By DANA AMIHERE, Capital News Service
The American Petroleum Institute released a study Thursday touting the thousands of jobs and new revenue that oil and natural gas extraction could bring in the coming years, and called for loosening industry regulations.
The pro-drilling report comes a day after 17 environmental organizations called upon the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to tighten industry standards and require compulsory annual disclosure of toxic chemicals used in fracking, a process which extracts natural gas from deep within the earth by injecting a pressurized mixture of water, sand and chemicals into a well to force the gas to the surface.
Fracking is already taking place in Pennsylvania and elsewhere, but in Maryland, the effects of the process are still being studied. A full report on fracking in the Marcellus Shale in Western Maryland is expected from Gov. Martin O’Malley’s administration by 2014.
“A revolution is occurring,” said Jack Gerard, chief executive officer for the American Petroleum Institute, during a speech to a roomful of industry stakeholders.
Oil and natural gas will continue to satisfy most of the country’s energy needs now and in the future, Gerard said. According to IHS Global Insight, the economic analysis and forecasting firm which prepared the report, shale gas production has risen 35 percent over the past 12 years.
Energy development, including the extraction of natural gas liquids, will result in almost 3 million new jobs by the end of decade, the report said.
Gas production has boosted the nation’s gross domestic product by 1 percent, said Christopher Guith, policy vice president for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for 21st Century Energy. With a one-third reduction in production costs from even one year ago, there’s a “ripple effect which goes through the economy as those savings get passed along” to American consumers.
Gerard, Guith and other panelists called for policy changes and what they called a commonsense regulatory structure to allow for less restricted development.
But groups like the Environment Integrity Project, a nonpartisan nonprofit founded by former EPA enforcement attorneys, are looking to reign in the industry.
A petition filed Wednesday with the EPA aims to require the reporting of toxic pollutants such as mercury, used regularly in drilling muds, and known carcinogen benzene, used in drilling and chemical storage.
Eric Schaeffer, Environment Integrity Project director, called upon the oil and gas industry to fall in line with other sectors, such as oil refineries and coal mining, on standardized reporting. While reports on fracking chemicals are available from the EPA, some of the information isn’t readily accessible, requiring freedom of information requests.
Jane Davenport, senior attorney with the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, said that she’d rather know the effects of what’s going into the ground in other fracking sites now in order to formulate regulations.
“We’re firing first and aiming later,” said Davenport.
Western Maryland residents like Eric Robison are concerned about the effects fracking will have on Garrett County’s tourism industry, the bulk of the county’s economy. As the state’s No. 2 tourism destination after Ocean City, Robison said that the noise pollution, added trucking traffic and foul chemical smell from the proposed 1,600 gas wellheads could deter visitors.
In addition, Robison, co-founder and president of Citizen Shale, a group which encourages a dialogue about drilling in Western Maryland, said job creation estimates are misleading.
“We keep hearing that the economic side of gas development is very good. There’s a big bump to hotels, rental housing, restaurants, and local stores, but it’s a bust and boom cycle. Once (the sites are) developed it’s going to drop off,” Robison said. “Fracking could mean that what we’ve worked for for the past 25 years is driven off a cliff,” he said.