WASHINGTON – In 2008, energy experts convened on Capitol Hill with a dire message: the world is running out of fossil fuels and America’s energy future is insecure.
On Tuesday, the House Subcommittee on Energy and Power met with expert energy witnesses who said new technologies have changed the picture dramatically.
Since Advances like hydraulic fracturing—colloquially known as fracking—have made natural gas mining and oil drilling profitable in American fields so deep and inaccessible they were previously economically impossible to touch.
Daniel Yergin, Pulitzer-Prize winning author of “The Quest: Energy, Security, and the Remaking of the Modern World” and member of the U.S. Secretary of Energy Advisory Board, said natural gas mined from shale rocks has risen from 2 percent of domestic energy production to 37 percent since 2008, outpacing current market demand. Additionally, U.S. oil output has increased 38 percent since 2008, all but ending concerns of an oil-depleted future.
America’s growing fossil fuel sector currently supports 1.7 million jobs, “one of the bright spots” in a period of high unemployment, Yergin said. He predicted that number could hit 3 million by 2020.
Finally, Yergin and others agreed, by becoming less dependent on foreign imports, the U.S. is improving its national security by controlling it energy future. Harry Vidas of energy consulting firm ICF Resources, LLC, told the committee that the U.S. and Canada have about 180 years’ worth of natural gas and the U.S. has about 110 years’ worth of oil, equivalent to the proved oil reserves of Saudi Arabia.
The environmental concerns over fracking have been widely noted since the 1990s when the method first gained popularity. Many fear carcinogenic chemicals from fracking fluid contaminate soil and groundwater, and the process releases airborne pollutants including methane, a strong greenhouse gas. Additionally, fracking requires millions of gallons of water per well.
Fracking may be becoming more environmentally friendly, though. The Associated Press reported that Halliburton Inc. has developed a green fracking fluid called CleanStim, which uses only food-industry ingredients as additives. Ninety-five percent of fracking fluid is water and 9.5 percent sand; only 0.5 percent is composed of chemical additives. Also, U.S. Energy Information Administration Administrator Adam Sieminski said wells in Pennsylvania recycle up to 99 percent of their fracking fluid.
Since 2007, U.S carbon dioxide emissions from energy consumption are down 13 percent, which, Yergin said, is largely because fracked natural gas has greatly displaced coal in electricity generation.
Natural gas burns cleaner than coal, spewing fewer greenhouse gas emissions. Burning fracked natural gas at power plants may still be cleaner than the coal alternative, even considering the methane leaked into the atmosphere during the fracking process, several experts said.