Huffpost Politics
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Frank Stewart Headshot

Natural Gas' Role in 2012 Election Cycle

Posted: Updated:

Election year politics have a way of adulterating the more important issues facing the country, even those issues that would seem to transcend the ideological divide. Take, for example, natural gas development, an issue that genuinely deserves a serious discussion because of its enormous potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, to provide a viable alternative to imported oil, and to invigorate our struggling economy.

Abundant and cleaner burning natural gas emits nearly 30% less carbon dioxide than oil, and almost 45% less carbon dioxide than coal. The development of our domestic natural gas has the ability to create new high-paying jobs at a time when job creation is America's top priority. What's clear is that natural gas could be transformative on many fronts.

So in 2012 can we expect the polarizing attitudes and hyperbolic rhetoric to be set aside for pragmatic solutions when it comes to natural gas policy? Don't count on it.

It appears reason has already been taken hostage this election year, replaced with sound bites and scare tactics from those who appear to prefer rhetoric over reason. A lot of this bombast and misinformation has been aimed at hydraulic fracturing, commonly referred to as "fracking," the technique used to extract natural gas. The process uses high pressure to inject water, sand, and a small amount of additives deep below the Earth's surface allowing the gas to be released from rock.

Communities across America have questions and concerns about fracking, and, I believe, an open discussion is both desirable and fully warranted. However, those who would make fallacious claims, propagate fear, or advocate, with no viable scientific justification a complete ban on hydraulic fracturing are doing a grave disservice to the nation. Clearly the industry and the operators should be accountable for any damages and they should be required to practice the highest levels of safety; but those pushing an "anti-fracking" agenda fail to acknowledge the full story.

Such knee-jerk, reactive policy prescriptions are almost always impractical. The technology, as well as industry and regulatory structures, are adapting rapidly, and it would be utterly irresponsible to halt the enormous progress that has already been achieved. Fracking is, in fact, quite a remarkable and safe process; and because of this technology, we can, for the first time, utilize the vast natural gas resources sitting under American soil. After decades of searching for a cost-effective and efficient means to meet our power demands, fuel our transportation systems, and be environmentally responsible, we finally have a breakthrough that is realistic, reliable, affordable, sustainable, and near term. Opportunities of this magnitude don't come along every day.

According to data provided by the U.S. Geological Survey and the Energy Information Administration, the United States could have up to 2,600 trillion cubic feet of recoverable natural gas reserves. This could power our economy for more than a hundred years. From both an environmental and economic standpoint, natural gas must play a larger role in America's energy future. Natural gas produced from shale formations is already approaching 20% of our national production, and it is predicted to be 46% of national production in twenty years.

In North Dakota and Pennsylvania natural gas exploration is already providing very substantial incomes for thousands and thousands of American families and creating thousands of new businesses. These states have already experienced remarkable job creation and economic growth; all the while generating much needed revenue for local and state government. Recent discoveries in Colorado and western Idaho provide further evidence of the innumerable opportunities for job seekers, small businesses and cash-strapped state governments.

A report by IHS Global Insight shows that in 2010 alone, natural gas was responsible for $18.6 billion in state and local government revenue collected through royalties and taxes. But most importantly the U.S. natural gas industry supports 2.8 million jobs and infuses the economy with nearly $400 billion each year. Through safe and responsible expansion of natural gas exploration these numbers will continue to grow.

With an upcoming presidential election the volume and frequency of debate over natural gas will certainly continue to increase in Washington and in communities around the country. For the sake of our energy future, this debate must be civil, informed, thoughtful, and in America's best interest. Hopefully, this is more than just wishful thinking.