We have all had our walks to classes interrupted by those exceptionally motivated California Public Interest Research Group volunteers. One of the group’s main goals this quarter is to ban fracking, a natural gas extraction method.
Don’t get me wrong, the CALPIRG objective has merit – fracking is a very water-intensive method of natural gas extraction that, if done incorrectly, can result in potential mini-earthquakes and possible water contamination. However, fracking is an environmentally and economically responsible method of obtaining energy, and banning it would be counterproductive to our societal, economic and environmental goals.
Fracking is one of the most viable options available to us right now. Using solely renewable, clean energy like wind and solar power is a virtuous goal, but we simply don’t have the infrastructure yet to meet that goal.
Thus, we are left with two nonfracked sources of energy: coal, which is famous for sulfuric rain and other extremely toxic air pollutants, and petroleum, which is not only highly pollutive, but must be shipped by tankers from the Middle East.
We must rule out coal as a source of energy due to its highly disastrous effects. Petroleum, while slightly cleaner than coal, is not only extremely inefficient to transport but also often causes catastrophic oil spills that can destroy entire regions of oceanic life. Our dependence on Middle Eastern petroleum is also infamous for pulling the United States into foreign wars and many international diplomatic conflicts.
Ruling these out, we’re left with natural gas as the only viable source of energy. It is comparatively very clean regarding its impact on our air. It releases fewer pollutants than both coal and petroleum. It also produces much less carbon monoxide than coal.
And it’s easy to come by – we are a nation rich in natural gas. Growing our natural gas industry at home will create more American jobs.
CALPIRG opposes expanding natural gas production because the predominant method of extraction, fracking, is thought to have negative environmental consequences. Some of these beliefs hold a lot of merit and others hold little, but none disqualify the practice.
One example is fracking’s heavy use of water. Fracking does use a lot of water, but the water used in fracking is largely from water-rich areas and is offset by water savings from disappearing regional industries like steel manufacturing and coal extraction.
And while other studies have shown that fracking can contaminate water supply, we must first realize that fracking directly prevents other potential oil spills from international tankers. Furthermore, the fracking industry is well-regulated, and properly designed wells ensure that the water supply remains safe. In fact, the vast majority of fracking wells have caused no harm to the surrounding environment.
Even if a few fracking wells cause contamination, that contamination is nothing compared to massive oil spills from petroleum extraction, like those in the southern gulf. CALPIRG volunteers have also told me many times that fracking causes earthquakes, which is simply not true according the United States Geological Survey. We must get our facts straight if we want a truly cleaner tomorrow.
As young people, global warming is the single largest threat to our future way of life. We should show support to groups and policies that will help save our environment. But I will wait to pledge CALPIRG until the group changes its aggressive and misguided stance on fracking. Fracking will not only create American jobs and reduce our dependency on foreign sources of oil, but will also immediately help to slow global warming.
Of course, we should invest in completely renewable energy sources, but at the present fracking is the best alternative. For now, let’s not ban fracking, let’s regulate and innovate it.
Schwartz is a first-year business economics student.