The Energy Fault Line

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The Energy Fault Line

In a few decades, we may look back on 2014 and 2015 in much the same way we look at 1775 and 1776—as the beginning of a new era in human history. While the North American Energy Revolution is unlikely to be quite as memorable as the American Revolution, the transformation that it sets in motion may be nearly as significant.

Even five years ago, the idea that the United States would become the world's largest petroleum producer seemed highly implausible. But, the U.S. recently passed both Saudi Arabia and Russia to take the top spot.1

Prior to that, the U.S. became the world's largest natural gas producer and second-largest coal producer —and this is just the beginning.

The explosive growth of oil and gas output happened because the technology known as fracking was refined to the point that it has become highly cost-effective, and it triumphed in the marketplace despite a withering assault from environmental groups for much of the last decade.

Fracking has been blamed for contamination of drinking water, air pollution, earthquakes, water shortages, global warming, radiation discharge, and even cancer. But it now appears that environmentalists have lost the battle against fracking.

As it turns out, the factual case against hydraulic fracturing was quite weak. Shale is typically fractured at depths greater than 5,000 feet, with thousands of feet of rock between the fractured area and the water table, which is located near the surface.

When properly designed, fracking wells are lined with multiple layers of steel and cement casing to prevent leakage of water and natural gas into the local water supply. Approximately one million wells have been hydraulically fractured over the last six decades without cases of water contamination.2

During Congressional testimony in 2011, Environmental Protection Agency administrator Lisa Jackson admitted, "I am not aware of any proven case where the fracking process itself has affected water, although there are investigations ongoing."

Earthquakes caused by hydraulic fracturing appear to be minimal. Only a handful of micro quakes have been linked to fractured wells...

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