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A chemical engineer who held one of the top U.S. Environmental Protection Agency jobs during former President Ronald Reagan’s second term urged people to keep an open mind about fracking and said he believes regulators should move cautiously with climate-change regulations.
“The U.S. is now the world’s largest producer of natural gas,” J. Winston Porter said during a luncheon speech Monday to the Rotary Club of Toledo, which met at the Park Inn downtown. “The rest of the world wants our cheap, natural gas. We’re several years ahead of everybody else because of the technology.”
That technology, he said, is the marriage of two older ones: hydraulic fracturing of shale bedrock, commonly known as “fracking,” and a horizontal drilling technique that has an almost spider-web design.
That latter is the biggest reason why trapped oil and natural gas once thought to be inaccessible can be recovered.
Mr. Porter is president of Energy & Environmental Strategies, a self-run consulting firm he launched in Savannah, Ga., shortly after leaving the U.S. EPA, where he had been an assistant administrator under Mr. Reagan from 1985 to 1989.
He said Ohio is in a position to conduct fracking right because it can draw on the experiences of Pennsylvania, North Dakota, and other states. Ohio has vast reserves, especially in the southern part of the state. The Irish Hills area of southern Michigan also is believed to be a potential hot spot for fracking.
Fracking can be performed successfully if oil and gas companies take enough precautions to protect each region’s aquifers and other water resources. That should include optimum wastewater disposal or recycling techniques, Mr. Porter said.
He agreed companies should disclose all chemicals used in the fracking process.
U.S. Department of Energy statistics show renewable forms of energy, such as biomass, solar, and wind, continue to grow but still account for only a combined 9 percent of the country’s power needs. Americans should view natural gas as a cleaner, less-expensive trade-off during a transition period as it moves away from coal. He also said he sees less enthusiasm for nuclear power worldwide after the March, 2011, accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear complex in Japan.
Fracking has been a “game-changing experience” for energy markets, resulting in an unusual drop in natural gas prices. Seven years ago, America was running short on natural gas. Now it is getting access to so much it is contemplating whether to export some of it. Major corporations such as Dow Chemical have voiced objections because they want assurances that domestic natural gas prices will stay low, Mr. Porter said.
He didn’t deny climate change was occurring, but said he believes regulators need to move cautiously even as the science behind it becomes stronger.
“I’m kind of an agnostic on global warming,” Mr. Porter said. “I think it’s a very complicated problem. I’m a little concerned we’re doing all kinds of regulations with the assumption that global warming is inevitable.”
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