Matt Migliore
Editor-in-Chief, Flow Control

Is it me, or is all of the political wrangling and hemming and hawing about shale gas drilling in the United States getting more than a little frustrating?

As we head into 2011, companies involved in the U.S. natural gas business are making the case that the most logical near-term alternative energy source in this country can be found in underground shale rock formations, which, conveniently, are located in abundance in the United States. Meanwhile, environmentalists are raising concerns about drinking water contamination as a result of the hydraulic fracturing process used to extract natural gas from shale rock. And the regulators, well, they’re doing their standard tightrope walk, holding up movement on both sides of the issue with no definitive action one way or the other.

Me? I just want the truth. Clearly, the United States is sitting on a veritable gold mine of energy that could go a long way toward meeting our domestic power needs for the foreseeable future, but can it be extracted safely without contaminating drinking water? Clearly, the jobs that would be created by shale gas drilling in the United States would be a huge help to the U.S. economy during this time of nearly 10-percent unemployment, but would these jobs provide a long-term career path or just a bridge to another stint on the dole? Clearly, natural gas itself is a cleaner energy source than other plentiful domestic fossil fuels such as, for example, coal, but what is the net carbon footprint when you factor in the shale drilling process and the development of the drilling sites?

The hype campaign on both sides of the shale debate is so fierce at the moment, it’s difficult to know the true answer to any of these questions. One thing we do know is there is a lot of money on the line.

According to the latest data by the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the United States is currently the largest energy consumer in the world and will be second only to China come 2035.* This means the jostling for position in the U.S. energy market is, and will remain, intense. Meanwhile, the momentum behind the “green” movement in the United States is, arguably, at an all-time high, which will call attention to environmental concerns associated with any proposed energy alternative.

I must say, I love the idea of the United States being able to leverage a domestic and clean-burning energy supply to meet its energy needs going forward. Further, the creation of a new home-grown industry and what that would mean for the U.S. economy is equally appealing. At the same time, I cannot deny my concern when I see YouTube videos of folks living near shale gas drilling sites lighting their tap water on fire.** Just as concerning is the clause in the 2005 energy bill that excuses shale gas drillers from requirements under the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act. If water contamination isn’t a concern, shale gas drillers shouldn’t need to be exempt from the Clean Water Act, should they?

Currently, legislation is pending that would require companies to publicly disclose the chemicals used in the hydraulic fracturing process – something shale gas drillers have thus far been reluctant to do. Also, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has committed $1.9 million to study the environmental and human health impact of shale gas drilling. Will the EPA use this taxpayer money to produce a clearly defined and not overly ambiguous or overreaching result?

My hope for 2011 is that the truth about shale gas drilling begins to emerge. Can we economically extract natural gas from shale rock without contaminating drinking water? If so, the companies involved in the shale gas drilling business, in my opinion, would do themselves a huge service by spending more time educating the public rather than withholding information and hiding behind regulatory exemptions.

Have an opinion on shale gas drilling? E-mail me or post in the “Shale Gas Drilling” discussion on the Flow Control Facebook page at www.facebook.com/FlowControlMagazine.

– Matt Migliore, Editor-in-Chief
Matt@GrandViewMedia.com

* International Data Projections, “World total primary energy consumption by region, Reference case, 2005-2035,” U.S. Energy Information Administration, www.eia.doe.gov/oiaf/forecasting.html.

** “Ignitable Drinking Water in Candor, NY, Above Marcellus Shale,” Toxics Targeting, www.youtube.com/watch?v=TEtgvwllNpg.