Environmentalists have long sounded an alarm about hydraulic fracturing of shale rock, better known as "fracking." But now that the horizontal drilling technique used in North America has extended this continent's fracking frenzy to Europe, China, and other parts of the world, the International Energy Agency -- one of the largest promoters of energy production -- has issued sound advice for all: Do it right or suffer major economic consequences on a global scale.
A new IEA new report entitled "Golden Rules for a Golden Age of Gas" implores the oil-and-gas industry to be transparent about how it intends to expand fracking, to fully disclose what chemicals it plans to use, and to provide information about the known hazards of each chemical.
The report urges industry to be open about how sites will be selected, how wells will be sealed and isolated to prevent leaks, and how groundwater of private wells will be protected. It encourages industry to flare emissions, not vent them directly into the atmosphere, and to be candid about how much water it will use and how wastewater will be treated and disposed.
The IEA's bottom line is that the fracking technology is feasible, but it will not achieve its potential if industry and government do not win over public confidence. Their ability to do that will determine whether North America becomes a net exporter or importer of the most prevalent energy source trapped in shale rock: natural gas.
Natural gas is so abundant globally that it could supply more energy than coal, nuclear power, and oil combined by 2020, thereby reducing greenhouse gases and stabilizing energy markets worldwide, the group said.
"It's up to industry to win public confidence with exemplary performance," Maria van der Hoeven, the IEA's executive director, said.
The take-home from this is obvious for Ohio and Michigan as the two states write and modify rules in anticipation of a regional fracking bonanza. If they succumb to lobbyist pressure and write industry-friendly rules under the guise of economic development, short-term gains could be snuffed out. Jobs, public health, the environment, and the economic potential of this rare opportunity all are tied to industry transparency and performance, as well as a robust regulatory atmosphere.
It's a matter of credibility.
If lawmakers and regulators in Columbus, Lansing, and Washington don't want to listen to environmental activists, they should at least listen to the IEA, an autonomous organization created in response to the OPEC oil crisis of the 1970s that helps 28 developed countries avoid major disruptions to oil and gas markets.
Global demand for natural gas is expected to rise more than 50 percent by 2035, with China and other emerging countries accounting for 80 percent of the increase. There is enough natural gas to export, lower domestic prices, and strengthen the American dollar.
The onus to do it right starts here in Ohio and Michigan.
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