Saturday, November 21, 2015

Both economic and environmental impacts of fracking deserve careful consideration

The U.S. Department of Energy estimates the nation could be energy independent by 2019, depending on the price of a barrel of oil, which currently sits at about $40. Even if that price were to stay low, the department estimates independence would inevitably come by 2028.

Energy independence, a goal of every president since Richard Nixon, puts the United States in a position of power when dealing with the world’s oppressive, dangerous and oil-rich powers. It changes many of the assumptions that drive international relations and weakens the hands of those who mean to do the nation harm.

But the extraction may bring environmental impacts, and the nation cannot afford to take that possibility lightly. Reliable, independent testing and monitoring must continue, but it must be done with an eye toward making oil extraction, and specifically the fracking methods that have expanded accessible reserves, as safe as possible.

So far, the news on that front has been encouraging. Earlier this year, the Environmental Protection Agency released a draft assessment of a study saying it had found no evidence of widespread pollution of drinking water due to fracking. The study did note, however, that it found concerns about drilling wells that are not properly cemented, which might allow gases and liquids to escape. Also, it raised questions about wastewater and other fluids that result from fracking and how these are treated.

Then, more recently, a study by the private, nonprofit National Bureau of Economic Research found that the recent boom in energy production, spurred by fracking, had resulted in significant economic benefits to the regions around such drilling operations. The study, outlined in the Deseret News, was conducted by researchers at Dartmouth University.

Those benefits, recorded four years ago before low oil prices put a crimp on the industry, improved the wages of workers directly and indirectly associated with the process. The boom, it said, added 725,000 jobs to the economy nationwide and succeeded in lowering the national unemployment rate by half a percentage point.

For every $1 million of production, wages rose by $66,000 overall in the county where the drilling took place, the study said. But $243,000 in wages was added to the economy within a 100-mile radius.

The production boom led to a surplus that helped to lower the price of oil. That reduction was spurred along by decisions by overseas oil cartels to try to force U.S. producers out of the market. However, production in Utah and elsewhere has continued at reduced rates. As of last year, the United States imported only 27 percent of its oil, the lowest amount in nearly 30 years, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

It’s not surprising that environmentalists take issue with these studies and with the push toward greater energy extraction through fracking. But their concerns should not be rejected out of hand. The recent increase in earthquakes in Oklahoma, for instance, suggests at least a circumstantial connection to the drilling. Locally, they draw connections between fracking and poor air quality along the Wasatch Front.

We urge the government and scientists to continue conducting research, all with an eye toward making extraction as safe as possible. The United States is in a high-stakes struggle for national security against some oil-rich nations that are enemies of freedom. It cannot lose that struggle, but it also cannot put the health and lives of Americans at risk needlessly to win it.
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