As CMD has reported, the fossil fuel industry has been engaging in an aggressive PR and political campaign to convince Americans that drilling for oil and gas domestically is the only way that the nation can break its dependence on foreign oil, bring down prices at the pump, and usher in a new era of economic prosperity. A new report from the DC-based public interest group Food & Water Watch knocks down these claims one by one. While the industry uses the phrase "energy security," the report contends that only industry profits will be secured by the expansion of controversial hydraulic fracturing or "fracking" for shale oil and gas.
Fracking involves pumping large quantities of fresh water, coupled with chemicals and sand, into shale formations to crack the rock and extract the fossil fuels -- which include oil and natural gas. Studies have revealed that fracking fluids contain a host of toxic substances, including known carcinogens and volatile organic compounds. Fracking has the documented potential to contaminate drinking water sources, foul air and land, as well as spoiling millions of gallons of fresh water as part of the drilling process that must then be disposed.
Claims of Endless Gas Reserves are Exaggerated
The industry claims that there are enough gas reserves in the United States to last the nation 100 years, relying on the assumption that they will have carte blanche to frack wherever they want. The analysis by Food & Water Watch puts the number closer to 50 years. However long they last, the reserves are finite. According to the report, "After as much natural gas as possible is extracted from the United States, the country's dependence on natural gas to fuel transportation and generate electricity would persist. Decades from now this dependence would leave the country in need of natural gas imports. American consumers would then be exposed to global demand for natural gas just as they currently are for oil."
The report asks the reasonable question, why not invest in renewable energy now rather than waiting until the gas wells dry up?
Fracking Won't Reduce Prices at the Pump
The industry claims that Americans will see prices drop at the pump as domestic reserves are exploited, but Food & Water Watch contends that as long as Americans are heavily dependent on fossil fuels there will be no cheap transportation costs. The price of oil is set on the global market, meaning whether or not fossil fuel production is occurring abroad or at home has no impact on the American consumer. As demand for fossil fuel increases globally, so will the price. According to the report, "The only way that Americans can insulate themselves against high oil prices is to consume less oil."
Moreover, while the technological advances of fracking have brought down costs of obtaining shale oil and gas, the process is still more cost-intensive than conventional oil and gas development. As a result, the industry is dependent on high prices for shale gas in order for it to be profitable.
Exporting Reserves Won't Keep United States "Secure"
When the industry uses the phrase "energy security," it is suggesting that the reserves will be used domestically. But to the contrary, much of these reserves have been slated for foreign consumption. As of October 26, 2012, there have been 19 proposals to sell gas in foreign markets. Some of these include Royal Dutch Shell, BP, BG Group, and Statoil. These proposals alone could reach over 40 percent of U.S. gas consumption levels.
"Such exports clearly belie the industry's patriotic rhetoric on U.S. energy security and energy independence, revealing profit as their true motive," the report reads. "Meanwhile, American communities would be left with the potentially costly legacy of environmental pollution in the wake of drilling and fracking."
Complacency and Climate Change
In addition to the above, there is the looming problem of climate change. Advocates for curbing climate change warn that 80 percent of current known fossil fuel reserves must remain underground to keep the world "liveable."
"The real risk here is of complacency," said Hugh MacMillan, an author of the report. "The industry is keen to convey that there is no problem that they can't solve with our energy challenges, locking us into fossil fuel use for decades at the public's expense, and at the industry's profit."