Russell Gold, the senior energy reporter for the Wall Street Journal and author of a new book, “The Boom“, knows fracking. Not only has he spent more than a decade covering the controversial practice, but he was personally affected when Chesapeake Energy drilled under his parent’s property in Pennsylvania.
Although, Chesapeake refused to provide his father with well safety information and killed fish in a local creek (for which Pennsylvania decided not to fine them), Gold recently sat down with Salon.com to describe why fracking is necessary, beneficial to our economy, and safe — if done right.
Fracking is the process of drilling into the ground to extract oil and natural gas. Although energy developers have “fracked” for over 100 years, the process recently became problematic when developers started pumping water thickened with chemicals into shale — dense rock formations — to extract natural gas. The modern process has been linked to increased greenhouse gas emissions, increased earthquakes, groundwater pollution, and air pollution.
Environmentalists and celebrities — even the Pope — have come out against fracking. And in response, some municipalities, states, and countries have passed laws prohibiting the practice. But Gold thinks that prohibiting fracking is too extreme, and may hurt our ability to switch to cleaner energy sources in the best way for the environment.
“The energy system is so large and so important to modern society, it just can’t be turned very quickly. . . . And I think what’s encouraging to me is that all this abundant natural gas will give us the time to make that turn,” said Gold. “We have to use the gas to an end, to advance further and further with each year down the road towards a low carbon or ultimately no carbon future. We really don’t have much of a choice.”
According to Gold, fracking is necessary, but it doesn’t have to be a necessary evil. Gold recommends collecting more information in the form of baseline air and water studies and encouraging energy developers to invest in better plumbing to reduce methane leakage and build safer and more secure wells. But while these recommendations seem easy enough, they are by no means novel. Environmentalists have asked for more information for years, and energy developers have fought these requests with loopholes and promises that everything is safe.
The problem with modern fracking — and Gold recognizes this — is that it’s just not regulated. Gold points to states where government agencies play both the role as the fracking watchdog and cheerleader. “I really don’t think those two functions can live under the same roof,” said Gold. “You can’t have the cheerleader and the watchdog under the same roof; they need to be split up.”
But the real problem is a federal government and most states that put the burden on the people to prove why fracking is unsafe, instead of industry to prove why it won’t hurt our health and the environment. In a world where fracking isn’t so evil, Chesapeake would have been required, by law, to provide Gold’s father with the well safety information. In a world where the government is actually doing it’s job, Chesapeake would have gotten fined for killing the fish.
We need the government to help us reach the middle ground.