Natural gas was one of the big winners in President Obama's recent State of the Union address. The president noted that "America is closer to energy independence than we've been in decades." He went on to say that "one of the reasons why is natural gas – if extracted safely, it's the bridge fuel that can power our economy with less of the carbon pollution that causes climate change."
That said, without fracking the natural gas that is changing our nation for the good would still be stuck in rocks a mile or more below the surface. As the president said, when done safely, natural gas extraction is unleashing a powerful force for positive change on our economy. Seen in that light, here are three big reasons Americans should learn to love and not loathe fracking.
Plunging carbon footprint
U.S. carbon dioxide emissions from energy consumption are at the lowest level since 1994. Overall, carbon emissions from energy have fallen for five straight years. Natural gas, as the president pointed out, is having a direct impact as natural gas power generation is replacing dirtier coal power on a near 1-to-1 ratio.
In addition to a big reduction in carbon emissions, the overall carbon footprint of natural gas extraction is becoming smaller. Pad drilling enables an energy company like Chesapeake Energy (NYSE:CHK) to drill between four and 20 wells on a single pad instead of building up to 20 separate well pads. Just four years ago, 77% of the wells Chesapeake Energy drilled were on single well pads, and today that number is down to just 44%. Not only is this saving Chesapeake Energy and its peers millions, but it's also reducing that literal footprint of well sites, as well as the carbon footprint of the process, by reducing the number of truck trips needed to drill these wells.
America is making a comeback
The manufacturing industry has announced more than 100 projects representing $80 billion to $100 billion in new investments thanks to fracking. The projects range from petrochemical plants to fertilizer manufacturers and are only possible thanks to cheap and abundant natural gas that's only unlocked by fracking.
Fracking has fueled a 41% increase in energy-related jobs since the end of the Great Recession. The industry now supports 2.1 million jobs. It's expected to add another 1.1 million new jobs by the end of the decade.
On top of that, it's estimated that fracking has enabled the U.S. to add 530,000 manufacturing jobs since 2010 as companies took advantage of cheaper natural gas. Some analysts predict that another 5 million manufacturing jobs could be added to the economy by 2020 thanks to cheap natural gas that was unlocked by fracking.
Continual improvements to protect the environment and people
Fracking has come a long way since Halliburton (NYSE:HAL) completed the first experimental fracturing operations in 1947. Over the course of drilling more than a million wells, the industry has continued to refine the process. Today's process of fracking is vastly improved from just a few years ago.
Halliburton is one of the companies leading the way to make fracking even better. The company has developed safer fracking fluids that are sourced with ingredients found in the food industry. The fluid is safe enough that Halliburton executives have even taken a sip at a conference.
Halliburton is also pioneering a water recycling solution that will enable it to frack new wells using water that is produced from other wells it fracked. The company hopes that by recycling it can reduce the freshwater usage in its fracking operations by up to 25% by the end of this year.
Others are working on sustainable fracking initiatives. These will limit flaring, cut down on emissions, and reduce toxic chemicals used in fracking operations, as well as a whole host of other voluntary standards to clean up the process. That's in addition to stronger regulations that some states are placing on water testing and emissions. Bottom line: Fracking is getting a whole lot safer than many of its detractors realize.
Fracking isn't perfect, but it is getting better. Many of the reasons the process is hated have either been disproved or have vastly improved over the years. That's why more Americans need to learn to love fracking, as it's doing a lot more good than many people realize.
Matt DiLallo has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Halliburton. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.