How Important Will Fracking Be To Voters During The Next Election? Not Very, If Natural Gas Stays Cheap

Bonnie Bogle/CC BY 2.0
The old basement gas furnace.

Looking toward the coming elections, will the practice of hydraulic fracturing drive poliitcal debate? Will it bring voters out? President Obama, in his latest State of the Union speech, promoted increased development of natural gas, which infers more fracking. Pure political genius.

Counter-intuitive, though.
Just days after the President's SOTUS speech, the US Energy Information Agency (EIA), a trusted clearinghouse for accessing national and state-level energy data, projected just 6 years worth of natural gas reserves in Marcellus Shale formations. The Big M comprises a big chunk of what must have underlined the Obama-cited, industry-derived estimate of a 100 year reserve. Matt recently compared that estimate to the far-lower USEIA estimate in There's Much Less Shale Gas Available in US Than Previously Thought .

It's inconceivable that the White House was not briefed on the coming USEIA 6-year estimate as the SOTU speech was being prepared. On that basis, I assume that throwing out the 100-year reserve estimate was a calculated political choice.

Monkey trap.
The 100-year reserve estimate from Obama's SOTU speech was good bait for a political monkey trap. Were Republicans to attack the President for overstating shale gas reserves (as he did), they would risk angering campaign donors and flatter environmentalists: missteps that would never be taken.

Obviously Republicans can't praise Obama for a positive characterization of natural gas reserves because, well, Republicans don't do that.

This same trap catches environmental activists who might be insensitive to how important it is to keep natural gas prices low, thus driving coal out of the power-making business. (See Related post on left of your screen for explanation.)

The 100-year reserve estimate positioned President Obama to gain the favor of independent voters, and then some. Everyone likes cheap heating fuel for the furnace and petrochemical manufacturers like it for manufacturing inputs.

The President's 'green base' is a very small fraction of all likely voters. As important, it looks as if many a dedicated green blogger and activist didn't bother to vote in the last mid-terms -- seemingly typical of young, politically independent, yet environmentally committed people -- and I expect them to stay away from the election booth this fall, as well.

Caveat: at the well head and beyond.
Marcellus Shale states where fracking is most controversial are New York, Pennsylvania (the 'swinger'), and West Virginia.

Neighboring states of Ohio and Maryland are contemplating bans on disposal of fracking wastewater generated outside their own borders. Makes sense, because they get none of the job and fee benefits. There are other large gas shale formations in Texas and Oklahoma but the oil and gas industry rules politics, thereabout. In total, then, fracking in the shale seems to be an issue in only for a select few states. Only one Marcellus State is a swing state -- critical to sway independent voters in.

The recent blessing of ultra-cheap natural gas, on the other hand, is a wonder for everyone, even though it may last but one Presidential term or so!

It is plausible but unlikely that unpleasant developments could lead to an increase in both the price of natural gas and polarization of the jobs-versus-environmental impact debate. There are early signs of this in New York state.

At the grass roots, TH blogger Sarah Hodgdon points out that in New York State lawn signs are changing

"In the next county over, most of the signs used to say Friends of Natural Gas," says Kate. "Now, they say Friends of Clean Water. Once the community started a dialogue and a coalition, they were able to work out what was really important to them -- their water."

For every one of the unanswered legal and technical questions about fracking that gets a bad headline, odds increase that the glory days of fracking are over and that natural gas prices will rise.

Would this happen before the fall election? Have a look at the questions below and see what you think.


  1. To what extent might fracking-associated earth tremors rupture natural gas well seals or caps, increasing the potential for water-well and indoor air pollution?

  2. Is the Federal Mineral Leasing Act of 1920, an unconstitutional infringement on States' rights, to the extent that potential adverse impacts of gas extraction may extend to adjacent private properties?

  3. Did fracking fluids ever contain industrial waste mixtures which, if pumped into the ground for non-gas production purposes, would have been regulated as hazardous waste?

  4. Is the potential for radon intrusion into homes commensurate with methane intrusion? (See Related post on methane intrusion, to left of your screen.)

  5. Once groundwater is tainted by fracking, will that contamination be continuous for many years; or, does that pollution abate quickly? Can a half-life be estimated for critical constituents?

For my money, #5 is the big one. If folks are filling their homes with radon when they shower and fill the tea kettle, there will be hell to pay in Congress and the courts.

Tags: Barack Obama | Fracking | Natural Gas

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