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Opinion

September 29, 2012

Debate needed on federal role in energy research

An interesting story this week from Associated Press 
reporter Kevin Begos shed light on the origins of hydraulic fracturing, the
 controversial natural gas drilling technique under review by the state
 Department of Environmental Conservation.



Fracking has made it possible for drilling 
companies to tap into gas deposits hidden in hitherto-inaccessible shale formations. 
The technique is controversial because of the environmental risks it poses. What's not at dispute is that it has opened up new areas for gas development. As a result, natural gas production in the United
 States has reached record levels. 

The American Enterprise Institute would have us believe 
these innovations were the result of free-market capitalism that happened “away
 from the greedy grasp of Washington,”
according to an essay published this year. Had the feds seen the shale gas boomv
coming, it argued, “surely Washington
 would have done something to slow it down, tax it more, or stop it altogether.”



This narrative stands in stark contrast to the facts. The federal Department of Energy provided more than $100
 million – and billions more in tax breaks – for drilling 
firms pioneering the technique as early as 1975. In fact, the government-funded 
research into fracking ran contrary to the prevailing wisdom within the 
industry, according to geologist Dan Steward, who worked for Texas-based 
Mitchell Energy in 1981.



“There’s no point in mincing words. Some people thought it
 was stupid,” Steward said, adding that “probably 90 percent of the people” at 
his company thought shale drilling was unfeasible, and the experiment didn’t 
turn a profit until the 36th well was drilled.



With an election only weeks away, we need to have a frank 
discussion about the future of U.S.
 energy consumption. This debate is tainted by the notion that 
renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar power, are folly that depend
 entirely on government largesse, while fossil-fuel producers are hardy, 
independent wealth-creators who need only for federal bureaucrats to step out 
of the way to usher in prosperity.

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