This is not a posting about the possible dangers and potential negative consequences of fracking. That story has been in the news a lot, and I’ve posted the major concerns several times.
I’m writing today about an aspect of fracking that is reported much less frequently. The support of the U.S. Department of Energy that helped make fracking possible.
As T. Boone Pickens has pointed out, people have been using pressurized fluid to split open rocks underground since the 1940s. But it wasn’t until very recently that the U.S. natural gas industry, with support from the Energy Department, managed to refine their “fracking” techniques to drill into shale rock and extract natural gas and oil. Lots and lots of natural gas and oil.
In the past few years, the shale gas boom has upended the U.S. energy landscape. With large and small companies drilling wells around the country, cheap natural gas is now displacing coal as the nation’s top source of electricity. That, in turn, has helped contribute to a drop in U.S. carbon-dioxide output: According to the International Energy Agency, the United States has cut its emissions 7.7 percent since 2006, more than any other country or region in the world. WaPo
My concern with this under reporting is that often government assistance like this is largely unseen and unnoticed by most Americans. Here is an important example of government support of a technology that has actually resulted in lower carbon emissions, less reliance on foreign oil as well as a significant drop in the price of natural gas.
Often credit for these benefits is given solely to private industry, while government is demonized for getting in the way of progress. In fact, it’s often government subsidizes that enable such private investment, especially when the risks are too great for private enterprise to bear.
For me, most of the current debate over private versus public investment misses the point. It’s often a partnership not just a battle. Let’s debate about the proper role of government investment, not try to eliminate it entirely.