New Book Documents Hydraulic Fracturing’s Promise for America

Published August 21, 2014

Review of Groundswell: The Case for Fracking, by Ezra Levant (Signal 2014), 272 pages, ISBN- 978-0771046445

The new book Groundswell is a highly recommended read. It is more an economics and politics book than a science treatise, and there are plenty of issues in fracking economics and politics to discuss. In an easy conversational writing style, Ezra Levant powerfully debunks a litany of myths regularly asserted by anti-fracking activists.

New Promise for Proven Technique
Levant quickly dismisses the idea that hydraulic fracturing is anything new, noting the technique was first used on a vertical well in 1947 by Standard Oil and Gas Corporation, which patented the process in 1949. He also provides an illuminating discussion of horizontal drilling, which has gone hand-in-hand with hydraulic fracturing to launch our nation’s recent oil and natural gas renaissance. Levant provides a bent-straw analogy to explain how a drill string turns over and ends up drilling horizontally, following a shale seam for thousands of feet instead of vertically for hundreds of feet. The modern process was first tried 10 years ago in a well in the Barnett Shale in Texas.

Levant correctly states fracking has revived America’s oil and natural gas industries, turning the United States into the Saudi Arabia of natural gas. The word “revolution” is tossed around liberally, but it truly fits our natural gas renaissance. He quotes a 2013 Goldman Sachs report stating fracking will give the United States an economic advantage in the world energy market for years to come.

Of greater importance, the report recognizes it is not just energy we are talking about, but also the positive impact affordable and abundant energy will have on steel, metals, chemicals, infrastructure, and other industries that are massive users of energy. The United States once dominated world production of these goods, and Levant explains how fracking will allow the United States to regain that position.

The nation will soon be able to end our energy imports that provide funding to hostile nations, Levant notes. Success, however, will require a presidential administration willing and able to pursue our advantages. Thus Levant lashes out at the Obama administration for essentially doing everything possible to stifle this new energy revolution.

Burying ‘Peak Oil’
Levant decimates “peak oil” alarmists with oil production facts that blow away the silly idea that oil production is headed for an imminent, precipitous decline. Unfortunately, he remains neutral on global warming alarmism, saying (correctly) whatever one thinks about global warming predictions and claims, widely available, inexpensive natural gas offers an affordable, effective means of reducing carbon dioxide emissions.

Unlike crude oil, for which there is global transportation and trade, natural gas does not have an integrated global market. The author notes natural gas in Poland sells for $14.90 a million BTUs, $10.80 in Germany, $8.90 in the UK, and $4.00 in the United States. This is because it is more difficult to liquefy and then ship natural gas overseas than oil. However, there will soon be close to 200 facilities in the United States liquefying natural gas for overseas sales—if politicians don’t get in the way.

Nightmare for Russia
Levant’s chapter on Russia’s Gazprom energy company progresses like a James Bond novel, complete with Gazprom playing the villain and trying to hold Europe hostage with its vast energy supplies. State-owned Gazprom is very worried about hydraulic fracturing in the United States, and the Russian government’s asserted concerns about environmental threats are transparently ridiculous. Russia and Gazprom justifiably fear a continuing rise in U.S. natural gas production will loosen Russia’s energy stranglehold on the European continent.

Environmental Claims Debunked
In a sobering and depressing lesson about the goals and global influence of environmental extremist groups, Levant lists the vast quantities of natural gas in shale formations around the world that cannot be developed because of political opposition and the influence of environmental activists on governments. Anti-fracking activists are able to block fracking in many these nations because government owns all the mineral rights and therefore can be used by activists to shut down fracking. Private property rights in the United States will give us a competitive advantage over these nations for decades to come.

One of the favorite attacks made by anti-fracking folks is the assertion fracking uses large amounts of water. Levant offers voluminous statistics to prove water use by fracking is a drop in the bucket compared to the amount used to water lawns, irrigate agriculture, or produce ethanol.

He also explains why there is virtually no risk of hydraulic fracturing causing any meaningful pollution of groundwater. In addition to it being almost impossible for fracking compounds to migrate vertically through hundreds or thousands of feet of impermeable rock to reach the water table, hydraulic fracturing compounds are more than 99 percent water and sand and are actually drinkable.

Levant closes his excellent book with detailed descriptions of each European nation’s potential for shale gas development and the many nefarious groups working successfully to hold back progress. This provides an advance roadmap of which European nations are poised to join us in our energy renaissance if they have the political will to stand up to environmental extremists.

Groundswell is an easy and enlightening read about America’s newest success story.

Jay Lehr, Ph.D. ([email protected]) is science director of The Heartland Institute.