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Fracking leading LA, US to reap energy benefits

How do an autocratic Russian ruler, some misinformed European governments, and fear-mongering environmentalists together make life better for Louisianans?

The state ‘s economy got a lift when last year Poland’s state-owned gas company agreed for the next five years to buy liquified natural gas shipped out of Cameron Parish. Tired of having Vladimir Putin use its gas supply to their country as a foreign policy cudgel, last summer the Poles began importing LNG from Louisiana. From its facility Cheniere Energy began exporting to 18 countries last year that could bring into the state hundreds of millions of dollars annually.

This bonanza comes courtesy of greater domestic gas supply derived from hydraulic fracturing. Most of Poland’s nearby neighbors with gas deposits have outlawed this process that pries open subterranean gas seams, as have two states with ocean-going ports, New York and Maryland, and several counties in California. Removal of these potentially lower-cost suppliers from the marketplace allowed Louisiana to scoop up Poland’s business.

Long comfortable with energy exploration and production, and blessed with fossil fuel resources, Louisiana’s familiarity with the industry generally discourages feeling trepidation towards “fracking.” Yet as fracking has become common over the past decade, in other parts of the country or world a combination of politicization of science and ignorance has produced opposition to it often bordering on the hysterical.

Even Louisiana can’t escape entirely such unwarranted handwringing. In St. Tammany Parish, a group unsuccessfully sued to prevent planned fracking of a well, which the explorer eventually deferred anyway for economicreasons.

Fracking opponents claim the process allegedly causes harmful earthquakes and health complications from pollution. Stripping away the hype, history shows that, when drillers follow proper regulations, neither happens.

In a study of the increased seismic activity surrounding areas with extensive drilling activity, the U.S. Geological Survey concluded fracking causes earthquakes, but of such small magnitude as to do no harm. Any significant tremors measured with fracking involved came not from the process itself but from disposal of wastewater, its byproduct. Stringent storage or recycling requirements negate this problem.

And in seven decades of fracking, not one case has appeared where fracking fluid –  which is 99 percent sand and water with the remaining cocktail of chemicals found in products typically stored under the kitchen sink – provably has seeped into drinking water. The most recent such study in West Virginia showed no contamination from fracking.

This follows an Environmental Protection Agency report last year that declared it found no evidence that fracking polluted water, although that could happen “under some circumstances” – such as injecting “hydraulic fracturing fluids directly into groundwater resources” – but noted it could not completely rule out the more general possibility without more research. Even a report often cited by fracking opponents (and disputed by the state) that attempted to link shallow fracking to toxic chemicals in Wyoming aquifers cannot show it as the cause.

Nor has any study concluded that air pollution associated with fracking significantly contributes to developing disease. The most recent effort in this regard estimates that maximum exposure to the process gives odds of one in 25 million to contract cancer.

Fortunately, Louisiana elected officials and regulators have taken a measured, scientific approach to the issue that has promoted safe and plentiful extraction. The resulting abundance led to Cheniere’s LNG facility and the economic benefits it bestows on the state: jobs and tax revenues badly needed as well as lower energy bills.

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