While the New York state legislature still considers extending the statewide moratorium on fracking for another two years, I think it's time for the state to lift the ban. It's only a matter of time before the long-awaited studies on the environmental and public health impacts of fracking are finally completed. The odds that those studies will turn up anything catastrophic to the industry are very slim, given all the fracking that has been done throughout the rest of the country.
The problems with fracking are not only well documented, but the industry has gone to great lengths to refine its process and address the issues. Also, there is compelling evidence piling up that speaks to the overall benefit of using the fracking process and the natural gas it produces. To demonstrate, I'm going to highlight three areas that give reason for why it's time for New York to lift the moratorium on fracking.
A recent study by the Manhattan Institute highlighted the economic impact of fracking in New York's neighbor to the south, Pennsylvania, which has had 5,000 wells fracked since 2002. The data is compelling, as counties with more than 200 wells, drilled between 2007 and 2011, saw a 19% increase in per-capita incomes, versus just 8% income growth at those with no wells fracked. Further, the number of county jobs grew by 7% in those with more than 200 wells fracked, against a 3% contraction in counties with no wells drilled. According to the report, the data suggests that if New York had allowed its counties to fully exploit the Marcellus Shale, the income-growth rates for New Yorkers would be 6% higher than what they're currently experiencing.
As someone who grew up in New York, I had to make the tough choice a few years ago leave to the state to obtain better employment. There were simply more opportunities at better pay in Pennsylvania, which I can partially attribute to the states pro-fracking stance. Among the few industries that were hiring at the time were those tied to the Marcellus.
We find similar stories throughout the U.S., as economic activity in the country is higher and unemployment lower in areas, such as the Bakken of North Dakota or the Eagle Ford shale of Texas, where fracking is being employed to tap our vast oil and gas reserves. Just look at North Dakota, which has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the nation:
While the economic benefits appear to be quite obvious, there are many who are concerned that we'd be paying much too high a price elsewhere. Among the areas of grave concern are the public health issues that are currently being studied. The fluids and chemicals used in fracking are among the areas of concern;however, this is an area where the industry is making great strides. Halliburton (NYSE: HAL ) , for example, has a whole suite of products it's moving forward on to clean up the process. The company's CleanStim Hydraulic Fracking Fluid System, for example, is made entirely with ingredients sourced from the food industry.
Further, a recent study by the Department of Energy has concluded that fracking chemicals do not taint drinking water. After a year of monitoring wells in western Pennslyvania, researchers found that these fluids stayed thousands of feet below the areas that supply drinking water. This study should go a long way to calm fears that fracking chemicals end up in the drinking water.
The other concern is that methane gas from a well could end up in drinking water. A few years ago, a well drilled by Cabot Oil & Gas (NYSE: COG ) in Dimock, Pa., had been linked to being the root cause of methane gas found in water wells in that town. However, the industry has gone to great lengths to ensure the safety of the drilling of wells in an effort to completely mitigate these concerns. The industry continues to improve the well completion process, with safety being a very high priority for the industry.
The whole issue of clean water is one the industry has also taken very seriously. Not only are drillers switching to safer fracking fluids, but many are also turning to recycling the frack water so that less freshwater is used. One company that's leading the way is Chesapeake Energy (NYSE: CHK ) . The company is working to recycle most, if not all, of the water it uses in fracking.
In fact, its Aqua Renew process enables the company to filter and reuse 97% of the wastewater produced at its northern Marcellus operations and 89% of its wastewater from the Utica. Overall, the industry is working on a number of initiatives designed to reduce, reuse, and recycle water. Going back to Halliburton, it has recently partnered with Nuverra Environmental Solutions (NASDAQOTH: NESC ) on a pilot program in the Bakken Shale to recycle wastewater on site, as opposed to trucking it to offsite recycling facilities or simply pumping the produced water down disposal wells. This project, H20 Forward, aims to leverage Nuverra's vast network and knowledge with Halliburton's technology. If successful, the service could significantly cut freshwater usage and trucking volumes.
Final Foolish thoughts
The hydraulic fracturing process has changed dramatically over the past few years. The natural gas industry has worked feverishly to clean up, and even green up the process. That's why it's really time for my home state of New York to lift its moratorium on the process, so the state's residents can enjoy the economic prosperity that would come from unleashing the power of the natural gas locked underneath the state.
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