Articles from 2012
The Federal Role in Fracking Development
- Written by Nick Grealy
- Published: 27 January 2012
This article got lost in the Christmas rush until now. I was reminded of it by a line in the State of the Union speech which raised both right and left eyebrows.
And by the way, it was public research dollars, over the course of 30 years, that helped develop the technologies to extract all this natural gas out of shale rock –- reminding us that government support is critical in helping businesses get new energy ideas off the ground. (Applause.)
Now, what’s true for natural gas is just as true for clean energy….Because of federal investments, renewable energy use has nearly doubled, and thousands of Americans have jobs because of it.
The original report by the Breakthrough Institute is fascinating in describing the history, geology and money surrounding the development of shale by those present at the creation of modern fracking.
"I'm conservative as hell," Dan Steward, the former Mitchell Energy geologist whose company pioneered shale gas in Texas, told us. But when asked about the role of government, Steward told us, "They did a hell of a lot of work, and I can't give them enough credit for that. [The Department of Energy] started it, and other people took the ball and ran with it. You cannot diminish DOE's involvement."
The right can get some comfort by noting it was at least a Republican President, albeit an unelected accidental one, who set the frack rolling:
While Jimmy Carter is often pointed to as the President who initiated the energy push in response to the oil crises of the early seventies, it was Republican President Gerald Ford who began a concerted federal effort to seek "unconventional" natural gas in response to shortages. "The DOE's  Eastern Gas Shales Project [in the Appalachia basin] determined there was a hell of a lot of gas in shales," explained Steward. "Mitchell was interested in Barnett [shale] and his geophysicist said, 'It looks similar to the Devonian [shale], and the government's already done all this work on the Devonian.'"
"Mitchell raided the EGSP [Eastern Gas Shales Project] folks for help," Penn State geologist Terry Engelder told us, "and EGSP support came from that 10-fold ramp up of DOE" in the mid-seventies.
Great article, well worth reading.
The government got it really right. In terms of a symbol of effective public-private venture, it's shale gas.
The Eastern Gas Shales projects and experiments in horizontal drilling were important. Those experiments should rise high in the list of things done and supported by the government starting in 1978 or so. The idea was to drill across the fractures and the shales that I'd been documenting for the NRC.
To bear fruit, it took 20 years. It started in 1977. We went beyond Carter and Reagan and were into the Clinton administration before Carter age research paid dividends.
Mitchell hired three of the engineers who were part of the Eastern Gas Shales project. I can't identify them by name.
I can't really vouchsafe for either George Mitchell's or Terry Engelder's politics, although neither of them strike me as being very right wing, but the role of these two men themselves in the development of modern shale is indisputable, so if they said it happened this way, it happened that way