|An oil well undergoes hydraulic fracturing along the Rocky Mountain Front. Sun Times photo by Darryl L. Flowers|
By David Blackmon
FTI Consulting, Inc.
It is true that 65 years ago this week, Halliburton conducted the first commercially successful application of ‘Fracking’, as it has come to be known, in Stephens County, Oklahoma. But the process itself was actually invented and experimented with two years earlier by Stanolind Oil and Gas Company, in the Hugoton gas field in Kansas. While those experiments did not appreciably stimulate the wells to which the technique was applied, this was the real birth of hydraulic fracturing, and since that time, the process has been safely and effectively applied to well more than a million oil and gas wells in the United States alone.
Regardless of which ‘birthday’ one chooses to acknowledge, hydraulic fracturing is now a veritable senior citizen among the vast array of technologies employed by the oil and gas industry. For the first 60 or so years of its life, the process was completely non-controversial. But then along about 2008, it began to dawn on agenda-driven media outlets and radical ‘green’ groups looking for a new controversy to stimulate fundraising that the marriage of hydraulic fracturing with horizontal drilling was beginning to create an oil and gas renaissance in the U.S. Out of that realization, the anti-Fracking movement was born.
The initial environmental motivation behind the movement was the fear that the new massive reserves of inexpensive natural gas would crowd renewables out of the power generation marketplace, which at least had the positive aspect of being a reality-based concern. So these groups and sympathetic media outlets embarked upon a strategy of turning hydraulic fracturing into a national boogeyman (such efforts always need a boogeyman to demonize, after all) complete with a new name – ‘Fracking’ – that they sought to turn into a new cussword. And, to a large extent, they succeeded in that quest.
Knowing that hydraulic fracturing was a well-regulated, very safe process that had been around for many decades, and thus in and of itself would be very hard to demonize effectively, they also sought to confuse the issue by turning this new cussword into media shorthand to describe basically everything that takes place in the oilfield. And again, they have had great success in doing this, as pretty much every media outlet now associates – incorrectly – essentially anything that takes place in the oil industry, from drilling to processing to transportation to refining, with the cussword, ‘Fracking’.
The anti-fracking movement has over the last few years morphed into a fully radicalized protest movement based pretty much entirely on fantasy-and-fear-based talking points that bear only an occasional, passing relationship with the truth. As we’ve pointed out before, this movement is now run and funded by the same activists and organizations who ran and funded the failed Occupy Wall Street movement several years ago. Same Usual Suspects, same dishonest tactics, different boogeyman to protest.
It’s all such a shame and a waste of time and resources, an entire movement based on fear of abundant, plentiful and affordable energy, and on the demonization of an historically safe and effectively regulated industrial process. This movement spends tens of millions of dollars each year demonizing this process, media outlets spend millions reporting on the movement, including ‘fracking’ in every headline in order to generate more Internet hits, and the industry in turn spends tens of millions countering all the resulting propaganda. What a needless drain on the economy and society.
But the hydraulic fracturing process itself continues to produce results in a massive way. U.S. oil production is at a 40 year high, and this country will soon become the world’s biggest oil producing nation. Where natural gas is concerned, Texas alone would rank as the third largest producing country on earth, behind only Russia and the rest of the United States. The displacement of coal by natural gas in the power generation sector has allowed the U.S. to reduce its carbon footprint back to levels not seen since the early 1990s, and the only response from the ‘environmental’ movement has been to complain even louder.
Indeed, the ongoing boom in oil and natural gas production made possible by ‘fracking’ has been the saving grace of the entire U.S. economy since the advent of the Great Recession in 2008. It is one of the great positive quirks of national fate that the drilling by Petrohawk of the first successful well in the enormous Eagle Ford Shale formation of South Texas came in the same month the stock markets collapsed, in October 2008.
Since that time, the oil and gas industry has produced millions of new, high-paying jobs, while the rest of the nation’s economy faltered. The new availability of cheap, plentiful natural gas and refined products has produced similar booms in industries that use these products as feedstocks – chemicals, manufacturing, plastics, fertilizers and on and on it goes. Thanks to ‘fracking’, the United States is once again becoming a global manufacturing powerhouse. Not only are U.S.-based firms bringing back jobs that had moved overseas in the last two decades, but firms based in other nations are developing plans to invest billions in new American plants.
If the anti-’Fracking’ movement had had its way, all of this would have been banned, and the U.S. economy would still be mired in a major recession, if not an outright economic depression.
Any major resource boom such as we are currently experiencing with oil and natural gas comes with a set of environmental and societal trade-offs. That’s just the way the world works. Responsible members of society work with industries to find ways to manage and mitigate those impacts so that society as a whole can enjoy the fruits of the boom. Unfortunately, the anti-Frackers have chosen to take a different course.
So long as the money keeps pouring in to the coffers of these cynical ‘green’ groups, both sides will continue to waste significant resources on a debate based mainly on fantasy and misinformation. But the much-demonized ‘Fracking’ will continue for the foreseeable future, because on balance, it is unarguably a tremendous benefit for this nation.
So Happy Birthday, Hydraulic Fracturing, and bless the memories of the men and companies who made it possible more than six decades ago.