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Opinion | Hydraulic fracking could solve economic woes

By Greg Dick
On April 28, 2014

Last week a column in The Miami Student editorial section celebrated "Earth Day" in the most appropriate way possible, by bashing hydraulic fracturing.

Created by the devil himself, hydraulic fracturing is contaminating your drinking water, causing earthquakes and most egregiously polluting the soundscape of Amish country.

Now I am not learned enough to tell you about noise pollution and how the hum of American industry will impact where one buys their handmade furniture and apple butter, but I would like to try my best to present a few alternative narratives to those told earlier this week.

Let's start with Halliburton. Sure it's easy to demonize the company formerly run by Dick Cheney for their lobbying practices, but it's just as easy to demonize solar energy firms like Solyndra. So rather than stay in the mud and take cheap shots at the former vice president, let's focus on some of the true visionaries behind fracking.

The son of Greek immigrants, George P. Mitchell is commonly referred to as "the father of fracking" - please take note at this time that his name is NOT "Dick Cheney."

In the 1980s, Mitchell, already a success by all measures, staked his personal wealth and reputation on fracking. At the time no one else in the oil and gas industry was using water instead of drilling fluids, but Mitchell gave the relatively new idea a try.

To the surprise of many in the field, his efforts paid off and he was striking oil 40 percent of the time he drilled - a far better average than his competitors using conventional drilling methods. With that success fracking caught on and now the U.S. has the means to become one of the leading producers of oil and gas.

Still, the story of George Mitchell doesn't end with popularizing the technique of hydraulic fracturing, because to the surprise of many, Mitchell was also interested in being a good steward of the environment.

In the 1970s, he helped combat the problems associated with urban sprawl by developing a planned community just outside Houston, Texas known as "the Woodlands." Still there and thriving to this day, Mitchell's development project was honored in 1994 by the Urban Land Institute whose core mission is, "advancing land use policies and design practices that respect the uniqueness of both the built and natural environments."

And more importantly, on the subject of fracking, when asked by Forbes Magazine about regulations, Mitchell said, "there's no reason not to get it right...there are good techniques to make it safe that should be followed." He went on in the same interview to talk about how the industry's best practices could be used to write regulations that would help both the industry and the neighboring communities that support it.

Then again Mitchell wasn't the only person concerned about the safety of the workers and the communities involved in fracking. Bill Weathersby and David Skinner recently founded Energy Water Solutions, a company dedicated to providing sustainable solutions that reduce the amount of water consumed during hydraulic fracking and that helps to make the removal of contaminated drilling water safer. With several patents to their name and successful test runs in Colorado, the pair are ready to introduce their technology to drilling operations in Eagle Ford and the Permian Basin.

Lastly, beyond overlooking the work of the industry to be good stewards of the environment there was curiously no mention of the economic impact these operations have already had.

In North Dakota, fracking has helped push the statewide unemployment rate down to a national low of 2.6 percent. Situated on the Bakken Shale formation, the state is producing close to a million barrels of oil per day. With that production, the census bureau noted that across the state, median household income rose. So as the oil industry booms the benefits are being shared with those across the state in a variety of support and service related industries.

And if you think this is just another bubble waiting to burst, don't hold your breath too long. North Dakota has extracted just 244 million of the estimated 6.5 billion barrels of oil it sits atop.

North Dakota isn't the only oil and gas rich state in the land, they are just the first state to tap into its potential. Both California and New York sit atop large reserves of untapped oil, but thanks to political differences, the oil in these states remains in the ground.

Now all of this isn't to say that there are not incidents that occur or hazards associated with production. But it should show that there are plenty of people in the oil and gas industry who are working to be a part of the solution and not a part of the problem.

It should show that perhaps there's more to the issue than is depicted in films like "Gasland" or that flop of a movie starring Matt Damon and Jim from "the Office," "Promised Land."

And who knows, maybe if states like California (home to the Monterey Shale formation that contains an estimated 15 billion barrels of oil) were a little more like North Dakota, their unemployment rate might be lower than 8.1 percent.

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