Natural Gas Drilling = A Future of Dependence

by guest blogger, Maya K. van Rossum, the Delaware Riverkeeper

Contrary to the folktales the gas companies spin, shale gas development is not about energy independence, increased jobs, or protection from climate change. Shale gas development is about profits for the gas companies regardless of the harms or costs to the United States of America and us as citizens. It's important not to be fooled by the rhetoric of the gas drilling industry.

Currently there are at least 15 applications for liquefied-natural-gas (LNG) export facilities pending before the federal government. These applications, along with already-approved exports, would have the capacity to move more than 40 percent of the U.S. annual production of natural gas to foreign countries. The gas companies want the exports overseas because they can sell the gas for as much as three times the price they can capture here in the U.S. At present there is a glut of gas in this country, so unless the industry sells it overseas the companies won't get their immediate cash sale reward.

Expert reports and data demonstrate that as LNG exports generate generous profits for the gas drillers and export companies, other sectors of our country's economy remain in decline. In other words, LNG exports only benefit the gas industry.

Similarly, LNG exports, while creating some jobs in the gas industry--many temporary--create a net-job-loss effect for the country. In fact, LNG exports could result in the net loss of as many as 270,000 jobs per year here at home.

The Environmental Cost

New research emerges almost daily showing the harms of shale gas on our communities, our country, and our earth. Among the most recent scientific findings is that as much as 9 percent of the methane--one of the most potent greenhouse gases known to man--produced while drilling for gas is lost to the atmosphere. That 9 percent coupled with all the methane emitted during the transport of gas through pipelines, during storage, and when the gas is used means that shale gas is a more potent contributor to climate change than any other fossil fuel--21 times more potent than carbon dioxide if you look over a 100-year period. If you look over the next 20 years, when it is the most crucial that we reduce damaging emissions, natural gas is more than 100 times more potent.

The unparalleled level of harm to drinking water, air quality, food supplies, and people's health that results from ongoing and increased drilling and fracking for shale gas comes with a high price tag for the United States economy and the nation's taxpayers. Not only do our communities lose out on life's basic needs--clean air, water, food, and health--but also we as taxpayers have to pay the upfront and long-term financial burden of these harms, including the necessary cleanup and healthcare costs.

The deforestation, land compaction, wetlands destruction, and increased earthquake potential inflicted by shale gas development means increased flooding and flood-ravaged homes and communities; it means increased erosion of public and private lands; it means the fear and harm of earthquakes; it means lost fishing, hunting, boating, birding, and all of the jobs they generate. And of course, someone has to pay for all this harm. That someone is you--and me!--in the form of emergency services, taxes, hazard mitigation, and more national debt.

The Financial Cost

Transforming our country into one dependent on shale gas instead of oil and coal will also be a costly process fiscally: By some estimates, it will cost as much as $700 billion. Most recent estimates from the United States Geologic Survey of the volume of Marcellus Shale gas that may be recoverable is a mean value of about 84 trillion cubic feet. At the current U.S. consumption rate of 24 trillion cubic feet per year, chasing after this gas, and incurring all of the harm shale drilling and fracking brings, will only give an additional 3 ½ years of supply.

Other estimates of unproven reserves show all U.S. natural gas to last approximately 10 to 21 years at this consumption rate. The timeline for infrastructure replacement gets further shortened as LNG exports increase. Wouldn't it be smarter to spend our money on the infrastructure needed for sustainable energy sources like solar, wind, geothermal? We're going to have to do it at some point. Why not now?

While we invest in transforming our national energy program to one that is based on drilled and fracked shale gas, the rest of the world is wisely racing ahead of the United States in developing the technology and manufacturing facilities necessary to create and supply sustainable energy. And in just a few short decades, when the shale gas is gone, we'll find ourselves more dependent than ever on foreign sources of energy--this time, on the technology needed to create a sustainable energy supply.

The gas-drilling industry is not interested in gaining energy independence, addressing climate change, growing jobs, or improving our economy. The gas-drilling industry, including the pipeline and export companies, is interested in growing its profits. We must not be fooled by the rhetoric or well-paid advertisements. When we rely on the scientific facts, it's clear, there is no place for LNG exports or the shale gas development the industry supports. Sustainable energy and increased efficiency must not be just our future, but our present as well.

Here's what you can do to help us get closer to a sustainable energy future:
  • Congress is deciding right now what to do about LNG exports. Write your congressional representatives today. Tell them you don't want them to support LNG exports because doing so hurts our economy, jobs, the health of our kids, and that of our communities and environment, and prevents us from becoming the leaders we should be in sustainable-energy technology and manufacturing.
  • And sign the petition to tell President Obama you don't want him to sell fracked gas to foreign countries. Our collective voice matters!

Maya K. van Rossum is the Delaware Riverkeeper, and has led the Delaware Riverkeeper Network (DRN) since 1994. The DRN is a regional nonprofit advocacy organization that monitors the river and all of its tributaries for threats and challenges, and advocates, educates, and litigates for protection, restoration, and change.


Natural Gas Drilling photo credit: danielfoster437

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