Energy Department Optimistic about Fracking

Published February 5, 2012

Natural gas should play an important role in the nation’s clean energy future, said Chris Smith, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Oil and Natural Gas in the Office of Fossil Energy of the U.S. Department of Energy, at the Energy, Utility & Environment Conference in Phoenix.

Shale gas recovered through hydraulic fracturing (fracking) procedures will be a key component of the energy mix, Smith emphasized.

‘Manageable’ Concerns

Smith acknowledged environmental activists’s concerns about fracking. Technological advances and commonsense regulations can address those concerns, he said in the Jan. 30 speech.

“When you look at shale gas, there are some technological challenges, but the technological challenges are manageable.… We believe this is an area where we can get it right,” Smith said.

Obama on Board

Smith emphasized the importance the Obama administration is placing on natural gas. 

“The development of natural gas will create jobs and power trucks and factories that are cleaner and cheaper, proving that we don’t have to choose between our environment and our economy,” said Obama, as quoted by Smith.

The abundance of natural gas locked in shale formations gives the nation an opportunity to expand its energy options, Smith noted.

“Here in the United States we have enough supplies for 100 years. This is an opportunity to diversify our energy portfolio and move away from imported oil,” said Smith.

Energy Diversity

Smith said natural gas provides the nation an opportunity to insulate itself from sudden spikes in oil prices.

Oil is a globally fungible product that is easily transported across continents and oceans, Smith explained. Accordingly, events on the other side of the world that don’t directly affect U.S. oil supplies can still cause consumer oil prices to rise dramatically.

Natural gas, however, is not as readily transported and thus not as fungible. Increasing domestic natural gas production will therefore provide more price stability in U.S. energy markets, he said.

Environmental Focus

The main challenges to natural gas production are environmental concerns and regulation, Smith said. 

“Our focus is now going to be on environmental sustainability, safety, and collaborating with state agencies.… We have to listen to people’s concerns. We are not just educating the public, we are listening to their concerns and acting on them,” said Smith.

Smith said the United States can increase global living standards and cement friendly international relations by developing and sharing productive and environmentally friendly shale gas recovery technologies.

“We are the only nation in the world that is producing shale gas in such large quantities,” said Smith.

“We have an opportunity to develop and share technologies with other countries to help them produce shale gas in the best possible manner. Other countries can choose to produce shale gas how they wish, but we have an opportunity to shorten the learning curve for them and share best practices and technologies with them.”

James M. Taylor ([email protected]) is managing editor of Environment & Climate News.