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The Fracking Debate: The Pros, Cons, and Lessons Learned from the U.S. Energy Boom
Hydraulic fracturing is perhaps the most important innovation in the energy system in the last half century. As a result of this innovation, U.S. production of oil and natural gas has increased dramatically. This has led to abruptly lower energy prices, stronger energy security and even lower carbon dioxide and air pollution emissions by displacing coal. That is certainly good news for our climate, and our health—with large reductions in air pollution dispersed around the country.
But, while there are relatively few coal mines, conventional oil drilling sites and nuclear plants in the United States, tens of thousands of hydraulic fracturing wells have been drilled over the past few years from Pennsylvania to Colorado, Texas to North Dakota. With it being an everyday experience for many Americans, the practice has raised questions about the local impacts. Communities have reached very different conclusions about the benefits and costs, with some places banning it and others embracing it.
Two recent studies have shed light on the impacts. On the benefits side, one study by EPIC Director Michael Greenstone and his coauthors found that fracking increases economic activity, employment, income and housing prices, with the average household benefitting by about $2,000 a year. However, if people’s understanding of the health impacts were to change, it is likely that this would alter the net benefits of allowing fracking. Since health is such a critical factor, Greenstone decided to dig in further by looking at the health of those born near fracking sites. He and his coauthors found that infants born to mothers living up to about 2 miles from a hydraulic fracturing site suffer from poorer health. The largest impacts were to babies born within about a half mile of a site, with those babies being 25 percent more likely to be born at a low birth weight.
The United States’ continued access to the widely-dispersed benefits from hydraulic fracturing depends on local communities allowing it. How should we as a nation balance this challenge? What options do policymakers have at the federal, state and local levels? Join EPIC’s inaugural policy fellows Jeff Holmstead and Sue Tierney as they explore these questions and more.
This event is part of EPIC’s Energy Inquiry & Impact Series, designed to explore the latest energy data coming out of the University of Chicago and their impacts on policy discussions. Cutting-edge findings will serve as the launching pad to frame these deep-dive conversations, as researchers and EPIC policy fellows navigate ways to translate research into solutions.
Jeffrey Holmstead is a partner at Bracewell, LLP, where he heads the firm’s Environmental Strategies Group. During the George W. Bush Administration, he served as the Assistant Administrator of EPA for Air and Radiation. There, he was the architect of several of the Agency’s most important initiatives affecting energy sectors and energy use, including the Clean Air Interstate Rule, the Clean Air Diesel Rule, the Mercury Rule for power plants and the reform of the New Source Review program.
Earlier, Holmstead served on the White House Staff of President George H.W. Bush. As Associate Counsel to the President, he was involved in the passage and implementation of the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 and the creation of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). He now draws on his significant experience in policy development, administrative and legislative advocacy, and litigation to advise a wide range of energy companies on climate, Clean Air Act, and energy issues.
Susan Tierney is a highly-regarded expert on energy policy and economics, specializing in the electric and gas industries. As a former Assistant Secretary for Policy at DOE under President Bill Clinton, state cabinet officer for environmental affairs in Massachusetts, Massachusetts Public Utilities Commissioner, and a consultant advising clients in the public and private sectors, Tierney has deep and varied experience that allows her to provide invaluable knowledge on energy markets, as well as on economic and environmental regulation and strategy.
Currently, Tierney serves as a Senior Advisor at Analysis Group, where she has consulted with companies, governments, nonprofits, and other organizations on issues including industry structure, market analyses, utility ratemaking and regulatory policy, clean-energy regulatory policy, wholesale and retail market design, energy infrastructure, and resource planning and procurement. She also chairs the External Advisory Board of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and serves on the board of directors of many organizations, including the World Resources Institute, Resources for the Future, the Energy Foundation, and ClimateWorks Foundation.