despite “intense negative media focus.”
Another recent poll found that 80 percent of Marylanders support natural gas production, and in New York, more voters support hydraulic fracturing than oppose it. In Pennsylvania – the heart of Marcellus Shale development – voters say that the economic benefits of drilling far outstrip any perceived harm to the environment.
Next came a report in the Wall Street Journal about how natural gas production – particularly from shale – has helped revive the American steel industry. As the Journal notes: “The rising fortunes of a massive U.S. Steel Corp. plant…has much to do with what sits below: massive deposits of cheap natural gas.” U.S. Steel CEO John Surma said he expects shale oil and gas to “make significant, positive contributions” to his company in the years ahead, an economic reality that is not limited to the steel industry.
In fact, an analysis released last week found that two counties in Pennsylvania were in the top 100 of the nation’s highest wage growth. Unsurprisingly, the counties rank number one and three, respectively, in total Marcellus Shale wells drilled per county in the state. As TIME Magazine editor-at-large Fareed Zakaria wrote in an op-ed for the Washington Post: “The rise of shale gas is shaping up to be the biggest shift in energy in generations. And its consequences – economic and political – are profoundly beneficial to the United States.”
EPA Gets Real
And last but not least, on Friday the Environmental Protection Agency finally withdrew its endangerment order against Range Resources, putting a merciful end to a deeply troubling process. The EPA, using not a shred of credible evidence, accused Range in December 2010 of contaminating ground water in north Texas. Definitive testing from Range and Texas regulators, however, concluded that methane found in local water supplies was not due to Range’s activities.
Faced with those facts, the EPA refused to budge on its order…at least until last week. The withdrawal notice marks the third time in just the past few months that the EPA has been forced to admit that its claims of water contamination from natural gas activity are not based on sound science, including its flawed assessments in Wyoming and northeast Pennsylvania.
For activists who regularly recite baseless talking points about the supposed dangers of hydraulic fracturing and the long-term negative impacts from shale development, last week was likely a depressing one. But for the clear majority of Americans who know this is a safe process delivering enormous economic benefits, recent events confirm and strengthen the argument in favor of responsible domestic energy development.