Fracking helps U.S. become world's largest natural gas producer, but Americans remain skeptical

Fracking helps U.S. become world's largest natural gas producer, but Americans remain skeptical

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March 30, 2012

Hydraulic fracturing has helped fundamentally alter the nation's energy strategy, but a growing number of Americans are increasingly favoring more stringent regulations.

Hydraulic fracturing, more commonly known as fracking, represents a major breakthrough in oil engineering research and development. The U.S. has long dreamt of attaining the goal of energy independence, but it has been but a fleeting notion for most recent U.S. presidents, as the nation has historically relied on foreign oil and gas producers for a substantial portion of its energy needs

Engineers, however, have helped that dream come closer to becoming a reality. Fracking, which has only gained prominence within the past decade, has completely shifted the U.S. approach to energy policy. The natural gas extraction technique uses millions of gallons of water mixed with chemicals to mine previously inaccessible stores of the hydrocarbon from shale formations located thousands of feet beneath the ground's surface. The U.S. sits on vast stores of natural gas, and the advent of fracking has enabled oil and gas companies to more readily access it.

Fracking has helped fuel U.S. production of natural gas, making it the largest producer of the fossil fuel in the world. That the U.S. has so rapidly become a global energy power is altogether surprising, especially when considering that only a few years ago officials were mulling plans to drastically increase imports amid dwindling supplies.

Nonetheless, there are environmental and public health concerns associated with fracking. They have sharply divided opponents and supporters, who have continued to clash in states such as New York and Pennsylvania. New York environmental officials have been working to determine whether to grant fracking licenses in the state, and the issue has polarized the electorate.

Bloomberg reports that a vast majority of Americans favor enhanced fracking regulations. According to the results of a poll conducted by the news provider, more than three times as many Americans asserted that there should be more regulation of fracking than less. Southwestern Energy Co. vice president Mark Boling said the results were not surprising. He said that oil and gas companies have not devoted enough resources to educating the public about fracking.

"This actually doesn't surprise me," he said, referring to the results of the poll. "We have been so focused as an industry on figuring out how to crack the code and get these huge volumes of gas trapped in shale formations. We haven’t focused on the things we have to do differently above ground."

Nonetheless, supporters maintain fracking has helped revolutionize gas engineering, and that it has helped spur job creation throughout the U.S. In 2010, for example, the fracking industry supported more than 600,000 jobs in the U.S., according to data from IHS Global Insight.

Moreover, the surge in natural gas supplies has helped lower the cost of the hydrocarbon. While mild winter weather throughout much of the U.S. also helped reduce demand over the past four months, the jump in domestic stockpiles similarly placed downward pressure on prices, which have fallen 36 percent over the past 12 months.

Critics of the natural gas extraction technique, on the other hand, contend that it could potentially contaminate underground water sources and negatively impact local ecosystems. What's more, some scientists argued fracking wells have caused earthquakes in Ohio and elsewhere in the U.S., underscoring what they say is a lack of understanding about such negative consequences.

Still, with fracking continuing to gain in popularity, it is unlikely that the U.S. would consider banning it, particularly as lawmakers ratchet up their support of it.


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