The race for new-energy dominance is officially on. Earlier this month two of China’s oil giants, Sinopec and Cnooc, as well as Saudi Arabia’s state-owned oil company, Saudi Aramco, announced they would all seek to buy the same 30 percent stake in American hydraulic-fracturing-services firm Frac Tech Holdings LLC.
The announcements, arriving amidst great excitement about the potential of natural gas development in the United States, could touch off a competition worth up to $2 billion -- and possessing far-reaching implications for both the global energy game and a still-foundering U.S. economy.
China has nearly 50 percent more recoverable shale gas than the United States, yet in 2009 we took the spot of number-one natural-gas producer in the world.
Here’s how: What countries like China boast in quantity they lack in expertise. And technique is where we are king. It was more than half a century ago that Americans pioneered hydraulic fracturing, a process whereby a high-pressured, water-based mixture is pumped into underground shale to release hydrocarbons.
The contribution technological advancement like this to the U.S. energy arsenal has been sizable: It has increased U.S. recoverable oil reserves by at least 30 percent and recoverable gas reserves by at least 90 percent, according to some estimates. That’s a 100-plus-year energy supply we wouldn’t otherwise have socked away.
With coal- and oil-rich nations like China and Saudi Arabia so keenly interested in American energy-extraction methods, it would seem the tables have finally turned. But while we should continue rushing to capitalize on our own good fortunes, regulatory roadblocks continue to hamstring our production.
To wit, New York, New Jersey and the Delaware River Basin have all enacted at least temporary hydraulic fracturing bans, the result of pressure from groups peddling unsubstantiated environmental and health concerns about the drilling method. Just this week the municipality of Binghamton in New York passed a two-year ban on it – a scaremonger’s insurance policy in the event the state-wide moratorium is lifted.
Moves like these only hurt us. A recent PricewaterhouseCoopers study found that aggressive, domestic shale-gas development could employ approximately one million more manufacturing-sector workers by 2025, thanks to increased product demand.
The study also found increased production could help U.S. manufacturers reduce natural gas expenses by as much as $11.6 billion annually through the same year. What’s more, shale gas’ contribution to the U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) was more than $76.9 billion in 2010. In 2015 it will be $118.2 billion; in 2035, $231.1 billion. Add to that the substantial amount to be made domestically and overseas by American manufacturers of shale-gas-related equipment – a chance the Financial Times recently called a “major export opportunity” – and we could see a significant uptick in jobs and general economic activity in certain sectors.
The anti-shale-gas camp’s trump card is the unfounded threat of water contamination from hydraulic fracturing fluid (a liquid that's more than 99 percent water itself). Yet there has not been a single confirmed case of polluted drinking water anywhere, which stands to reason since the fracturing takes place more than 8,000 feet below surface level while groundwater sits only a few hundred feet below the earth’s surface.
Even Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar admitted recently there was no concrete evidence of a hydraulic-fracturing-water-contamination link. “With respect to hydraulic [fracturing], because it occurs so far underground, we don’t know any examples of [contamination] on public lands,” he said at a November House hearing.
We have the means and the motive to increase natural gas drilling full-force. It’s high time we did so – before other nations with less know-how but more impetus overtake us.
Bob Beauprez is a former Republican Colorado Congressman. He currently serves as editor-in-chief of “A Line of Sight” a policy resource covering issues that affect conservatives across the country and operates a working buffalo ranch in Colorado.