Some would say there is only one choice between energy or the environment. But energy and environmental interests are often not the archenemies people make them out to be. This has been the case with hydraulic fracturing (fracking), where state and local governments have effectively regulated the process and have so far avoided the one-size-fits-all regulation and micromanagement from Washington.
Despite the glamour celebrities have brought to the opposition of hydraulic fracturing, health and environmental impact studies continue to show that the process can be done safely. The latest reaffirmation of this comes from New York itself, where fracking has been banned since 2008.
The New York Times found a study completed in early 2012 by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation that summarized previous research on the effects of fracking on water, soil, and air quality as well as quality of living. The report, which remains closed to the public, concluded that “by implementing the proposed mitigation measures the Department expects that human chemical exposures during normal [hydraulic fracturing] operations will be prevented or reduced below significant health concern.”
The New York study joins a host of others concluding the same and debunking the hyperbole of fracking opponents. Nevertheless, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Interior are considering one-size-fits-all regulation of fracking. And after four years of study and deliberation, Governor Andrew Cuomo (D–NY) again delayed a decision to conditionally lift or keep the moratorium on fracking in New York in order to conduct yet another public health study.
Despite New York’s ban on fracking, the state has benefited greatly from the oil and gas boom sparked by the process. A recent study completed by one Texas consulting firm found that the ripple effect of the oil and natural gas boom there has reached other states, including New York, which has seen 44,000 jobs created as a result according to the study. Fracking is not only creating jobs directly related to the industry—such as construction workers and drilling operators—but also indirect jobs needed to support the industry. The positive ripple effect travels even further as cheap, abundant natural gas made available by fracking is supplying people with inexpensive electricity.
Anti-fracking activists continue to protest the use of fracking with hyperbole and misinformation and would pessimistically address environmental challenges by banning the use of fracking to tap into previously uneconomic plays of oil and gas. But in practice, as in the host of studies done on fracking, environmental concerns and economic interests are not mutually exclusive goals.
As just one example, acquiring the water needed for drilling can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Add to that the costs of transporting and disposing of wastewater, and there is plenty of incentive for companies to find more efficient ways to use or dispose of wastewater. Freedom to safely pursue drilling has left room for entrepreneurs and technology to meet both economic and environmental concerns.
Oil and gas drilling companies are increasingly finding it more economical to recycle drilling water for future jobs rather than disposing of it in the injection wells, which has enraged environmentalists. More than 16 percent of water used in Marcellus Shale fracking operations is being recycled, up from more than 12 percent last year. And the market for recycling services is growing; in the past year, one such company has started three new recycling operations to meet demand, up from one last year.
Efficiency, getting more for less, is in the interest of both energy and environmental goals. And it is the free market that best incentivizes and rewards efficiency, as seen with the uptick in recycled fracking water. Americans can—and do—successfully pursue both energy needs and environmental stewardship through the power of free markets and free individuals.
New York has a lot to gain by lifting its fracking moratorium. Although activists will argue that the Empire State has a lot to lose environmentally, history has shown that’s not the case.