It's Time for a National Debate on Fracking

Posted on May 26, 2015
Posted By: Stephen Heins

On April 8th, 2015, the Wall Street Journal headline read "Bloomberg Criticizes New
York Fracking Ban.” During his interview, former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that he was donating an additional $30 million to the Sierra's "anti-coal" campaign, but that he also made special provision that none of his donated money would go to the Sierra Club's parallel anti-natural gas campaign. It seems that New York State has become a battleground for fossil fuels. In fact, given the blizzard of fracking stories, both pro and con, in the last few years, this seems like a perfect time to have a robust national debate on fracking.

Later on April 8th, Bloomberg joined environmental groups at the Sierra Club national news conference to announce his efforts to strengthen the Club's "Beyond Coal" campaign. The business magnate, politician turned philanthropist also said that a dozen other environmental backers have committed to another $30 million to match his funding. The goal is to have "fewer coal plants" in the US in fewer years.

On the one hand, Mayor Bloomberg has been advocating fracking and natural gas since 2012, when he co-authored a Washington Post Op-Ed piece with George P. Mitchell, entitled “Fracking is too important to foul up*;” on the other hand, the Sierra Club’s Executive Director Michael Brune was quoted as saying at the April 8th press conference, "Our goal overall is to move beyond coal and gas and get to 100 percent clean energy. We think it's possible to have zero carbon in the energy sector by 2030, which means NO COAL AND NO GAS." (Caps mine)

No wonder the American people are confused. The fossil fuels debate just sounds like another partisan political campaign, but the stakes are huge, where the US’s economic and environmental future may be hanging on this issue.

Certainly, there was much anti-coal rhetoric in the media on April 9th:

  • - "Michael Bloomberg Throws Another $30 Million at Sierra Clubs Anti-Coal Campaign," National Journal;
  • - "Michael Bloomberg's War on Coal," Politico;
  • - "Bloomberg Adds $30 Million to Anti-Coal Campaign," New York Times and Washington Post,
  • - With several even juicier headlines from CNN, Rolling Stone,
    Climate Progress, Huffington Post, Time Magazine, Washington Examiner,
    The Hill, Real Clean Energy, Associated Press, Sun Times et al


But only the Wall Street Journal, the New York Daily News and the New York Post reported on the Mayor’s ongoing support of fracking and natural gas.

Clearly, the Sierra Club, the NRDC, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, and many other national, regional and local environmental groups believe that the US can be free of fossil fuels for electricity by 2030. However, Michael Bloomberg, the Wall Street Journal, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners, the Environmental Protection Agency to name a few have concluded that natural gas and fracking are integral to maintaining reliable electricity in the US and most state utility commissions have used the increase in cheap natural gas to reduce emissions by replacing outdated coal plants with high efficiency natural gas plants.

According to Mr. Bloomberg, he favors natural gas "because there is no viable alternative to coal-fired electricity without gas." In another equally important story line, Mr. Bloomberg criticized the New York state's ban on hydraulic fracturing, saying that the move was
"misguided" and instead New York should be touting the benefits of natural gas, especially up-state.

"To keep coal-fired power plants in upstate New York and not frack doesn't make any sense at all." Bloomberg points out that the economic and health benefits of natural gas, especially when compared with other fossil fuels like coal, outweigh the potential health impact he says can be prevented with tough regulation.

Without any government funding, indeed, in the face of government obstructions, fracking has changed the economic dynamic of the world in a very positive way, helping to take much of the new energy production out of the hands of our enemies and marginal friends. Thanks to responsible hydraulic fracturing, the US has been able to access natural gas and tight oil previously unavailable, with few or no examples of groundwater or drinking water contamination, according to the EPA's own testing. Sorry, Josh Fox! Lighting water on fire is dramatic, but certainly not proof of groundwater contamination.

Given the fact that new efficient natural gas power plants have allowed the US to close
down over a 100 older coal-fired power plants and reduce greenhouse gases significantly in the last decade, maybe it is time that US should have a national debate, perhaps in a Senate Hearing with the klieg lights and cameras on, so that America can hear the best arguments from all parties, including the state and federal governments, the state and federal environmental and energy agencies, environmental groups and the private sector of the US economy. This debate over fracking and natural gas is “too important to foul up.”

* Bloomberg and Mitchell encourage better state regulation of fracking around five key principles:

  • 1. Disclosing all chemicals used in the hydraulic fracturing process;
  • 2. Optimizing rules for well construction and operation;
  • 3. Minimizing water consumption, protecting groundwater and ensuring proper disposal of wastewater;
  • 4. Improving air pollution controls, including capturing leaking methane, a potent greenhouse gas; and
  • 5. Reducing the impact on roads, ecosystems and communities.
Authored By:
Stephen Heins, aka “The Blizzard of One,” is an energy consultant and nationally-published writer who has gained some attention for his expertise in energy, federal regulations, environmental and broadband policy issues.Heins promotes economic development, energy efficiency and emission reductions at the local, state and national levels. He has published more than 70 articles and op-ed pieces on energy, energy policy, utility industry and environmental issues for newspapers, energy and trade

Other Posts by: Stephen Heins

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May, 26 2015

Ferdinand E. Banks says

Try Reading my new book ENERGY AND ECONOMIC THEORY. What I say is that fracking is a valuable activity, though not so valuable as many people Believe. As things stand today, it will not give the U.S. Energy Independence, and the arguments for the increased export of oil and natural gas (as a result of now having access to large amounts of fracked Resources) are completely ignorant.

I'm not sufficiently interested in this issue to do the mathematics that I am capable of doing, although I suspect that our friends in OPEC have done it. I won't repeat the arguments that are valid here, but if the natural depreciation of fracked oil and natural gas is what I keep hearing, then it is time for the U.S. Department of Energy/Energy Information Administration to tell us in one publicaion Everything that we need and deserve to know about fracking.

May, 26 2015

Stephen Heins says

The most recent discoveries in NW Canada and China suggest that you are wrong about fracking's importance to NG and tight oil, but I agree with you about a complete study and debate about it.

May, 26 2015

Areg Bagdasarian says

Well written - I do support fracking because of all the benefits you mentioned but namely, the way it gives the US more energy independence. Although fracking remains more expensive than some of the low cost extraction methods that OPEC members enjoy where oil isn't very deep below the ground, fracking is also becoming more efficient and the break even point continues to drop, where oil prices don't necessarily need to be extremely high for frackers to make a profit, as their drilling costs drop. But I would be interested Stephen in hearing your views on fracking and earthquakes - the state of Oklahoma has had more earthquakes in the decade than all previous years where records were kept. This may be be because of fracking or it may not be - it doesn't mean we should complete stop fracking but need to investigate more and avoid the practice closer to some of the more volatile fault lines.

May, 26 2015

Stephen Heins says


Thanks! Frankly, I think that the fracking community needs to pay attention to the research and the geology. Also, the bad PR attached to any of negative events surrounding the fracking issues need to be addressed in a nonpartisan way.


May, 26 2015

Ferdinand E. Banks says

We can have our debate on fracking here, because I am not in the habit of losing debates. The CEO of Exxon Mobil made it quite clear that the clays in most part of the World are NOT going to yield the results that have been obtained in the U.S., and the talk that has started about fracking in Germany and the U.K. is mostly wish thinking, at least so far. As for the drilling cost of fracking falling, given the (natural) depreciation of fracked deposits and the talk about limited 'sweet spots' of those deposits, I really don't see how that can happen.

The fantasies about Clean energy can mostly be ignored. Jeffrey Sachs at Columbia University has made it clear that Clean energy means nuclear, or as I like to put it nuclear combined with something else, where the something else might be a bundle of renewables and alternatives, but I can't imagine Greenpeace having anything to do with nuclear.

May, 27 2015

Stephen Heins says

"I welcome disagreement and dialogue, for that is how scholarship and understanding advance."

James Mcpherson

May, 27 2015

Ferdinand E. Banks says

The issue here is neither scholarship nor understanding, but millionaires who want to be multimillionaires, and multimillionaires who want to be billionaires, and that is the reason for the deluge of lies and misunderstandings that we have to put up with where energy topics are concerned.

As I pointed out, I was skeptical of shale Resources and fracking when they appeared (this time), but I admit that shale Resources are valuable and should be exploited, prefrerably in an intelligent manner that serves the National Interest. But on the other hand, more than anything, I dont buy this talk by ignoramuses that there is so much of these resources available that the US should remove all restrictions on the export of oil and gas.

May, 27 2015

Stephen Heins says


I can't noticing a certain vituperative tone to your comments. I am member of a member of the loyal opposition to you on several of these issues.

Also, I am bother by your comments about "millionaires," multi-millionaires" and "billionaires." It leads me to think that you don't know all that much about capital formation or have forgotten. Maybe, it's just the academician in you.

Finally, I am trouble about your comment about ignoramuses:" It seems so harsh.There are a choir of voices on issues surrounding exporting oil and gas in the U.S. Frankly, Your tone might be because your ensconced in Europe. In terms of international affairs,I think Europe could use another supplier of oil and gas, other than Russia and the Middle East.

Best, Steve

May, 28 2015

Ferdinand E. Banks says

Russia and the United States won WW2. The Peace treaty was hardly signed Before a Collection of ignoramuses in the US started talking about using nuclear bombs on Russia. Twenty years later a colonel or general came into the operations center of the 35th Field Artillery Group somewhere in Germany, and told me to plot a simulated fire mission that involved nuclear ammunition. Knowing what I knew that the time, that request struck me as madness or stupidity or both, because it was almost certain that the Soviets also had nuclear weapons. Fortunately, our German friends found out about this sort of stupidity (BUT NOT FROM ME), and backed off that kind of thinking, but that incident taught me a few things about the kind of World we live in.

What has happened now is that the oil and gas that Lord Howell and my good self Think that Russia should supply to his country (the UK) and the country in which I happen to be living (Sweden) will go to China and Japan. Yes, if the US had as much natural gas as the moronic president of that country thinks that they have (100 years), then I suppose a case could be constructed for the export of a few cubic feet of that resource ...maybe, but not under the present circumstances. In addition, and this may seem perverted, I don't see why the U.S. should supply an exhaustible resource to countries that we happen to be competing with.

Where the talk about millionaires and billionaires is concerned, that is the kind of thing that we hear from the anti-nuclear and anti-Wall Street fools, and I am definitely not one of them. But if the decision makers in the Middle East have become smart enought to know that their oil and gas should go into refining and petrochemicals, what we - you and me - should expect is that the same thing applies to the U.S.

Best, Fred

May, 28 2015

Stephen Heins says


If these are your last thoughts on my article, I will let you have the last word.

Hello from Lake Michigan in Wisconsin!

Best, Steve

May, 28 2015

Ferdinand E. Banks says

One more comment please. If all my expenses were covered, and I was asked to take part in a discussion on fracking in a mid-Town New York Hotel, I would have to say NO. The people who should take part in that discussion - or debate if you choose - are people from the United States Department of Energy. I happen to Believe that they are in possession of the economics and mathematics and backgrounds necessary to set all of us straight straight on this business of fracking, as well as a few other things.

I would gladly assume the responsibility of setting everybody straight on this topic ( having published books on the economics of oil and natural gas) if the USDOE did not exist, but there is a USDOE and so I decline to assume this task because - unlike the Commander in Chief - who is allowed to make the ignorant statement that the US has 100 years of natural gas - I would be cut off at the knees by certain people who find my use of the English language disgusting.

And finally, this was a useful contribution. The more we hear about this topic the better, and I was especially pleased because it gave me a chance to mention my new book. But the topic that I am waiting for has to do with the export of US energy Resources.

May, 31 2015

Ferdinand E. Banks says

Anybody want to tell us about the Beauty of exporting oil and natural gas. What about Larry Summers or Congresswoman...ugh...ugh...I don't have her name right now.

But anyway, the theory advanced by Professor Summers is that the Big PX will gain if the economies of the rest of the World are boosted by the availability of American oil and natural gas. No wonder that they did not pronounce that dude a genius when he concluded that the Brains of women are inferior to those of men when it comes to math and science. Anyway, I hope that he knew what he was talking about, because when I failed math and physics TWICE during my first year at Illinois Institute of technology, there were no women in my classes, and so...and so....

June, 02 2015

Richard Goodwin, Ph. D., P.E. says

Please see links to some of my publications on Horizontal Drilling and Hydraculic Fracturing - Of especial note is my recent paper on Exporting Shale Oil Richard W. Goodwin West Palm Beach FL 6/2/15

Shale Gas – Friend or Foe [Energy Pulse Weekly Feb 1, 2012} Article Highlights: Stable electricity costs within next few years e.g. South FL

Coal fired plants conversion to Natural Gas vs. Compliance Retrofit

Energy Economics/Investments

Engineering Approach to Hydraulic Fracturing]

Goodwin, R.W.; “Environmental Perspective Update: Hydraulic Fracturing”; Pollution Engineering; Oct.2014, pgs. 34-38 The private sector is beginning to implement recycling of flow-back water to (1) save time [fast-track state regulatory permits] and (2) reduce operating costs [avoid deep well disposal] Avoiding deep well disposal of flow-back waters reduces potential for localized earthquakes Control of Methane Emissions does not pose a significant cost to future wells and/or piping systems Recycling of flow-back waters minimizes potential for litigation from local residents and environmental groups

Goodwin, R.W.; “Hydraulic Fracturing Improvements Show Bans Aren’t Needed”; Posted on November 1, 2014 by Natural Gas Now Guest Blogger

Goodwin, R.W.; “Contributions of Horizontal Drilling and Hydraulic Fracturing to the USA Economy”;OilPro, January 29, 2015 This article discusses how horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing are directly related to Previous Economic Benefits , Falling Gasoline prices – helping consumers while inducing an industry-wide temporary slow-down with a moderate rebound and hurting those Oil Dependent Countries that support terrorists. This article also predicts that Crude Oil Prices could return to $60-80/bbl within 2016

Goodwin, R.W.; “Doing More with Less - Resiliency of Shale Oil produced from Horizontal Drilling and Hydraulic Fracturing”; Oil Pro March 31, 2015 This article discusses • USA technology improvements to horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing that enable producing more shale oil and liquid hydrocarbons while reducing number of operating wells • Re-fracturing and micro-seismic technology are discussed to show their application reduces operating costs while increasing performance • Break Even and Cash Negative operational drill costs for both WTI and Brent for USA E&P firms and OPEC • Estimates of resurgence of Crude Oil Prices for 2016

Goodwin, R.W. “USA Excess Shale Oil – Refine More or Export” Oilpro May 12, 2015 This article discusses the record level of US Shale Oil Production and Storage while US refineries are operating at almost full capacity. The bottleneck is the limited capability to refine more US light tight Shale Oil and the ban on exporting crude – leading to price reductions of WTI with reduction of rigs and workforce. Given the current prices for WTI and Brent, refineries appear reluctant to construct additional refinery capacity to accommodate LTO. At present, refineries have exercised their retrofitting for US Crude Oil to limited- to no-cost options. The price of WTI must rise to justify spending tens of millions to retrofit and/or build new facilities to process Shale Oil. US Shale Oil production is expected to be 1 MM boe/day by 2020 and refinery industry intends to construct additional 500 Mbpd refinery capacity to accommodate LTO in USA by 2020. Allowing free market forces to prevail should see WTI at $60+/bbl and Brent at $70+/bbl justifying retrofit capital investments. The US economy would benefit: (1) reduction of crude oil import (2) creation of more oil exploration, production and refinery job and (3) ensure USA energy independence..

June, 05 2015

Ferdinand E. Banks says

Richard, as usual I agree with a lot of what you say, and I certainly respect your knowledge of this complicated subject. It is nothing short of wonderful that the fracking business turned out so well in the U.S. But as for ensuring USA energy independence - if there is such a thing - and keeping the price of oil in the $60-70 dollar range, well...

June, 05 2015

Richard Goodwin, Ph. D., P.E. says

Prof Banks thank you - You and your students may be interested in the following

EPA Releases Draft Assessment on the Potential Impacts to Drinking Water Resources from Hydraulic Fracturing Activities June 4 2015

The EPA’s draft assessment confirms what many investigators have already published (1). The scientific and technical consensus agree that Horizontal Drilling and Hydraulic Fracturing can be accomplished in an environmentally compatible manner – provided Good Engineering Practice is applied. The following lists examples of a Proper Engineered Project: • Achieving Adequate Well Integrity by Monitoring Cementing Application • Recycling and Reuse of Flow-Back and Production wastewater – reducing disposal costs and localized earthquake effects by elimination waste injection wells I have been working with USEPA’s Scientific Advisory Board [SAB] on Hydraulic Fracturing since April 2014 (2). Richard W. Goodwin 6/5/15 REFERENCES: (1) Goodwin, R.W.; “Environmental Perspective Update: Hydraulic Fracturing”; Pollution Engineering; Oct.2014, pgs. 34-38 (2) Goodwin, R.W. “ENVIRONMENTAL PERSPECTIVE HYDRAULIC FRACTURING” Published by USEPA on 4/4/14;$File/Public+comments+submitted+by+Goodwin,+Richard-4-4-14.pdf

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