They say if you hear something often enough you’ll eventually believe it’s true. Lies become truths through repetition.
So it is with horror stories about hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” — the new method for recovering shale gas that’s reshaping the future of energy. There’s a lot of misinformation out there. Here are some examples.
Myth: Fracking uses a ton of toxic chemicals.
A recent Naples Daily News guest commentator wrote that chemicals used in fracking “poison the air, soil and groundwater” and cause the tails of cattle to fall off! That’s hysteria, but it’s not uncommon.
What exactly is used in fracking?
Water, much of it recycled, is pumped under high pressure to fracture the shale formation and release the trapped oil or gas.
Sand is slurried in the water to prop open the fractured shale. And sand may be on its way out. Ceramic microbeads from China are being tested as propping agents.
Chemicals are used in very small amounts to suspend the sand, reduce friction during pumping and prevent microbial fouling. Most of the chemicals are benign, some even used in foods. None of the chemicals is toxic at the low concentrations used.
In other words, there is almost no risk of contamination from chemicals used in fracking.
Myth: Fracking steals water desperately needed by communities.
Aquifers will be sucked dry. Local wells will be depleted. Without water, forest fires will rage unchecked. Texas is a good example.
It turns out fracking is not the culprit. In Texas lawns consume 18 times more water than fracking. Studies by eco-friendly Ceres and the Texas Water Development Board show that in 2011 residential irrigation took 495 billion gallons of water and fracking less than 27 billion gallons.
On a national basis, over 70 percent of water consumption goes for farming and hydroelectric power. The amount used for fracking is trivial.
Myth: Fracking is irrelevant. Fossil fuels are on their way out.
The fact is cost-competitive solar and wind energy is years, even decades away. Fossil fuels will carry the load for a long time. Most countries recognize that, and those with hydrocarbon reserves are extracting oil and gas in record amounts.
British Prime Minister David Cameron just announced plans to expand fracking in England. The U.K. sits on 1,300 trillion cubic feet of shale gas. Production of just one-tenth of that would provide the Brits with cheap energy for the next 50 years and support an estimated 74,000 new jobs.
Mexico plans to open its vast reserves to foreign investors. This will lead to a big jump in oil and gas production. Mexico has land-based reserves of 115 billion barrels of oil equivalents and another 27 billion barrels offshore.
Fracking will be around for a long time. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates 78 percent of energy consumed worldwide by 2040 will come from fossil fuels — with shale gas providing the biggest increase. Only 15 percent will come from renewables, and most of that from hydroelectric power.
Myth: The environmental risks of fracking far outweigh its economic benefits.
You’ve got to be smoking something illegal if you believe that. Consider the following.
Fracking has already delivered 1.7 million new jobs in the energy sector alone. This will jump to 3 million by 2020 and lead to other downstream jobs in transport, liquification and storage. New capital spending will approach $200 billion by 2020.
Cheap energy from shale gas is expected to revive steel and aluminum manufacture in the U.S. and boost production of bulk chemicals, adding an additional 1.2 million new jobs by 2017.
Coal-fired power plants are being phased out in favor of cleaner natural gas.
Methane emissions, the only downside of fracking, are being controlled by proper sealing of casings during drilling.
Florida Power & Light (FPL) just announced plans for two more natural gas pipelines. FPL President Eric Silagy was quoted as saying, “Natural gas is vital to the affordability of electricity in our state.”
Make no mistake, natural gas from fracking is an economic gift — in Florida and elsewhere. And that’s no myth.