New natural gas discoveries in shale rock formations and rapid technological advances to recover the gas have improved the U.S. domestic energy outlook. The nation’s domestic natural gas reserves are so abundant that the U.S. Energy Information Administration predicts within a few years electricity from natural gas will be less expensive than from coal. Some environmental activist groups, however, are trying to shut down natural gas production, especially production from shale, arguing environmental harms outweigh the economic benefits.
The newfound abundance of domestic natural gas reserves promises unprecedented energy prosperity and security. Mitchell Baer, director of oil and gas analysis for the U.S. Department of Energy, says domestic shale rock formations alone can meet our nation’s natural gas usage for many years at current consumption levels. Shale gas production benefits the regional economies where production takes place. A recent Pennsylvania State University study found shale gas production in 2009 generated 48,000 jobs, $400 million in tax revenues, and $3.8 billion in economic output in Pennsylvania alone.
Shale extraction has proven remarkably safe for the environment. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has not found a single instance of drinking water contaminated by hydraulic fracturing, the technique used to extract natural gas from shale rock. Rock formations containing natural gas are hundreds or thousands of feet below groundwater tables and are kept separate from them by impermeable rock layers. Some minor instances of groundwater pollution have been reported, but these have occurred largely due to faulty pipe seals at the surface and are as likely to occur at conventional natural gas production sites as hydraulic fracturing sites.
Investigative journalists have debunked sensational falsehoods about hydraulic fracturing. The agenda-driven movie Gasland showed a Colorado resident lighting fire to water running from his kitchen faucet, which the movie blamed on recent hydraulic fracturing nearby. Investigative journalists discovered methane-rich natural gas is so prevalent in the area that residents have been able to light their water on fire since at least the 1930s, long before hydraulic fracturing. If anything, natural gas extraction—through hydraulic fracturing or other methods—is likely to reduce the naturally occurring contamination of regional water.