Fracking: What It Is and Government’s Responsibility

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I noticed that fracking was a trending topic on google searches recently and realized that fracking is on American’s minds more than it is or has been on my mind. So, today I’m going to address a few questions about fracking.

What Is Fracking?

Frankly, I don’t know a lot about fracking so I’m relying on other sources to help me with some of these details.

Fracking is, for all intents and purposes, a “technique designed to recover gas and oil from shale rock“.

From the BBC.com:

“Fracking is the process of drilling down into the earth before a high-pressure water mixture is directed at the rock to release the gas inside. 

Water, sand and chemicals are injected into the rock at high pressure which allows the gas to flow out to the head of the well. 

The process can be carried out vertically or, more commonly, by drilling horizontally to the rock layer, which can create new pathways to release gas or used to extend existing channels.

The term fracking refers to how the rock is fractured apart by the high-pressure mixture.”

If you’re a nerd like me, this video will interest you. Sometimes visuals make things more digestible.

What’s the deal with fracking?

According to the Independent Petroleum Association of America:

In roughly a decade’s time, advances in fracking technology have reversed the United States’ trajectory from that of energy scarcity to being “the undisputed leader of oil and gas production worldwide,” according to International Energy Agency Executive Director Fatih Birol.

From 2007 to 2016, annual U.S. oil production increased 75 percent, while natural gas production increased 39 percent, thanks to the advancements in horizontal drilling and fracking technology.

A 2015 Harvard Business School/Boston Consulting Group analysis estimates that shale development created roughly 2.7 million U.S. jobs in the first decade of the shale revolution. A 2013 study, commissioned by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, projected fracking will create a total of 3.5 million U.S. jobs by 2035. A separate 2017 American Petroleum Institute (API) report found that the oil and natural gas industry supports 10.3 million jobs in the U.S. — a 500,000 increase since 2011 — and projects the industry will support an additional 1.9 million jobs by 2035.

According to Food and Water Watch:

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In the United States, drilling and fracking are exempt from the landmark environmental laws, including the Safe Drinking Water Act, thanks to loopholes Congress and regulators have carved out for oil and gas corporations – and spills and accidents are far too common. Food & Water Watch maintains that the fracking process, from constructing well sites to managing toxic fracking waste, is too risky to be regulated. Regulations can never make fracking safe. Fracking also prolongs our dangerous dependence on fossil fuels, delaying policies that will bring us truly clean, renewable energy. Claims that natural gas is a “bridge fuel” ignore the fact that it is a dangerous fossil fuel with serious climate impacts in its extraction, and relying on it does nothing to move us to renewable energy.

So, basically, there are those that believe fracking is an evil to be eliminated and others who believe fracking is a good to be supported and grown. Fracking creates jobs. There’s no denying that. At what cost seems to be the dispute.

Biden’s executive orders?

Biden has issued three executive orders on the topic of the environment and oil drilling. They are as follows, using Oilprice.com as my source:

Executive Order on Protecting Public Health and the Environment and Restoring Science to Tackle the Climate Crisis: cancelation of the Keystone XL pipeline permit.

Executive Order on Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad: indefinite “pause on new oil and natural gas leases on public lands” until a comprehensive review on the climate change impacts can be completed.

Secretarial Order 3395: 60 day suspension of new oil and gas leasing and drilling permits for federal land and water.

There is no mention of “fracking” in these executive orders even though they are likely to affect fracking. However, apparently, many of the companies who would be affected have a back log of permits, meaning that they won’t be affected by these executive orders.

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Stacey Morris, who is Director of Research for midstream index and data provider Alerian, says: “Companies have been stockpiling permits in anticipation of a move like this. Right now there are 7,700 unused permits. Devon Energy, for example, has over four years of permit backlog and drilling inventory. They expect to be able to execute on their federal lands program based on comments made in November.”

So, while these executive orders do pause permits for future fracking on public lands, many companies are not affected by this because of this stockpile of permits.

Further, President Biden has no constitutional right to ban fracking or anything else on private lands, which is where most of the fracking is done. This means that most companies will suffer little to no negative impact from these executive orders. Congress could attempt to pass a bill banning fracking on private land (although the constitutionality of this is certainly questionable) but that has not happened and may never happen.

There is a substantial amount of public land. One way the federal government controls industry is by preventing industry from using public land. But, there is even more private land and fortunately, Biden has not tried to dictate how private land is being used.

Are these Constitutional?

Are these orders constitutional? This question should be on every American’s mind.

In a way, yes. Biden has not and is not preventing private land from being used. I’m not sure about how certain lands became “public” or “federal”, so I can’t speak to the constitutionality of that, but for the most part, the Constitution is doing its job and confining the power of the president as well as the power of government. Whether Biden, rather than Congress, has the constitutional ability to stop future permits on public land is something I’ll have delve into a bit more.

Conclusion

We should be amazed and thankful, that even in this day and age when the Constitution is a mere husk of its former glory, it still does act as a standard. It still does prevent all out arbitrary power.

That, my friends, is a miracle.

Some people have said that the Constitution is the only thing standing in the way of total and complete government control both in the U.S. and the world, and they may just be right.

As James Madison said: “True liberty…the Constitution…is its palladium.”

The Liberty Belle

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