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Natural Gas Debate Makes Its Way To Washington

Shale Rock

First Posted: 07/20/11 06:54 PM ET Updated: 09/19/11 06:12 AM ET

Soaring energy costs and demand have prompted providers and consumers across the globe to look more toward accessible sources.

For the United States, topping the list of domestic possibilities is natural gas -- an option that has drawn plenty of debate from proponents and naysayers. Beyond the worries surrounding extraction via fracking, reports have also questioned the cost and availability of usable materials.

On Tuesday, those questions made their way to Washington, through a hearing discussing the recent results of an MIT report on "The Future of Natural Gas." The study sought to balance increasing interest in low-cost natural-gas production, with prevailing concerns that energy derived from shale could pose climate-change problems.

In attendance was Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who spoke before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee to express her support for expanding natural gas policies. The State Column posted her opening statement, which addresses how to fulfill the country's energy needs, while addressing the outlying qualms.

"Natural gas is clean-burning and abundant; it’s well understood and scalable; and it’s clearly in our best interest to ensure that we maintain a stable and affordable supply going forward," Sen. Murkowski said.

Murkowski's support paralleled the testimony of business officials aiming for more active investment opportunities. Dow Chemical Company Corporate Vice President George Blitz served as the only industry representative during the hearing, projecting a favorable outlook from that side of the development equation.

"Natural gas is a game changer," said Blitz in a press release. "It can fuel a renaissance in American manufacturing, but only if we produce enough of it, use it wisely and don't repeat the mistakes of the past."

Other political officials remain cautious about heaping full praise toward the natural gas movement. Also among the attendees was Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-New Mexico) -- a voice reviving recent struggles that the U.S. has encountered with natural gas usage. The Houston Chronicle's FuelFix notes that Bingaman referenced problems from the 2000's, when fears over low natural gas supply levels brought about some flat commercial decisions.

Dollar signs aside, residents living in areas ripe for fracking have their own batch of concerns. In May, ProPublica's Abrahm Lustgarten reported that a scientific study "linked natural gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing with a pattern of drinking water contamination so severe that some faucets can be lit on fire." Warning signs like these have some factions of the public on edge about the prospects of natural gas.

Mixed in with the water worries are possible geological consequences. Last month, a mining company halted drilling for shale gas in England after scientists grew concerned that two minor earthquakes could be linked to fracking.

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Filed by Chris Gentilviso  |