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The News Herald: Fracking can transform our energy future

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

By Bill Hodgkins

While living in the Western United States, I frequently heard and participated in discussions about hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” and the energy creating opportunities it brought. Now that I have returned to Florida to live, I’m surprised by how few people are fully aware of what fracking is, and among those who are knowledgeable, how much misinformation exists.

Hydraulic fracturing is an important component of America’s ability to supply its own oil and natural gas. Without it, we would lose 45 percent of domestic natural gas production and 17 percent of our oil production within five years. While the majority of domestic fracking operations are taking place in mid-western states such as North Dakota, or more recently in Pennsylvania and Ohio, the oil and natural gas produced in these states helps all Americans. And, as Floridians, we should be armed with the facts, not the often-times misleading or “scare-mongering” information that some opponents of fracking have used.

Here’s the basics. Fracking is a process which uses water pressure to create fissures in deep underground shale formations that allow oil and natural gas to flow and be extracted. It is a proven technology that has been used safely in more than a million wells for more than 65 years. However, the fracking techniques used today have been continuously improved upon, and are not the fracking methods of 50 years ago.

Technology and environmental awareness have significantly improved the fracking process. Wells designed for hydraulic fracturing are constructed with more than 3 million pounds of steel and cement, and contain multiple layers of steel casing to protect underground water. This equates to about 10 inches of steel and concrete shielding underground aquifers. Typically, thousands of feet of shale separate the hydraulic fracturing process from groundwater. Fracking wells can reach more than 6,000 feet under the Earth’s surface, so there is no posed threat to aquifers. The fluid used in the hydraulic fracturing process is nearly 99.5 percent water and sand. Fluid that returns to the surface is captured and recycled, reducing the demand for fresh water or need to dispose of waste water.

Contrary to some of the misinformation that exists on fracking, the chemicals used are not kept “secret” or proprietary by oil and gas companies. There are federal disclosure laws involved, as well as many states have now produced public disclosure rules related to hydraulic fracturing and chemicals that are used in the process. A simple Google search of chemicals used in fracking will get you a complete list.

As to groundwater issues with the chemicals used in fracking, even the Environmental Protection Agency has said that it has made no definitive determination within the U.S. that the fracking process has caused chemicals to enter groundwater. Further, any carbon emissions generated from oil and gas activity at fracking sites must remain by law within prescribed state and federal limits.

Producing natural gas and oil from American shale formations has the ability to transform our energy future, resulting in millions of new jobs, growth of government revenue, and savings of billions annually in imported energy costs. Floridians need to be aware of the significant potential impact to our economy if we can open up our onshore and offshore deposits for oil and natural gas extraction. We need also to be aware of the impact to our national security by reducing our dependence and reliance on foreign sources of oil, and producing more of our own resources that will continue to fuel our national and homeland defense while technology is proven and developed to provide alternative, renewable sources of energy.

As part of a group called Vets4Energy, I recently joined veterans from across the nation in Washington, D.C., to speak with our congressional members and their staffs about the critical links between our nation’s energy security, national security and economic security. More effectively utilizing our onshore and offshore oil and natural gas resources, including those resources accessed through hydraulic fracturing, will only strengthen our nation’s economy and security.

We need to continue to pursue energy opportunities and policies that serve and protect the United States. I encourage Floridians to ratchet up the pressure on our representatives in the Legislature and in the U.S. Congress to develop sound energy policies and a reasonable regulatory environment for Florida and the nation, and open up our onshore and offshore oil and gas resources.

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