The right way forward on oil & gas development

Media attention on America’s energy independence has been significant recently.  To take just two examples:

  1. Washington Post columnist Robert Samuelson weighed in with an oped, “Don’t kill the shale-gas boom” and

  2. The January issue of Esquire has an almost 8,000-word article, “Thank you for fracking.”

Policy discussions these days often generate more heat than light – cable TV talk shows, for example.  But this issue has such importance to America that it merits commentary.

There are few times in a nation’s history when new technology can radically improve its economic prosperity and national security.  Thanks to technologies developed in the United States during the last 15 years, we have the opportunity to access cheap, reliable, plentiful sources of natural gas and oil.

Equally important, we are accessing this energy in places such as Montana and North Dakota (Bakken formation), the Northeast (Marcellus formation) and Texas (Eagle Ford Formation).

Moreover, the current price of oil has brought previously uneconomic older conventional fields back into profitability again.

Put simply, America has a remarkable chance during the next decade to achieve gas and oil independence.  But to achieve this goal, we need to do three things:

1. We must create the conditions for energy firms to produce the gas and oil resources.  These firms accept enormous capital risks in exploration, development and infrastructure.   Rather than having them commit those resources in Africa, the Middle East or elsewhere, America needs an economic, regulatory, and public support environment that encourages these firms to produce gas and oil here at home in a safe and environmentally sound manner.

2. Government entities must provide reasonableness, clarity of process, and predictability in permitting gas and oil related projects.  This is particularly critical at the federal level for large, capital intensive projects that span multiple states and offer such enormous benefits.   It is unacceptable to allow lack of clarity on permitting to cause energy firms to curb exploration and development. Energy firms need to know up front the “rules” they must live with and they must have reasonable predictability in the permitting process.

3. We must drill for, produce, transport, and store gas and oil in a safe and environmentally responsible manner reflecting the best technology and transparent communication of risks involved.  No matter how sound the science, some will never accept fracking.   However, for the vast majority, sound science, state of the art safety measures, and open communication will win the day in allowing responsible development of America’s hydrocarbon resources.  This is a matter of striking a sound balance between producing gas and oil and protecting the environment based on the best science available and reasonable discourse.

Millions of Americans are out of work today.  They are in need of a job and praying for a better tomorrow.  If we could strengthen our national security, foster economic prosperity, create millions of new jobs associated with a vibrant domestic energy industry, provide for our own gas and oil independence, and do all of this in an environmentally sound and responsible manner, why would we not want to do it?   From where I stand, I can’t think of a single valid reason.

Marc Hildenbrand, Senior Advisor

A graduate of West Point and the Army War College, Col. (Ret) Hildenbrand served 24 years with the Army Corps of Engineers. He is a former Senior Military Aide to the Secretary of the Army and Executive Officer to the Chief of Engineers.

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