Saturday, June 12, 2010

Random Thought About Natural Gas Exploration

I haven't updated in a while, but I have been thinking. In light of the BP oil disaster, I've been thinking about natural gas. Even though most people still support off-shore drilling, I think President Obama and the United States Congress is going to be advocating for more natural gas exploration. One of the benefits of natural gas is that it is plentiful in North America, amounting to over a trillion cubic feet in the United States alone (I can't even wrap my head around that number). Natural gas is cleaner than coal and oil.

(The rest of the information from this post comes from an episode of Dan Rather Reports called Fracking Gas)

However, there are problems with natural gas. It's a non-renewable fossil fuel, like oil and coal. Americans still need to demand cutting our dependence on fossil fuels, in favor of clean and renewable energy sources, even if there are a thousand years of natural gas available for our consumption (although it's probably more like a hundred years).

Natural gas also requires mining, either onshore or offshore, which destroys habitats. The process of extracting natural gas from the earth, called fracking, requires drilling thousands of feet into the land. The technique also uses a slurry of chemicals to break free the natural gas from underground shale rock. Some people who live near these fracking sites believe that their well water became contaminated. Here is one woman's testimony from the episode of Dan Rather Reports:

When I became so ill, the bone pain was very extreme in my legs and-- and then, as-- in my tailbone. And as the weeks went by, it-- it started to-- like it was crawling up my-- my spine. And eventually, you know, it went throughout the whole body. And things have progressed from there of-- of becoming more ill. The s-- the seizures that have come on, the-- the-- the migraines, the continual feeling is as if you have the flu, and . . .

This was after the natural gas company paid thousands of dollars to install a water filtration system in the woman's home, because their tap water was black. Other families who live near fracking sites have had similar health problems and cannot consume local well water because of its odor and color. More research needs to be done to determine if these problems were caused by natural gas fracking or something else before the United States government decides to tap into more of the country's natural gas reserves.

My last problem with natural gas, while not an inherent problem, I think needs to be improved before the United States approves more natural gas exploration: Split-Estate Law. The best way I can explain Split-Estate is to think of it as a compromise between the Homestead Act and Eminent Domain. In 1916, the Homestead Act gave acres upon acres of farmland to regular people, but the federal government still owned the mineral rights below the land. Eminent Domain is the federal government's right and responsibility to relocate people for a fair price, if doing so benefits the general public (e.g., creating public transportation). Split-Estate allows for the energy company and the owner of the surface land to negotiate a fair price to drill for oil, coal, or natural gas. So I guess there's not going to be any Beverly Hillbillies situation happening if the United States expands natural gas drilling. I fear that Split-Estate laws continues near energy monopolies, instead of creating local, small, independently-owned natural gas companies. I think Split-Estate laws should either be eliminated, giving below-surface land ownership to the surface landowners, or they should be changed to ensure that surface landowners are paid a ton of money for the natural gas extracted from the land.

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