The Boston Globe: Fact-free fracking
Like many environmentalists, I was dismayed when the Senate failed to pass a cap-and-trade bill two years ago. It looked like we would never get our act together to reduce greenhouse gases. Get ready to have beachfront property in Vermont, I thought.
But it turns out our greenhouse emissions dropped anyway, from 6 million metric tons to 5.2 million — the lowest level since 1992. We even beat the European Union, where the Green Party actually has members. So how did we do it? One big reason, ironically, is a Texas oil man named T . Boone Pickens, who perfected the art of squeezing natural gas out of shale rock by blasting huge quantities of water at it.
People already knew that America sits on huge reservoirs of natural gas embedded in shale. But nobody had a cost-effective way to get it out. As Pickens mastered his technique — known as “fracking” — natural gas became unbelievably cheap. Everyone started switching away from sulfur-burping coal plants to gas.
People started swooning about gas: It comes from economically depressed areas of Ohio and Pennsylvania, not the deserts of Iraq. And it releases about half the greenhouse gases that coal does. Finding that out was like discovering that ice cream cures cancer. Gas was going to save America, economically and environmentally. It was going to be “one of the five great story lines of the 21st century,” Representative Edward Markey said.
It seemed too good to be true — until people started insisting that it was, and blamed fracking for everything from bad water to sick cows.