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Op-Ed: Natural Gas and Oil from Shale Better for Environment, Economy

Environmentalists’ dirty little secret: A clean, inexpensive energy source like natural gas or oil will slow investment in renewable technologies

scott rudder
Scott Rudder

If you want to see steam come out of the heads of some self-proclaimed environmentalists, tell them that fracking is good for the environment.

Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, has been in use for more than 60 years. The process is used by many oil and natural-gas companies to harvest fuel from shale (fine-grained sedimentary rocks). Oil and gas have seen a boom in recent years as the technology to harvest these fuels through fracking has advanced and resulted in a more affordable process to explore areas previously deemed too expensive.

One of the positive outcomes of the oil and gas boom has been a dramatic shift in how we power and heat our homes and businesses. We have seen an increase in cleaner power plants and clean-burning energy-efficient appliances such as heaters, air conditioners, and refrigeration systems that run off these fuels, resulting in lower energy costs and a healthier environment.

So why are some environmental groups opposed to this cleaner U.S.-based fuel source? I believe there are two main reasons: The first and most openly discussed is the “impact on the environment.” Specifically, these groups insist the process of fracking damages our water system, depletes our water supply, and continues our dependence on fossil fuels. The second and less-discussed reason, but the one I believe to be the strongest driver for their cause, is that a clean, domestically harvested and inexpensive form of energy such as natural gas and oil will slow interest and investment in renewable technologies such as solar and wind -- something many of these environmental groups have staked their entire careers on.

In addressing the first reason, one need only look at the Obama administration’s Environmental Protection Agency report on fracking. In its report issued earlier this year, it states that hydraulic fracturing, if done correctly and with the proper precautions and safeguards, will have minimal impact on the environment.

Reason No. 2 seems to be the dirty little secret of these conservation groups. After decades of pushing solar and wind technologies and making significant inroads over the past 10 to 15 years, the environmental lobby is in panic mode trying to discredit the success of natural gas and oil. In fact, just the other day when President Barack Obama officially rejected the Keystone Pipeline, “environmental” groups applauded the move as a step toward stomping out fossil fuels. This leads to the question: What can provide an immediate one-for-one replacement of these fossil fuels? As of now, there isn’t one in the renewable market.

Despite the investment of billions and billions of dollars through federal and state tax credits and subsidies, the solar and wind industry has not taken off the way these groups had hoped. There is no question there have been significant strides in renewable technologies, but as for the envisioned complete replacement of our energy infrastructure, we just aren’t there yet.

Regardless of the environmental and economic facts, these same groups continue to battle on all fronts through fearmongering and half-truths to stop the safe distribution of gas and oil in New Jersey and around the country. Over the past few years, controversy has erupted in different parts of our state as utilities have applied for and received approval for pipelines to safely transport these fuel sources to depots and power stations. Knowing full well that it’s safer, cheaper and better for the environment to transport natural gas and oil through pipelines as opposed to utilizing large fleets of tanker trucks, these groups continue to fight by arguing and using the same tired lingo and disproven stories.

The fact of the matter is, New Jersey residents use and depend on clean-burning natural gas and oil to power our way of life at home, school, and work more than any other energy source. Through the increased use and safe distribution of oil and gas in New Jersey, two indisputable facts have occurred: We have dropped from the second highest to tenth highest in the nation on energy costs and our environment has improved in the process. As we sustain this trend, we will continue to see our energy costs drop and our environment and economy get healthier.

In the meantime, let’s allow the facts to speak for themselves. We need to retain solar and wind as part of our Energy Master Plan, and we should continue to invest in the technology. However, we should not do so at the expense of our economy when a safe and clean energy solution is currently available.

The real “inconvenient truth” for some environmental groups is simply, despite their desires, people want a clean, affordable, and reliable source of energy and natural gas and oil is the only large scale solution to achieve these goals.

Scott Rudder is a former New Jersey state legislator and mayor who has worked on energy and environmental issues during his time in office. In addition, Scott spent 13 years working on defense and energy issues with Lockheed Martin, the nation’s largest defense contractor. Now, as the executive director for the Energy Council of New Jersey, Scott devotes his time advocating for safe, secure, and affordable energy solutions.

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