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David Denslow has written an editorial in the Gainesville Sun on fracking. We strongly disagree with Dr. Denslow. Putting regulations on fracking is putting a license on it. When we regulate fracking, we are making a decision on how many poisons we want to inject into our earth and our aquifer. We will decide that some are OK, but then we will negotiate on the quantity. How many poisons are acceptable? How many are too many? How sick do you want your children to be? How dead do you want to be?
During a debate Hilliary said we cannot ban fracking because there are too many layers of law protecting it. That is totally inaccurate. That means she would allow it. Look at New York. Look around the world and see where intelligent leaders have banned it.
Transition to solar and wind, Dr. Denslow, is the only answer. If you think this through, we believe you will agree. In our own State of Florida, in recent Legislative sessions, the bills attempting to regulate fracking have been written and supported by the fracking industry. What does that tell you? Does that tell you that they want fracking contained because they are worried about the environment? Not likely.
Dave Denslow: Is it better to regulate or ban fracking?
Published: Thursday, April 28, 2016 at 11:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, April 28, 2016 at 11:00 a.m.
Two former students who had married each other and become wealthy invited me to dinner. They recounted how they spent a week at an isolated luxury rustic resort in Jamaica where the meals were communal, letting them get to know other 1 percenters.
Aware that my former students were Republicans, I expressed sympathy when they told me that among the guests were Bill and Hillary Clinton. “No, it was great,” they said. “The Clintons enjoyed nothing more than debating policy with all comers. Much fun.”
Policy wonk that Hillary is, it’s not surprising that at the Michigan debate she responded to a question about fracking with a wonkish answer. She opposes it when any state or locality is against it, when the fracking contaminates water or releases methane, and when the frackers fail to report what chemicals they use. Fracking must be heavily regulated.
Bernie Sanders responded, “My answer is a lot shorter. No, I do not support fracking.”
Who’s right about fracking, Clinton or Sanders? Is it better to allow heavily controlled hydraulic fracturing or none at all? Though gaps in our knowledge prevent our being certain, the edge goes to Hillary, conditional on effective regulation and a carbon tax. That’s a big if.
We’re all aware of the geopolitical and economic gains from fracking. The resulting plunge in the price of oil reduces funding for terrorists. China may have the world’s largest shale reserves and will not hesitate to use them. Our role in the Pacific will erode faster if we fail to keep up.
Catherine Hausman and Ryan Kellogg of the University of Michigan estimate the economic benefit from the expansion of shale gas output alone to be around $500 per household per year, a national welfare gain that is offset only partly by lower profits for oil and gas companies. As a share of income, the benefit is larger for less-affluent families and comes chiefly from lower electric rates.
The effect on local water supplies is hard to know. Over the complete cycle, natural gas from shale takes less water from local aquifers than most other energy sources. Per unit of electricity generated, it draws an order of magnitude less water than biomass, according to a study by the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University.
That, however, may be more than offset by the damage done to water supplies by toxic fluids that leak into drinking water from poorly sealed well bores. Preventing that leakage, difficult to measure and trace to its source, challenges regulators.
Also hard to measure is the methane that escapes from the shale. Though methane eventually dissipates from the atmosphere, while there it causes more global warming, pound for pound, than carbon dioxide.
Even so, the larger question for climate change centers on electric power generation. Per unit of electricity, natural gas releases only half the carbon of coal-fired generation. Will cheaper natural gas replace coal or will it replace renewables, which release virtually no carbon?
Projections for the U.S. imply the replacement will be about 50-50, half coal and half renewables, which would result in no net effect on total carbon. Projections for developing countries imply a larger share for coal, resulting in less carbon. In both the U.S. and developing countries, there’s a wide range of uncertainty.
Of all the issues surrounding fracking, the most important is how it will affect global warming, especially whether it will raise or lower the 2 to 5 percent risk of catastrophic climate change.
In theory, it should reduce that risk. Whenever you release a binding constraint on the path to a goal, you should be able to reach that goal more easily.
As an illustration, consider two people driving to Atlanta. For one driver, the rules put Interstate 75 off limits. For the second, any route is allowed. Though accidents sometimes turn I-75 into a parking lot, the unrestricted driver is likely to arrive first.
The restriction must matter. Putting I-5 off limits for the drive to Atlanta would be irrelevant. Natural gas, however, by emitting only half the carbon of coal per unit of electricity, has the potential to be relevant.
To take advantage of it, the trick is to impose a carbon tax, a charge on each ton of carbon released into the atmosphere. With that, shale gas would substitute for coal, not renewables, and would lower the cost of slowing climate change.
The true constraints are the political obstacles to taxing carbon. Wish Hillary luck on overcoming those.
— Dave Denslow is a retired University of Florida economics professor.