President Obama in the debate on Tuesday made a passing reference to the role that natural gas can play in the nation’s economic future. The need in a probable second term to accelerate the development of the country’s immense natural gas resources to power a new century of American power and prosperity is achingly evident. It is incumbent on the Administration to press forward. During the British Petroleum oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, there did not seem to be anyone in the inner circles of the Administration with an oil and gas background to provide timely and effective counsel in the worst of happenstances. And it showed. So there is reason now to make sure that what could be the best is not mishandled. The country, after all, stands at the threshold of an astonishing economic renaissance. An effort on the scale of John Kennedy summoning the nation to win the race to the moon against the Soviets will be necessary, for the mission has many environmental and other hurdles to surmount.
The promise of natural gas cannot be underestimated. It can regenerate the economy in ways inconceivable only a few years ago and thereby provide millions of new jobs and in the process put the nation’s fiscal house in order. HispanicLatinos – who as a growing share of the nation’s population will have to bear so much of the safety-net costs of an aging country and pay for ever more expensive ways to defend the country in an increasingly dangerous time – must pay close and direct attention to how the country nurtures and develops this new opportunity. While making sure they do not get swept up by environmental rhetoric, they must make sure that the environment is protected, for what does it matter if we gain jobs now but lose all in the long run? Of particular importance is fracking, the controversial method that forces water and chemicals into rock formations deep in the earth to extract natural gas.
Fracking has earned a bad reputation, and its critics remain skeptical that it can ever be made safe. There is much about fracking to concern everybody. But a country that can land a machine on Mars tens of millions of miles away and currently is reconnoitering a planet formed at the beginning of time certainly can figure out how to extract natural gas from its own earth safely. The environmental impact of fracking must be allayed entirely because the extent of natural gas formations beneath the states can be massively important. There might be more natural gas here than anywhere else on earth. Fracking could make the country almost completely energy independent, and the impact on the economy goes beyond anything that our worrisome days sometimes prevent us from imagining.
Converting the national economy to natural gas would create tens of millions of jobs. Almost every aspect of American life would have to be redesigned and rebuilt – driven naturally by the profit margin rather than through government inducement, meaning government subsidy. Successfully transitioning to natural gas could reduce the chronic trade imbalance that has helped distort the American economy during the last forty years. The more than $400 billion sent abroad annually to pay for foreign oil imports would be a savings that could be redirected within the economy. Amazingly, developing a cheaper energy source would also allow the country to repatriate manufacturing jobs that have been sent overseas because of lower labor costs. And, of course, natural gas burns more cleanly than oil and would allow for the less-expensive manufacturing of alternative sources of energy, like solar cells.
Transforming the economy through the deployment of natural gas into every sector would recreate the employment base so that Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid remain viable, thereby stabilizing the country’s fiscal condition. Simultaneously, moving to natural gas would redefine global power arrangements that recently were eroding America’s standing in the world. Natural gas would make the country safer, making it possible to develop the new defense technologies that the new age of terrorism and rogue states requires.
The greatest objections to fracking are environmental in nature – and justifiably so. Fracking requires enormous amounts of water that is then made toxic. Fracking also is suspected of allowing methane and other gases to infiltrate the drinking water supplies of whole communities. These obstacles and threats must, must, must be solved.
Fracking is a dirty but interesting problem to have – and to solve.
Jesse Treviño is formerly editorial page editor of The Austin American-Statesman.