Ever since the early 1970’s the public has assumed the U.S. is running out of domestic sources of energy. The OPEC oil crisis of 1973 reinforced this idea as people waited in long lines to buy gasoline at skyrocketing prices. Much of the current opposition to natural gas development stems from the persistent narrative that energy is scarce and all fossil fuels are bad for the environment.
These ideas have been repeated so many times they have become unquestioned articles of faith in many segments of our society. Reports fitting this old familiar story line often seem more credible than those that don’t. But, the energy facts have changed and the all-too-familiar 1970’s energy narrative is now as badly out of date as those flared white trousers John Travolta wore in Saturday Night Fever.
A New Energy Narrative
Until recently we did expect oil and gas to be increasingly scarce and expensive. A few extremists actually welcomed it. But, because of horizontal well boring technology, the U.S. now has access to vast new energy supplies and is on track to become a net energy exporter by 2020. Many experts believe we could be completely independent of imported oil by 2035!
Natural gas from shale is also fueling a manufacturing renaissance in the US as cheaper energy makes domestic industry globally competitive. In 2010 shale gas supported one million new US jobs and will likely support 1.5 million by 2015.
Now, everyone agrees it is smart to conserve energy and become less dependent on foreign oil. But it is important to also recognize the burning of natural gas much reduces carbon dioxide output, along with harmful emissions, compared to the consumption of other traditional energy sources. Contrary to some discredited reports, increased use of gas has already improved public health through better air quality, and played a major role in significantly reducing U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.
Despite this good news, we continue to be susceptible to that old 1970’s narrative. As public understanding of science decreases, politically driven advocacy is often mistaken for scientific fact and sound risk/benefit analysis. Confusing claims and counter claims often lead us to fall back on feelings formed in decades past, especially when new energy developments come closer to home. Reflexive suspicion of energy companies threatens more than natural gas development.
Technology Is Our Friend, Not the Enemy
Ironically, resistance to wireless “smart” electric meters now jeopardizes the growth of wind and solar contributions to the electric grid. Incredibly, this opposition is based on many of the same specious health claims as opposition to hydraulic fracturing.
New energy technologies and improved development techniques have, nonetheless, substantially changed our future energy picture. Reliable science and actual experience have proven the safety and enormous economic benefits of shale gas development. Continued conversion to inexpensive natural gas along with development of affordable renewable energy is the most effective way to fight global warming right now.
It’s time to tell a new energy story that truthfully reflects the critical role that clean, abundant natural gas will play in both sound environmental policy and sustained economic growth for decades to come.