Examiner Editorial: Another extremist scare aimed at oil, gas 

Officials with Pennsylvania’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources were quite surprised last week when natural gas drillers bid twice as much as expected — $128.5 million, or more than $4,000 per acre — for leases on state-owned land.
With those leases, the drillers hope to tap into one of America’s greatest natural resources, the Marcellus Shale natural gas deposit that stretches from New York through Pennsylvania and into West Virginia. As the world’s largest known natural gas reserve, the deposit is estimated to hold as much as 480 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. The U.S. currently uses about 23 trillion cubic feet of odorless, colorless natural gas annually to produce a quarter of the nation’s total energy needs.

Development of just the Pennsylvania portion of the Marcellus Shale deposit would generate up to $13.5 billion in new tax revenue while generating almost 175,000 new jobs, according to a study by the Penn State University department of energy and mineral engineering.

Key to unlocking energy resources like the Marcellus Shale deposit is a process known as hydraulic fracturing. Drillers inject fluid — 99.5 percent of which is water — into wells to create horizontal fractures, which enable recovery of trillions of cubic feet of natural gas and billions of barrels of oil that would otherwise be inaccessible. Hydraulic fracturing has been widely used for 60 years, especially in Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana.

But now, as energy companies greatly expand the use of hydraulic fracturing in other areas of the nation, environmental extremists see an opportunity to mount a new national scare campaign. They claim hydraulic fracturing pollutes drinking water with dangerous chemicals and must therefore be regulated — i.e., stopped — by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

However, studies by multiple organizations, including the EPA in 2004, concluded that hydraulic fracturing poses no danger to drinking water after being used more than 1.1 million times in the U.S.

Even so, in a House Energy and Commerce Committee subcommittee hearing this morning, Chairman Edward Markey, D-Mass., is expected to focus attention on hydraulic fracturing and the proposed acquisition by ExxonMobil of natural gas industry leader XTO Corp. With ExxonMobil’s financial resources behind it, XTO is expected to drill many more wells using hydraulic fracturing.

Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, the Nobel Prize-winning physicist, said last week that he sees no reason not to use hydraulic fracturing, but environmental zealots hope to persuade Congress to kill ExxonMobil’s XTO acquisition and direct the EPA to take over regulation of the process from state governments.

If Congress does either, it will be yet another triumph of environmental hysteria over-ruling science and common sense at the expense of energy users and consumers.

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Staff Report

Staff Report

A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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