TERRE HAUTE —
Use of hydraulic fracturing to produce natural gas in the U.S. is a “freight train on steroids” that can’t be stopped, Indiana State University president Dan Bradley said during a panel discussion Monday.
Rather than trying to stop it, those with environmental concerns should focus on better governmental regulation, he said.
“This is a freight train on steroids, and if you stand in front of it, you’re going to get run over,” Bradley said. “It’s far better for the environmental movement to look at how do we regulate this thing rather than how do we stop it.”
Bradley, who has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in petroleum engineering, spoke during a discussion titled, “Energy Production at a Crossroads: The Benefits and Costs of Hydraulic Fracturing and the Natural Gas Revolution.”
Other panelists were Stephen Aldrich, ISU department of earth and environmental systems, and Robert Guell, ISU department of economics. John Conant, ISU department of economics, moderated.Hydraulic fracturing, also known as “fracking,” removes oil and gas from rock formations deep underground. It uses water, chemicals and small particles such as sand to cause fractures in rock formations, releasing oil or gas reserves.
In a follow-up interview, Bradley said that “hydraulic fracturing is a powerful technology that can keep our energy costs down and help us convert to a natural gas-based economy, but there are environmental concerns that need to be addressed.”
Increased use of natural gas, and decreased use of coal — such as for production of electricity — is a matter of economics, he said. “Gas is cheap and it’s clean, both from today’s environmental concerns like particulates and mercury, but also clean comparatively for greenhouse gases, at least when you burn it.”
Aldrich said he agreed with the need for greater environmental regulation — but the verdict is still out on whether natural gas is better than coal from the standpoint of greenhouse gas emissions.
When natural gas is completely burned, it is very clean, he said. The amount of carbon dioxide released is much less than it is for coal. As far as particulate air pollution, natural gas “is a huge win for the environment and for human beings,” Aldrich said.
The problem occurs, he said, is when unburned natural gas, or methane, leaks out, whether during production or transportation. Some studies done indicate 3.6 to 7.5 percent of natural gas is leaked as “fugitive emissions.”
Over 20 years, methane is at least 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide in its ability to capture heat, or its greenhouse effect, he said.
When it comes to greenhouse gas emissions, “We don’t have enough information to say whether this [fracking and natural gas revolution] is better than coal or not,” Aldrich said.
There are other environmental concerns, he said. One is the potential for spills and surface water contamination associated with hydraulic fracturing.
Also, “Many don’t realize this, but chemicals used in oil and gas exploration are not subject to most federal regulations,” Aldrich said. “We don’t know what the chemicals used in some of these hydraulic solutions are.”
In his mind, “that’s a big problem,” particularly in the event of a spill if people don’t know what the chemical is or its impact on humans.
When it comes to hydraulic fracturing for natural gas, environmental scientists are saying, “Wait. Before we push down that accelerator pedal … we need more data, we need more information” to better understand what the negative aspects might be, Aldrich said.
Guell says that because of fracking, natural gas is plentiful and the price is stable — and dropping. “It is becoming a much better substitute for coal in the production of electricity,” he said.
It has environmental advantages over coal, in particular, “that make the method of extraction much better and much more palatable than people generally give it credit for,” he said in an interview.
Guell added, “Fracking scares people, but people ought to see that whatever fear they have should be weighed against the plentiful volumes of natural gas we have, the relatively low price and its much cleaner burn.”
Sue Loughlin can be reached at 812-231-4235 or email@example.com