POTSDAM To frack or not to frack: That was the question at a public symposium Tuesday night hosted by the St. Lawrence County League of Women Voters and Clarkson University.
Fracking, short for hydraulic fracturing, involves shooting pressurized fluids into the ground to crack the shale layer and release petroleum, natural gas or coal seam gas. The practice has often been called into question owing to environmental, health and safety concerns, but issues of a different sort were brought to light during Tuesdays symposium in Clarksons Cheel Campus Center.
Ive never seen anything hyped more than shale gas, said Deborah Rogers, guest speaker and an economic natural gas expert. Wall Street loves a sexy story, and shale gas provided just that. It has incredible horizontal drilling techniques and Hollywood pyrotechnics, which are the fracture stimulation. It was an easy sell to Wall Street.
Ms. Rogers discussion was titled Shale Gas: Panacea or Shell Game? and focused on exposing the financial anomalies involved with producing natural gas from shale. According to Ms. Rogers, shale gas production often does not lead to the long-lived economic benefits and substantial new jobs projected by the industry, especially because shale gas wells frequently deplete quickly or do not yield enough natural gas to generate revenue.
Ms. Rogerss talk also highlighted the concern that exportation of shale gas to foreign markets will create a scarcity in the domestic market, thereby driving up prices and disproving industry claims that fracking will end the United States reliance on foreign oil. She said an energy policy proposal called the Pickens Plan, which would convert many power plants and truck fleets to natural gas, could result in an especially high cost to American consumers.
It is inevitable that prices will go through the roof once exportation is a big factor in this game, said Ms. Rogers, who was appointed recently to a Texas Commission on Environmental Quality task force. Youre going to have essentially what I call the classic consumer squeeze. We will have much higher prices and we will be dependent upon natural gas in a much greater capacity than we are now, but the operators will have made a very handy profit.
Ms. Rogers also spoke Tuesday afternoon at St. Lawrence University and is scheduled to speak today at SUNY Potsdam. While she did touch briefly on the environmental concerns, her presentation and the audience questions focused primarily on the economic inconsistencies of the industry.
Recently, the state Department of Environmental Conservation recommended a ban on fracking in upstate watersheds as well as tighter regulations elsewhere, and it is seeking comments on the plan until December. However, when asked if an environmental or economic strategy would be best to halt fracking in the country, Ms. Rogers said she thought the latter would be far more effective.
At the end of the day, money talks, she said. People may care about the environment, but when you start bringing up jobs and taxes, its like the environment just disappears.