Fracking has transformed the U.S. energy industry. One hundred new wells are drilled daily, creating so much supply that the U.S. is now the single largest producer of oil and gas combined, according to Russell Gold, author of The Boom: How Fracking Ignited the American Energy Revolution and Changed the World. He tells The Daily Ticker that fracking -- which uses millions of gallons of water and chemicals to fracture shale and release natural gas -- "has redrawn the global energy landscape."
But is it safe? Oklahoma has reported 109 earthquakes this year through April 6 -- topping the total for all of 2013 and many of those quakes, as well as ones in Texas and northeastern Ohio, are thought to be linked to fracking activity. There are also concerns that the wastewater from fracking will leak into aquifers, a major source of drinking water.
A recent Pew Research study found that 49% of those surveyed oppose fracking while 44% approve it.
"We haven't had a final determination" about the safety of fracking, says Gold, but "the industry and regulators are adapting it to make it safer."
Gold has followed the industry since 2003 and has a personal connection to it. About five years after he was assigned the fracking beat as a reporter at The Wall Street Journal, he got call from his parents, asking whether they should lease some property they owned in rural Pennsylvania to a drilling company for fracking.
He studied the situation and eventually decided they should because, "it's natural gas, a better fuel for the environment ... and there was a lot of money on the table." But he also recommended that his parents test their drinking water before the fracking would begin so they could gauge whether fracking affected the quality of their water down the road.
Gold says the industry now "realizes its license to continue to do this is hanging by a few threads" so they need to be responsible, and regulators are also getting a fix on the situation, focusing on the quality of well construction and the quality of the air at drilling sites.
But he recommends that states do what the federal government has done: separate the agency monitoring fracking operations from the agency that recruits fracking companies.
Bottom line, says Gold, fracking is "creating jobs." North Dakota, home to the Bakken Formation, has the lowest unemployment rate in the country at 2.6%.
"We're the envy of the world," Gold adds. "Europe would love to have the energy prices that we do."
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