The following appeared in the Denver Post on July 10.
When engineers first coined the term “hydraulic fracturing,” it’s a safe bet they never expected that such an arcane technical phrase would need to be understood by the general public.
For years, this innovative, natural gas well completion process, which has been used to release natural gas by fracturing shale and other rock formations, was only understood by industry scientists who perfected the technique, by the state and federal officials who regulated them, and by the hard-working men and women who carried out the jobs to bring natural gas to the millions of Americans who use it every day.
Today, however, the term has gone mainstream as the increased production of natural gas from hydraulic fracturing has resulted in an economic boom in the areas it is being used. The result has been significant job creation and increased tax revenues for cities and states in those areas, as well as economic benefits to local mineral owners.
In Colorado, natural gas activity is helping fuel the economy. The natural gas exploration and distribution industries provide more than 137,000 jobs in the Centennial State. And the people of Colorado are also consumers: More than 1.7 million Coloradans consume about 327 billion cubic feet of natural gas each year.
The additional supply in the marketplace has also resulted in lower, more stable natural gas prices for customers across the country. In fact, over the past four years, hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling techniques have combined to increase domestic natural gas production nearly 20 percent. All of this has helped keep natural gas prices at almost half the levels they were only five years ago.
Despite the benefits of natural gas, the public still isn’t much closer to understanding how hydraulic fracturing really works, or the safety steps involved in the process. As a result, some advocacy groups have taken advantage of the public’s confusion to instill fear about the safety of the hydraulic fracturing process.
I represent the largest purchasers of natural gas in this country, utilities that deliver natural gas to 175 million Americans. Our customers have seen the benefits of this increased production of natural gas, not just in the jobs created and the lower prices for customers, but also through energy production from American sources rather than unstable foreign regimes.
And these benefits have great potential to continue through this century. A recent estimate of the future supply of U.S. natural gas from the nonprofit Potential Gas Committee, hosted by the Colorado School of Mines, shows that the United States has more than a 100-year supply of natural gas to meet America’s diverse energy needs — a number that continues to grow.
All industry leaders have a responsibility to make safe and sustainable extraction, transport and delivery of natural gas our first priority. It is equally important that we engage the public in a fact-based and constructive conversation to make the process of natural gas exploration more transparent, and that we convey what the industry does to produce natural gas in an environmentally sound manner.
As just one example, opponents of hydraulic fracturing have used the complexity of the ingredients in drilling fluids to create fear and confusion about their environmental effects, which is why I support the disclosure of the contents included in fracturing fluids. The natural gas industry is already stepping forward with disclosure registries in order to provide additional information to the public. This is a positive step in getting the facts out to the public and in easing concerns regarding the potential impact of these fluids.
Educating the public with regard to the overall benefits and risks associated with employing hydraulic fracturing technologies will foster greater understanding of the practice. Making certain that state regulators have sufficient resources to enforce critical operating rules will also bolster public confidence in American natural gas.
The industry has begun the education effort. Websites such as fracfocus.org provide information about hydraulic fracturing. Representatives across the natural gas industry—from wellhead to burner tip—realize that we need to do more as an industry to engage in a transparent and fact-based public dialogue on shale gas development.
Natural gas will not address all of our energy challenges, but hydraulic fracturing has resulted in one of the largest developments of an American source of energy in the past century while creating hundreds of thousands of high-paying jobs. It’s worth looking past the headlines to learn the facts before turning a blind eye to the tangible benefits associated with ensuring continued, reliable access to America’s foundation fuel: natural gas.