Since the release of the films “Gasland” and “Promised Land,” the 60-year-old petroleum extraction process of hydraulic fracturing, better known as “fracking” has been lighting up the media like the flaming faucets used to scare energy consumers.
Fracking is a post drilling injection process that uses pressurized water, sand and publicly disclosed chemicals to emulsify oil from minimally porous formations (shale) thousands of feet below ground. It is being used today with another innovation, horizontal drilling, to take America from energy scarcity to energy abundance.
But in today’s climate of increased public involvement in policy making, with the ease of information sharing through social media, the proliferation of bad science and conjecture threatens the future of American-made energy and subsequent economic recovery more than any of the techniques being condemned by misinformed, activist sources.
Opponents of energy development and “fracking” specifically pander to groups of regular “joiners”, using emotional arguments rather than facts. Recently, a national publication ran a story with the headline, “Fracking is Bad for Babies.” Today, protesters at a rally in New York lined up with children, and in their hands placed “Say No To Fracking” signs which they photographed and blasted into the Twittersphere. Nevermind the heat provided by natural gas inside of the city buildings where protesters gathered. Nevermind the gasoline that powers their vehicles, or the petroleum-based pieces of all their smartphones that made broadcasting their activism possible. Nevermind....the hypocrisy.
Claims of contamination from drilling, flammable tap water, earthquakes, water shortages and even cancer have been reviewed and rebutted by the top regulatory agencies and medical centers in the country, and yet the controversy continues.
Fracking bans proposed around the country have been based heavily on alarmist rhetoric and fear mongering. For too long, the industry has remained quiet, often choosing to remain hidden from the limelight that today, many celebrities are rushing to be a part of. A limelight of activism, with the likes of Yoko Ono, Lady Gaga, and others speaking out against something they know little about: energy development.
But the industry is waking up. Realizing what influence social media now has on public opinion and public policy, the truth about oil, natural gas and fracking in particular is beginning to make its way into the mainstream via newly formed consumer information and public advocacy groups. And after 165 years, you could say, it’s about “fracking” time.
More than 6,000 everyday products are made from petroleum; including cosmetics, clothing, rubber, and plastic. Petroleum is literally a lifesaver when you look at all the ways it is used; in heart valves, parachutes, seat belts and life preservers. It’s in the roads and tires we drive on, even in electric vehicles. It’s in water bottles, bike tires, and paved trails, affording those whose mobility is restricted to motorized means the ability to enjoy the great outdoors up close and personal.
Agriculture and tourism rely heavily on petroleum. Just look at the diesel and fertilizer used for agriculture, and the transportation which literally fuels tourism. Think about manufacturing, construction, and home building and the fuel they require.
And with each oil and gas job, three more are created indirectly; jobs in retail, hospitality, food and service industries. Tax revenue created by oil and gas jobs provide funding for public programs as well, including schools.
There is a very real and personal side of the petroleum industry too, one that is too often ignored.
Seldom acknowledged for being the lifeblood of a community or family, the jobs and paychecks from oil-related jobs are exactly that.
More than 25,000 jobs in Montana are related to oil and gas development. A job is a person’s ability to put food on the table and presents under the tree. A job affords families and individuals the means to pay bills and shop locally, as well as the opportunity to recreate and travel. For students, innovation in the industry offers the promise of employment, and the means to pay off student loans.
Montana’s only petroleum engineering department has increased 10 percent every year since 2007, and the diesel program at Missoula College now has a waiting list of students.
With resources in Montana, many people are finding work here without having to leave the state. Eastern Montana’s unemployment numbers offer the most telling story of the positive impact energy exploration has had on job creation.
So in spite of the fracas about “frackin’,” the facts speak loud and clear. The truth about petroleum is a reflection of the miracle of American ingenuity, the engine of economic progress, and it exactly what opportunity looks like.